MIPCOM Panel Spotlights Banijay Scripted Expansion


MIPCOM’s inaugural Seaview Producers Hub featured a panel on Banijay’s evolving scripted slate with Lars Blomgren, Kudos’ Karen Wilson, Endemol Shine Finland’s Max Malka and Pokeepsie Films’ Álex de la Iglesia and Carolina Bang.

Banijay operates 50 scripted labels across 19 territories, overseen by Blomgren as head of scripted. The portfolio includes Kudos in the U.K., helmed by Wilson as co-managing director; Endemol Shine Finland, where Malka heads up scripted; and Spain’s Pokeepsie Films, founded by producers de la Iglesia and Bang. The panel was moderated by World Screen’s editor, Mansha Daswani.

Last year, the group delivered 138 scripted titles across 19 territories, 75 percent of which was non-English-language. Asked if there is a common vision across the footprint, Blomgren said: “This is a people business with all kinds of characters. The thing they have in common is they’re all brilliant minds and they’re high-end in their respective territories. But high-end is a completely different thing in Finland or in the U.K. We try to support them in the best possible way we have. We try to maximize the value of being part of the group. We share our intel and experiences. If you have a problem with a broadcaster, someone else has had the problem before, so we can learn from each other. And we also have a scripted fund. So, if someone wants to go for a big IP, we can support with deeper pockets to step in and negotiate for rights with more confidence.”

He added, “We are producers from top to bottom. The entrepreneurial mindset is such an important part of the DNA. Everyone will produce according to their own circumstances and what works best for them.”

Wilson then talked about her approach to crafting a development slate at Kudos to meet the needs of the diverse range of commissioning broadcasters and platforms in the U.K. “Kudos has always prided itself on being a writers’ company. We have always made it our thing to not develop to brief and speak to the stories that the brilliant team at Kudos and the amazing writers that we work with want to tell. That said, it’s really important to us that we have a mixed ecology on the slate. [The broadcasters have] a similar approach in terms of what they’re looking for at the moment. It feels slightly easier in a way. It had been the case that maybe the BBC was looking for something that was very different to Sky. But I think while the competition is so fierce, everyone is looking for things that are slightly more accessible and mainstream than maybe they once had. We’re really fortunate to have the Channel 4s and the BBCs that can tell stories that aren’t of interest to the streamers because they are so British and speak to the audience in the local area. We have tried in the last couple of years to think about where we find stories. We’ve partnered with a podcast company because true crime is an area that’s really interesting to us, and that’s proving really fruitful. We’ve embarked on a partnership with Steven Knight (Rogue Heroes). We’re looking at creating content in Birmingham, and we’re speaking to all the streamers about what shows we might come up with for them with him.”

The conversation then moved to Endemol Shine Finland, which made Dance Brothers for Netflix and Yle. “This is the first scripted project at Endemol Shine Finland,” Malka said, “as well as the first Finnish series to have its global premiere on Netflix. We were very lucky to have two supportive and creative friendly partners. Both Netflix and Yle were involved from the very get-go with us when we started writing and developing this project. There was a mutual interest in trying out this kind of partnership where we can bring local stories, Finnish-language content that has an integral universal appeal to both Finnish audiences and then to the global audience.”

She continued, “Since we’re new to the scripted field in Finland, we have an opportunity to really establish a unique stand and identity. We are looking to do things in a sustainable way, in a surprising and creative way, and do, as Lars was saying, high-end creative for the larger audiences, but in a way that feels that it’s in this moment somehow.”

Dance Brothers is on track to receive a three-star Albert rating—a BAFTA initiative—for its approach to sustainability, Malka noted. “It’s been used in the U.K. for more than a decade and it’s being utilized now elsewhere in Europe as well. We were part of a pilot project of trying it out in Finland. The whole idea is to make the production as ecological and sustainable as possible from preproduction all the way to postproduction. Environmental sustainability is such a core value for Banijay. This was something that we really wanted to do and learn from. It has to do with every aspect of production, from the scripts to production to materials. Every single member of the crew getting training and having a responsibility in each of their departments to do better. When measured, of all of the different genres, scripted has the largest carbon footprint. We are the more most environmentally damaging art form—there’s a lot of travel, a lot of materials, a lot of energy consumed. We can definitely do better without compromising the content. This is something that we discovered doing Dance Brothers. Our carbon footprint is over 80 percent less than if we hadn’t done everything that we could with this project to be more sustainable.”

