Antony Root • Executive vice-president, HBO Europe
"HBO Europe is a bottom-up organisation"
- We met up with Antony Root, executive vice-president of HBO Europe, as he presented Isabel Coixet's Foodie Love at Brussels’ Are You Series? festival
Cineuropa: You just produced Isabel Coixet's Foodie Love in Spain, which is being presented in Brussels at the Are You Series? festival. Is the general trend at HBO to develop and produce local content?
Antony Root: Yes. One of the signatures of what we’re trying to do is authentic auteur series. We've done this recently in Scandinavia, producing Lukas Moodysson's Gösta, and in Spain, with Alex de la Iglesia's 30 Coins. It's not unusual. When consumers have so much on offer, one of the things that people go for are local stories. When HBO Europe started producing a decade ago, the whole point was to connect with audiences in local countries in a different way to how you may connect with imported American series. We had to offer something in local languages, directed by local directors. My job was to try to identify what the HBO “magic dust” was in the USA and see if I could sprinkle some of that onto local ideas and talent here. In Central and Eastern Europe, where we started, it was definitely finding original stories from those countries – stories that were told in a way that would be recognisable for the biggest audience possible in those territories. Most of the people we worked with came from a cinema background.
Foodie Love is a universal story, as it is about a couple that meet through a web dating app and who fall in love. You can't have a more universal theme than that. But it has a very personal touch, and you can see the artist behind the series. Isabel made the show she wanted to make. It was shot predominantly in Barcelona, which is a very important component of the story. Of course, we make these shows in one country, but we distribute day-and-date in all of our 21 countries in Europe.
How do you select the projects?
We are not a top-down organisation; we are very much bottom-up. We have budget parameters each year. Each commissioning editor in his or her country will receive projects and will make a personal judgement on the shows that best fit our editorial line.
Do you apply US working methods in Europe?
Not really. We do not have "writers’ rooms", which were created to meet industrial requirements in the USA at commercial television stations. That's not been the history of the medium in Europe. We take a "case by case" approach. We have auteur series, such as Isabel Coixet's, and in this case, our role is to understand how best to help the authors to achieve what they are trying to do. On other shows, we have a group of writers working together because that's the particular way the show evolves. I'm totally opposed to imposing some American structure on a very different environment. Differentiation is at the heart of what we need to do now.
Where does the fiercest competition come from?
From both local and international television channels. If you take the case of Spain, local television stations such as Movistar are developing very good and expensive series. You also have excellent free-to-air dramas. You have Netflix and now Amazon setting up offices in Madrid. Those people are not only competing for the audience, but they are also competing for the talents.
A few years ago, you stated that HBO did not enter into co-productions. Have you changed your strategy?
Yes, we have evolved as we have expanded the volume of shows. We would enter into a co-production with a partner that shares our creative values.
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