Carlo Dusi, the executive VP of commercial strategy for scripted at Red Arrow Studios International, talks to TV Drama about trends in the market.
Looking to ramp up its drama-investment initiatives, Red Arrow Studios International hired Carlo Dusi earlier this year for the newly created post of executive VP of commercial strategy for scripted. Formerly with Scott Free in the U.K., Dusi is working with both Red Arrow-owned and third-party outlets to expand the company’s slate of high-end scripted projects.
TV DRAMA: What are some of the new highlights of your drama slate?
DUSI: Our key scripted title for MIPCOM is Imaginarium and Soho Moon’s Death and Nightingales for the BBC. Allan Cubitt, who wrote The Fall, is adapting and directing the new drama starring Jamie Dornan, Matthew Rhys and Ann Skelly. The three-part drama is based on Eugene McCabe’s modern Irish classic novel and set in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. We co-financed it alongside BBC Two, the commissioner in the U.K., and RTÉ in Ireland. We also have an Australian series called Australian Gangster, which has been produced by Roadshow Rough Diamond for Channel Seven, with backing from Screen Australia and Create NSW.
TV DRAMA: What are some of the models Red Arrow Studios International is using to invest in new projects?
DUSI: Our scripted strategy, which is being driven across the whole group by Henrik Pabst, president of Red Arrow Studios International, is about aggressive expansion, with the aim of consolidating our position in the high-end scripted world. As a consequence, we are particularly keen to be open, flexible and creative in the ways we get involved in new projects. That spans a whole number of models. Death and Nightingales was quite a traditional acquisition to the extent that it came to us with an anchor broadcaster and co-producer on board already and just needed to have a piece of financing against the value of the international rights. In that context, we played a financing role and we’ll be the international distributor taking the project out to the market. But my remit at Red Arrow Studios International is more specifically focused on getting the studio involved in projects at an earlier stage, either with group production companies or third-party producers. We are interested in getting involved at all stages, including acquiring concepts and placing them with production companies, co-funding the acquisition and development of properties to script stage with third-party producers, funding advanced development and packaging pre-production costs, and looking at investments in production finance. We are building strong producer relationships, both from within and outside the group, and have a bespoke approach to the way we become involved in content. We don’t have a rigid model we need to fit to; instead, we can work with each project’s requirements.
TV DRAMA: What qualities do you look for in projects for Red Arrow to invest in?
DUSI: The scripted world is phenomenally talent-driven—it’s very much a name game. So we are focusing on the value of relationships, and concentrating on getting into business with producers we have identified as originators of the highest quality scripted content. We’re very selective about the producer relationships we target. Similarly, we are very clear about the level of writing talent we want to be involved with. That is becoming such a determining factor in being able to find homes for the projects we invest in and being able to pull together the increasingly complex financial structures high-end drama requires.
We also look very closely at how each project we invest in can help consolidate our brand in the scripted space, so we see projects not just on their own merits but also in terms of the story they tell to the industry and the impact they have on the perception of Red Arrow as the go-to partner in the international space. We’re keen to show top-level producers that we can play at the highest level in the high-end drama space. We have the financial resources, the know-how and the infrastructure to do so.
TV DRAMA: Are you focusing more on scripted from Europe rather than the U.S.?
DUSI: We have a long-established, solid presence in Europe, so we’re continuing to see that as a backbone for the business. But you can’t have a real presence at the top level of high-end scripted unless you are also working with U.S. talent. We’re very lucky that we have companies within the group that are U.S.-based. Fabrik Entertainment makes Bosch for Amazon, which has just started shooting its fifth season, and Mad Rabbit is a joint venture with Emmy-nominated director Kari Skogland, so we have a presence in the U.S. through those two companies, and increasingly also through some of the non-scripted companies within our group that have been developing scripted slates. We also have relationships with all of the top agencies, which are essential for a studio like ours to work in the U.S. landscape.
TV DRAMA: What’s the key to managing relationships when projects involve one or more broadcasters or platforms, one or more producers, plus a distribution entity?
DUSI: I come from an international co-production background in independent film, so I’ve always been comfortable with the fact that there’s phenomenal value in being able to work with multiple partners across multiple territories. You need to approach it in a sophisticated and experienced manner to avoid problems down the line. Extensive creative conversations at the outset ensure all partners share the creative vision underlying the project, and there is no fundamental misunderstanding with regards to what the ambition and the plans for the project are. The other thing is to make sure at the outset that you spend a lot of time face-to-face, really mapping out the plan of action, the timeline, the expectations of each party and what the allocation of responsibilities is going to be. Each partner should understand how the standards work in the countries of the others. There should be no misapprehension as to how different parts of the development process will be handled by the partners on the other side. You want to make sure no crucial responsibilities fall through the cracks. It does take a great deal of investment and time and effort at the outset, which pays off if you can flesh everything out before you set off on the mad journey this process often becomes.
TV DRAMA: How do you approach coming up with a windowing strategy for each title?
DUSI: We look at our interests as the international distributor as well as the interests of the project and what would be the best home for it. I work closely with our executive VP of global sales, Bo Stehmeier, and senior VP of acquisitions, Alex Fraser, to develop windowing strategies.
If you’re in the world of a global SVOD deal, then you have to look at extracting value from the project in different ways, which then becomes more of an IP-building investment and production play. By and large, we tend to be able to window in a very creative way on most of the projects we get involved in. The starting point always tends to be that you look to recoup your investment for that particular territory from the first window and keep subsequent windows for profit. We’ve seen linear broadcasters accept greater flexibility in the sharing of windows with the streamers and that enables enough funding to be generated out of the key territories to sustain the increasing budgets that we’re all having to work with. What used to be a very regimented landscape in windowing terms is now becoming increasingly fragmented and movable. Every time we sit down and talk to the broadcasters about what their approach is, their policies have shifted. Similarly, the SVOD platforms are becoming more flexible about allowing a coexisting of windows, particularly in the cases where both operators come to the table as co-financiers from the beginning. We’re always keen to make sure there’s a balance between SVOD and linear deals, which helps communicate to the wider market that a particular project can work more broadly in each market than might otherwise be perceived.
TV DRAMA: What are the major market trends you see impacting Red Arrow Studios International’s scripted business in the next one to two years?
DUSI: One of the things we are very excited about is the increasing globalization of scripted drama. A good example is the new Latin American adaptation of our crime format Falco, based on the popular SAT.1 German series The Last Cop; it’s been picked up by NBCUniversal’s Telemundo for U.S. audiences, following sales to Amazon Prime Video and Turner’s TNT in Latin America. Other adaptations include four seasons of Falco on TF1 in France; a record-breaking production for Channel 5 Russia; two seasons and a theatrical movie version in Japan for Hulu and Nippon TV; and productions in the Czech Republic and Estonia.
Audiences have become a lot more agnostic about the language drama is produced in, they are more used to watching subtitled drama and they are a lot less fussy about potentially watching dubbed drama. The streamers have had a real impact in breaking down some of those cultural barriers over time, and in addition, a diverse range of players like Viaplay, ORF, ZDF and Canal+ are looking at developing English-language content outside of their territories.
The other development is the pressure to move away from the traditional international distribution model. That has made us all think a lot more creatively and constructively about what added value we bring to the table as a full-fledged, full-service studio, and where we can support the development and production process. We’re all becoming more valuable, experienced partners as a consequence. You only need to look at BBC Worldwide becoming BBC Studios to see that other players are also looking to become more vertically integrated and coordinated. That is a necessary part of remaining competitive in a landscape that is now disrupted by such wealthy operators, but money alone is not enough to be competitive.