The race to discover and foster fresh talent is on.
Can one embark on a discussion about new voices without taking a moment to mention the stratospheric rise of Phoebe Waller-Bridge? In 2016, Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag, adapted from her one-woman play, earned raves after airing on BBC Three. It found an international audience on Amazon Prime and earned a second season that dominated the Primetime Emmys this year. As for Killing Eve, the series Waller-Bridge wrote and produced for BBC America based on Luke Jennings’ Codename Villanelle, it took her profile and that of its stars to new heights.
Next for the now new-ish voice of Waller-Bridge is a writing credit on the latest addition to the James Bond franchise (No Time to Die), an overall deal at Amazon Studios and Run, a series she’s producing and starring in for HBO alongside Vicky Jones, which has Entertainment One (eOne) behind it. Of Waller-Bridge, Polly Williams, eOne’s head of scripted drama, says: “She’s rocketed into the outer space of brilliance.” While Williams is excited about Run and the military thriller Tenacity, a show eOne is doing for ITV with Bad Wolf, the company is, as ever, on the hunt for more content from creators on the rise.
“We’re in an environment now where people are taking more risks,” says Williams. “If a younger writer has done a stand-out spec or a fantastic short or a brilliant play, people are much more quick to get a jump on that and take that writer on.”
Following a similar trajectory to Waller-Bridge is Ambreen Razia, whose one-woman play The Diary of a Hounslow Girl became a pilot from CPL Productions for BBC Three called Hounslow Diaries, co-funded by Red Arrow Studios. Carlo Dusi, executive VP of commercial strategy for scripted at Red Arrow Studios International, says, “Being proactive and being plugged-in is important. We try to make sure that, as a team, we keep an eye on everything that’s coming out—film, television, even stage work here in the U.K.”
As Red Arrow’s Dusi points out, the bigger players are scooping up top-level talent with exclusive deals, shrinking the pool for others to choose from. One way to grow the talent pool is by adding to it those who are on the rise. “Being in the medium-size range of studio level, we see it as a great opportunity to focus our energies on the younger, up-and-coming, newer and fresher talent,” says Dusi.
TALENT, TALENT, TALENT
Keshet International (KI) is shoring up its talent reserves through a strategy that combines bidding on the right talent and being creative in sourcing it. “Thinking outside of the box in how you source talent is a big challenge for us and other media companies moving forward,” says Atar Dekel, KI’s VP of global drama. For Stockholm, a drama that KI represents based on an Israeli book, the company went to the book’s author, Noa Yedlin, and brought her on board as a writer on the series. “Coming from such a small market, we know how to take chances,” says Dekel.
At MarVista Entertainment, the state of the industry is proving to be a boon for its business model. “We’re now able to connect the dots even more specifically between the talent that we want to give an opportunity to and the perfect platform for them to get their content on,” says Hannah Pillemer, head of creative affairs.
Fredrik af Malmborg, managing director at Eccho Rights, can see the bright side too. “If you are a good showrunner or writer, there are lots of new models to explore. And we are working actively to support key talent to find new business models,” he says.
AGENTS OF CHANGE
Alongside the new crop of talent are agents eager to sign them. “There are a lot of younger agents now, who are going out of their way to find young talent that is just emerging out of film school and ambitious and hungry,” eOne’s Williams observes.
In addition to going through agents and managers, MarVista has another valued recruitment tactic—its reputation. “We kind of act as a farm team for new talent; we’ve given so many directors their first or second feature and the same with writers. We’ve been able to generate great word-of-mouth throughout the creative community,” says Pillemer.
She adds, “A lot of actors and actresses that we’re working with are now looking to take more creative control. We have a great opportunity in place for them to come in and say, We’ll take a chance on you; we’ll have you write and produce your first feature. We’ll have you direct your first feature.” (The company worked with actress Lea Thompson on her feature film directorial debut, The Year of Spectacular Men.)
A quartet of top Swedish actresses teamed up to create Heder (Honour), a title in Eccho Rights’ catalog, serving as executive producers and starring in it. Eccho Rights has sold the Viaplay commission to RTL in Germany and VRT in Belgium, among other markets.
With Scandi drama going strong, distributors are eager to get into business with creatives across the region. But, in this competitive climate, studios and distributors are keener than ever to source new talent from outside of the more traditional markets. Eccho Rights has recently taken on titles from SIC in Portugal and has long been in the Russian market, distributing such titles as Trotsky and Silver Spoon. It also represents Servant of the People, a Ukrainian series about a teacher who becomes president, which stars comedian-turned-real-life-president Volodymyr Zelensky.
“We’re looking at emerging talent out of the European market,” says Williams. “I think Spain is a very exciting place right now because there’s a lot of talent coming out of there. We’re working with French showrunners on something, we’re working with an Italian production company. We’re looking at brilliant content worldwide.”
MarVista has a partnership with Hemisphere Media Group in Latin America and is having conversations with producers in France and Germany.
When it comes to aligning with new talent, some companies, including MarVista, are eager to ink overall deals with some of their favored producers. “First-look and development is also something that we’re actively exploring now,” says Pillemer. “It’s kind of all on the table at the moment. If you’re going to cast this wide net, you might find the next Ryan Coogler, and you better lock him in.”
At eOne, Williams says, “We have big-scale [deals], some small boutique ones, deals with actors, managers, writers.” And once eOne signs talent, it supports them. “We have a lot of really brilliant creative executives who can do in-the-weeds development and be a source of support to writers and producers,” she says. Once the project becomes more developed, the company can help with casting and finding directors as well.
Dekel sees KI as an “incubator” for new talent, where they “not only have access to our group of very seasoned executives, but we also offer a unique hands-on approach when it comes to development,” she says. “We can come in early. We can come in late. And, if it’s stories that have some relevance to Israel, there’s always our channel” as a potential commissioning broadcaster, she says.
The market, as competitive as it might be, is a breeding ground for opportunity—for the undiscovered to get their voices heard and for studios and distributors to be the ones to lift them up. Though a challenge, the downsides to it seem to pale in comparison to the upsides.
“What’s so great about the creative community right now and the time that we’re in is that people are realizing that diversity in storytelling is working,” says Pillemer. “People want to see different kinds of stories and the best way you can do that is by really nurturing talent that we haven’t yet heard from.”