Event Recap: MIA

After eight months of one conference after the next going virtual, MIA—Mercato Internazionale Audiovisivo pulled off a genuinely hybrid physical and digital event this month, with an average of 700 attendees on-site every day at Palazzo Barberini and Cinema Quattro Fontane in Rome (under strict COVID-19 safety protocols), and more than 3,000 people accessing the MIA Digital platform from 50 countries.

Over six days, industry executives and creatives convened to discuss trends across drama, docs and film, with an emphasis on European content. More than 120 new projects in development or production were presented at the event, which is backed by the Italian associations ANICA and APA. “MIA has responded to the priority of internationalization [from] our companies, and is becoming an ever crucial event in the European ecosystem,” said Francesco Rutelli, the president of ANICA.

Giancarlo Leone, president of the APA, added, “MIA is the first market in the world to let producers meet again and reopen the doors to large international distribution companies. Italian TV series, films and documentaries have been at the heart of the market.”

Lucia Milazzotto, director of MIA, said the event “allowed for a new experience, both for players who attended in person and those who connected to the platform. A ‘real’ and yet connected event, a truly ‘blended’ experience, that has allowed the industry to alternate and integrate both on-site and online activities, thus giving many more business and meeting opportunities.”

MIA featured a range of panels and keynotes, including Michael Ellenberg, founder of The Morning Show producer Media Res, in conversation with World Screen’s Anna Carugati. Watch the video of this informative session here.

Diversity and inclusion took center stage in a panel featuring Mo Abudu, CEO of EbonyLife Media; Wild Sheep Content’s Erik Barmack and French artist and animator Nicholle Kobi Matondo in conversation with producer Bunmi Akintonwa from Diversify TV and the Little Black Book Company.

“We shouldn’t be pigeonholed into one type of storytelling,” said Abudu. As for the company’s success in bringing African stories to the world, Abudu noted, “The most important thing is making sure [the content] has the right production values, and you’re telling a compelling story that has the fundamental human feeling that we can all relate to. It’s important we always write with that in mind.

“Do we want collaborations with every part of the world? Absolutely,” Abudu continued. “Black people are in every single part of the world today. So why can’t we have stories that reflect the lives and the dreams and aspirations of these Black people? It can be Afro history, where we’re going back in time, or Afro-futurism, where we’re going forward, or Afropolitan, where we are living today, or Afro impact, where we’re looking at projects that are impacting our societal values. I think we can play in all those genres.”

Barmack, who is working with Nicholle Kobi Matondo on two animated projects, said it’s crucial that media executives be “willing to take chances on new talent or unproven genres or unproven parts of the world where content traditionally hasn’t come to global platforms.”

Another drama panel explored creative financing strategies and managing the implications of COVID-19, with Red Arrow Studios’ Carlo Dusi moderating. The panelists, Dusi said, hail from “companies that have taken the ‘evolve or die’ motto seriously and turned challenges into opportunities.”

Laura Abril, the senior VP and head of EMEA and Asia at ViacomCBS International Studios, introduced Balcony Stories, a short-form user-generated series about how individuals coped with the pandemic. It premiered in April. “In a fortnight, we put together a project in 27 languages that reached over 200 million households across the world,” Abril said. “These circumstances are making us rethink how we work.”

Andrea Scrosati, COO of Fremantle, noted how the company’s scale, with a presence in 20-plus markets, helped ease the pandemic’s worst impacts. There was never a point when “all territories were shut down for production,” Scrosati explained. “We never stopped producing. We learned from the experiences of other territories in real-time.”

Larry Bass, CEO at ShinAwiL, discussed the dual impacts of Brexit and COVID-19 on the company’s aspirations. “Never waste a good burning bridge,” Bass said. “Get out there and make hay.” He went on to note that Ireland is looking to position itself as “the Hollywood of Europe. Thanks to Boris Johnson, we’re going to be the only English-language country in the EU come January. We have a fantastic tax credit. It’s very attractive to big productions. It gives us a competitive edge around Europe.”

Julien Leroux discussed the origins of Tehran and its recent launch on Apple TV+. The pandemic, and subsequent halt of productions, has created new opportunities with U.S.-based streaming platforms, Leroux noted.

CAA agent Michael Gordon moderated a session on big-budget dramas from outside the U.S. with Pulse Films’ Thomas Benski, Wild Sheep’s Barmack, Startling’s Vince Gerardis and Starz’s Superna Kalle. Benski, who was on-site in Rome, discussed Gangs of London, which was in postproduction when lockdown hit. Sky and Cinemax had commissioned the series; after Cinemax exited, the project landed on AMC in the U.S. and StarzPlay in several international territories. “I’m seeing innovation in the business models,” Benski said.

“It’s a golden era to be doing international TV,” commented Barmack. “On a macro level, the market is growing. You have more buyers who are interested in figuring out global content. How that shakes out is a little trickier. It requires a greater point of view, meaning having big IP outside of the U.S. is going to be super important, and understanding local markets and what genres each platform is going to want to buy. It’s a bigger market opportunity. It’s also a market that requires a real focus that perhaps it might not have had even a few years ago.”

Gerardis, a co-executive producer on Game of Thrones, discussed the European ambitions for his company Startling, which is looking to bring content from Italy and Spain to the world. “My secret wish and intention is to try and bring ambitious storytelling to territories that have historically done medium-budget fare.”

Kalle, executive VP of international digital networks at Starz, discussed her approach to acquiring content for StarzPlay, which is now in 50 markets. She described the platform’s positioning as “ultra-premium,” with acquisitions and international originals sitting alongside U.S. originals like Power Book II: Ghost and The Spanish Princess.

Registered delegates can access the MIA Digital online platform until February.