Sam Branson tells World Screen about establishing HiddenLight Productions in partnership with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton and projects in development.
A passion for adventure and belief in the power of storytelling have been guiding forces for Sam Branson. He established HiddenLight Productions in partnership with Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton to highlight stories that can effect change in the world, entertain and inspire, with a mission to celebrate the best of the human spirit and help us see the world in new ways.
WS: How did HiddenLight Productions come about, and how did you come to partner with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton for the endeavor?
BRANSON: I am deeply passionate about the power of stories to entertain and engage people but also effect change in the world. I’d been working with Johnny Webb on my company Sundog Pictures for several years, and we were pitching to do a series based on [Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s] incredible The Book of Gutsy Women. I just absolutely loved the book and what Hillary and Chelsea stood for, and the tone of conversation was wonderful. That initial dialogue soon grew into something much, much bigger. We realized that we wanted to create a similar sort of content. We were aligned with our values, purpose and passion. It was a no-brainer to join forces and do something really special.
WS: How do the three of you complement each other in terms of what you bring to the company?
BRANSON: We each have different sets of skills and experiences. Hillary has decades’ worth of experience in public service, having spent so much of her life [working] for the public good. She’s defied convention and has always stood up for the things she believes in. That wealth of experience is invaluable to something like this. Chelsea, who I’ve gotten to know better over the last year, is such a wonderful person and an advocate for people who need it most. She’s a global health expert, which at this time is in sharp focus. She’s a passionate defender of human rights. In meeting these people who I had heard so much about, I was struck by their warmth, how down-to-earth they are, their sense of humor, the bond between them and their family, and how intelligent and passionate they are. I thought, what a wonderful thing it would be to be in partnership with two wonderful women. Then there’s my experience of being a storyteller, a digital native, a songwriter and having set up businesses that aim to have a positive impact in the world. At the heart of what I stand for is storytelling. It’s a really wonderful fit.
WS: What types of stories will you aim to tell through HiddenLight?
BRANSON: Being lucky enough to travel the world and experience people from all walks of life, I’m fascinated with human stories and the experiences that we all have. No matter who you are, where you come from, your race, your gender, your political background or your religion, there are common traits between all of our human experiences. I’m interested in getting under the skin of that and what connects us all and celebrating the best of the human spirit. So much of media can focus on the negative aspects of life. There are wonderful, culturally authentic stories out there, right across the globe, that really will create a sense of hope and optimism—and that’s what we would like to focus on.
WS: Tell me about some of the initial projects on the slate.
BRANSON: Gutsy Women is our first straight-to-series order for Apple TV+. We’re in the business of premium content, so having Apple in partnership with us is just wonderful. I know that Hillary and Chelsea are very passionate about bringing the book to screen. The series spotlights a richly diverse cast of amazing women, and it couldn’t be more timely.
There’s a lot in the pipeline. If I Could Tell You Just One Thing is based on a book by my friend, best-selling author Richard Reed, and we’re thrilled that this has been commissioned by YouTube. The series explores what motivates some of the world’s most renowned women and the stories and experiences that have shaped them. It’s exciting to be working with YouTube star Patricia Bright on this series, and she’s already talked about her hope that the show can act as a catalyst to support, lift and inspire women across the globe.
WS: As you craft the pipeline looking ahead, where will you be looking to source stories, IP and ideas from?
BRANSON: As a premium content business, we’re not looking specifically at volume; we’re looking for quality. If there’s an abundance of really amazing stories that suit our brand and what we stand for, then that’s great, but we are focused on making the most impactful films to a very high standard. There are so many fantastic untold stories across the globe, from all sorts of different people. What really excites me are the ones yet to be discovered. Especially on the unscripted side, I feel that being able to find stories that are unfolding in real-time is where you get the most incredible narrative. We’re all eyes and ears open. Hillary, Chelsea and I are avid TV, film, documentary and podcast watchers and listeners, so we’re all really passionate about telling those stories. I’m excited to welcome our new creative director and senior VP of unscripted, Siobhan Sinnerton, who has got an amazing wealth of experience.
WS: What are some of your personal passion points that led you into the production industry?
BRANSON: I used to sneak out of school to go to the cinema. I would find myself watching documentaries on the weekends. Because of that, I’ve had such a fond relationship with the medium. It’s one of the most powerful mediums to effect change in the world; there are not many other forms where you can take someone from the comfort of their own home around the world and paint a global picture in a way that can really move and inspire them to change their behaviors. I started doing some adventuring and went to the Arctic, and that made me passionate about having a positive impact in the world. I thought I’d put my two passions together and set up a mission-based business that specifically focused on creating more hope and informing people.