Industry / Market - Ireland
Industry Report: Series
At the Fís TV Summit, Emma Frost and Anne Mensah talk about creating successful TV shows
The two participants shared their takeaways on adaptations, TV trends and commissioning new shows, as well as offering some careers advice
In the morning, Orla Hannon introduced the first guest, Emma Frost, a writer and showrunner who has worked on productions such as The Man in the High Castle, Shameless and Jamaica Inn. During the first part of the event, Frost talked through her career path and her approach to writing, which is often “undisciplined”. She described adaptations as generally easier to have made but warned those present about a few questions that one should answer before embarking on such projects. She suggested to choose projects which “speak to you” and make you “excited”, to avoid taking on projects where you see any major changes needed (as these most often cannot be implemented), to run “a sense check” to verify whether the project is feasible and whether the people who will commit to it are reliable, and lastly, to work with people you feel comfortable with.
On the topic of streamers and the current “golden age” of TV productions, Frost agreed with Hannon on the fact that “there have never been more potential customers and outlets” and that there are “tremendous opportunities”. She also noticed that even though it’s still almost impossible for new writers to get their shows made, their chances are now increasing. But, despite this favourable climate for creativity, Frost warned that competition has never been tougher, since there are so many graduates coming into the world with the expectation to work, and there are more qualified people than jobs available. It’s also very hard to get noticed or to find an agent: “Fifteen years ago, my agent told me that she would take anyone whose writing she liked, but a bit more recently, she said she can only tell them to keep her posted and ask at what stage they are with their careers. It’s a very crowded space. If you’re good and determined enough, you’ll get through, but it’s a long game. Everyone wants results now, now, now! But I didn’t even start writing until I was close to 30.”
In the afternoon, journalist Esther McCarthy introduced Anne Mensah, Netflix’s VP Content. In the first part of her contribution, Mensah spoke about her career path – including her work for the BBC and Sky before joining the streaming giant three years ago – and the growth in non-English-language content (which has tripled since 2017) supported by the platform, with dubbing and subtitling available in up to 37 languages.
She later spoke about the streamer’s commissioning system, defined as “very democratic” and not particularly aligned with Los Angeles: “It’s about people making their own decisions,” she highlighted. Speaking about onboarding new projects, she said that the team tends to pick them up at the script stage, only because their team is small in size, and they aim not to develop too much, thus reducing the risk of getting stuck in pre-production. This doesn’t prevent them from commissioning brand-new scripts, as in the case of Abi Morgan’s new show, set in New York in the 1970s and revolving around a child who goes missing.
She suggested that companies willing to approach them with an idea that is on a scale they’ve never made before should find another partner that can provide “the backbone”. This would increase their chances of engaging in talks with the streamer: “We do tend to work with companies having heads of production and financial controllers, and those that have worked on multi-million-pound shows before.” She added that they prefer to co-operate with already-formed teams, instead of pairing creatives themselves, so that the project can run as smoothly as possible. She also mentioned that they license and co-produce content extensively.
Speaking about whether to follow the latest trends before producing and commissioning shows, Mensah stated: “We need to make sure that people connect and engage with our shows. There’s so much variety, so it’s about distinctive voices, rather than trends. A lot of shows become popular not because of marketing campaigns, but because people talk about them – and that was the case for Squid Game as well.”
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