Erik Barmack, CEO of Wild Sheep Content, talks to TV Drama about launching his own outfit following his tenure as head of international originals at Netflix.
As head of international originals at Netflix, Erik Barmack developed a keen ability to spot standout concepts and creative storytellers in the global marketplace for shows that would resonate with a global fan base, resulting in hits like Sacred Games and Money Heist. As CEO of his own outfit, Wild Sheep Content, Barmack is carrying on that tradition, recently securing investment from The Mediapro Studio.
TV DRAMA: When you founded Wild Sheep, what gaps were you looking to fill in the marketplace?
BARMACK: There are these huge global production companies like Banijay, ITV Studios and Fremantle, with significant infrastructure. Then there are disparate, talented producers around the world who are independent and not necessarily connected to Hollywood. And there’s been a rise of global streamers looking for international content. The thinking was to build out packages of content for global streamers that want more international content and take advantage of the fact that content is really crossing borders. Wild Sheep was set up around that premise. For example, we’re taking out a project, which is getting a lot of attention, where we optioned a Stephen King book called The Plant. The vast majority of Stephen King’s readers are non-English-speaking. But he’s never done a project outside of the English language. What would it look like to take a book like that, package him with a director like Alexandre Aja, who has worked in both Hollywood and France, and then set it up in Paris? That’s what we’re in the process of doing right now. To do that, you would need to know local producers and you’d also need to know the talent agencies [in the U.S.] Things like that are what get me going. And it could be the other way, too. We’ve optioned important books in Turkey and packaged them up in a way that might be a little more palatable to the global streamers. IP is crossing boundaries and borders in a way that the traditional mode of production didn’t anticipate.
TV DRAMA: In the short amount of time that Wild Sheep has been up and running, what have been some of the biggest lessons for you as a producer and packager of content?
BARMACK: You really have to love each project, because it’s a lot of connecting the dots and two steps forward, one step back. Coming from Netflix and doing this on the other side had me fairly well prepared. On the positive side, there is such an appetite for international content now, and you can see it. The Witcher is one of the top shows on Netflix—that’s a show I worked on, based on Polish novels—La Casa de Papel [Money Heist] in Spain was a big hit, Parasite at the Oscars. The ambition to be international has completely changed. I feel like that’s changed in the [year] since I left Netflix.
TV DRAMA: Tell us about the alliance with The Mediapro Studio and what it enables you to do going forward.
BARMACK: Mediapro is one of the more aggressive companies in Europe. They’re putting some investment into my company. I think of Laura [Fernández Espeso, corporate director and co-head of television at The Mediapro Studio] as one of the smartest people in terms of thinking about international strategy. They have sales forces around the world, so if we’re trying to piece together co-productions, they can help. And then they have physical production spaces, so if we need soundstages and things like that, that can be part of what we’re doing as well. I just think of them as a very aggressive, big company that is focused on international production, and they’re not super heavy in Los Angeles right now. So there’s a good opportunity to find some synergies with me being L.A.-based and them being Europe- and LatAm-based.
TV DRAMA: I’m hearing that production costs keep rising, and there’s a strain on talent pools. How are you navigating that?
BARMACK: It depends on the market. In a lot of these markets, you may just run out of crews or established producers, so it’s either going to be that people have to take chances on newer companies, or costs will go up. I think that’s probably a good thing. Over time, the macro view is that it’s going to lead to more stories from around the world being heard, and investment in regions besides the U.S. [will increase]. This false constraint that everything has to come through Hollywood has ended. But there will be disruption around that, too.
TV DRAMA: As a boutique outfit, how many projects can you reasonably manage at any one time?
BARMACK: I have a half a dozen projects so far in development. And that’s out of a slate of nine or ten projects I took out towards the end of last year. I’m in the process now of building a second slate of development projects. I’ll take out another ten. Then you look at how many of those ten you can get to development and how many of those development projects you can get to series. I have the ability to hire people. Also, in all these cases, I’m working with local production services companies or producers on the ground, so it’s not as though I need to build out a big production infrastructure to be successful.
This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Media companies are currently shifting their strategies in the wake of production postponements and economic trends.