Banijay made headlines this week with its acquisition of Mam Tor Productions. Asked what he looks for in producers to align with, Blomgren stated: “We’re always looking for new alliances and partners with brilliant, creative people. When the opportunity arises, we just try to get the most out of it. Sometimes it’s because we have maybe a genre gap in the country. In other territories, it’s about kicking off the scripted business. We’re really open for it.”

One of the ventures Banijay recently aligned with is Spain’s Pokeepsie Films, which is behind the genre hit 30 Coins. Asked about what the partnership means for the producer, Bang noted: “Being part of the Banijay group now is going to help us to grow up and also expand into other territories beyond Spain and probably Europe also. Our stories work very well in Spain. But it’s true that we are very much into the horror field, and we think also that being part of the Spanish group will also help to bring these stories, which are local, using horror as a vehicle to make them even more international and worldwide stories.”

The conversation then moved to financing models and executing on co-productions, a field that Kudos is well versed in with a slate that includes Grantchester for ITV and PBS and Rogue Heroes with BBC and EPIX. “The key thing for us when we’re going out with a show is, At what point do you look for a co-producer? It’s a really important part of the model when we’re working with the domestic broadcasters. Budgets these days don’t allow us to make a show exclusively out of the license fee. It has been a really positive thing looking at how all our U.K. broadcasters have invested in partnerships with different platforms around the world. As long as everyone comes into it wanting the same thing, understanding their position on the show, we’re clear on at what points we need to consult them on, then it should all go swimmingly.”

“I want to do things bigger and funnier,” de la Iglesia said. “That’s my target. I need cooperation. I need to share my ideas with other parts of Banijay to make it bigger, to compete with other entertainment shows that have more money.”

Next up was a conversation about fostering emerging talent. “It’s a really big challenge,” Wilson said. “Part of our ambition for the partnership with Steve in the Midlands area is to look at creating content that will allow opportunities to all sorts of people from the area to be trained. We are really mindful, having done various sort of schemes, that actually the best way to give people an opportunity to train and learn is to have the content to actually put them in place on. That is a really big part of our thinking. When we are looking at giving people opportunities on our productions, it’s about supporting them and making sure that we don’t step people up before they’re ready. We put them with people in departments that can help train them. Any talent involved in scripted television at the moment is really hard to get a hold of. It’s pushing rates up. It makes our jobs harder to attract the talent, and then it makes it harder to retain them. We’re talking to each other about that challenge, finding different ways to give people opportunities. But it is going to be a challenge for a really long time.”

Malka concurred, noting, “We need different kinds of people and those who make the most interesting kind of projects. The sustainability part of it is not just environmental, it’s also about how we treat people. Do we give them an opportunity to grow and learn and make mistakes?”

Bang added: “One of the strongest points of Pokeepsie is precisely nurturing a new generation of filmmakers. When [we] created the company, the main target was to help these new writers and filmmakers to have right project for them. Nurturing a new generation of filmmakers is definitely one of the most important, if not the most important, section of Pokeepsie.”

Blomgren added, “I love combining the words quality and karma. If you want to work with talent, if you want them to come back, you have to treat them nice. We’re really trying to spread that message across the group.”

Blomgren then discussed Banijay’s scripted output outside of India, which includes several shows in India, such as remakes of The Night Manager and Call My Agent, and the U.S. Hispanic market, which he called “a big priority for us.”

The panelists then weighed in on pitching processes. “I was fortunate enough to experience a U.S. pitching process when we went out with Utopia and the reformat of that show,” Wilson said. “We are bringing more of that—a more polished approach to our pitches. It depends on the buyer, but we are investing more money these days into making our pitches more visual, so the material that we send ahead of trying to get in the door can really bring a sense of the visual or the level of casting that we want or the talent that’s already attached. We’re fortunate to be able to develop scripts in-house if that is going to be the best thing for the project. Maybe your writer isn’t quite as experienced and therefore, to give a better sense of what the project is, we need to invest in the script and bring that to the buyers. It’s still a very tailored approach depending on the project and the buyer. But I definitely feel like we are getting much better at being a bit less British about it in the U.K. at least, and, and trying to bring a bit more of a sense of professionalism.”

Blomgren added, “From one territory to the other, there’s so many different ways of pitching. You have the tradition of looking at that idea and then bringing this idea to one broadcaster, and then you sign an agreement and you’re in this development process for years. That’s always been the way you do it. In other territories, you take it to the market to pitch it to five or six clients. Around the group, it’s getting more and more common that we actually go to more than one client.”

Malka noted: “I need to feel like I’m committed to the story and to the filmmakers and I have something substantial that I can send if the pitch goes well. I’m not a big fan of just pitching ten things. I’d actually rather do fewer pitches but be committed to them and finding the right partner.”