Fremantle kicked off its presence at the Venice Film Festival with a bang this year with the announcement of its new €150M ($162.7M) Scripted Fund forged in partnership with Israel-based IBI Investment House.
The fund is reserved exclusively for select projects being developed by Fremantle’s stable of scripted drama companies, which include UK’s Dancing Ledge and Element Pictures, Italy’s The Apartment, Wildside and Lux Vide, as well as The Immigrant, specialized in Latin America and Spanish content.
First projects backed by the fund include previously announced feature Maria, the high-profile Maria Callas biopic, starring Angelina Jolie and directed by Pablo Larraín, who is at Venice this year with Augusto Pinochet dark comedy/horror El Conde.
Two newly unveiled series will : four-part thriller Generation Loss, written by Bridgerton’s Sarah Dollard, and six-part revenge thriller Shelter, to which Jeremy Webb (The Last Of Us, The Umbrella Academy) is attached to direct.
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Fremantle is not involved in Larrain’s Netflix-backed El Conde but is present instead with five other Golden Lion contenders, including Yorgos Lantimos’s buzzed about Poor Things, Stefano Sollima’s well-reviewed Adagio, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, Salvatore Costanzo’s 1950s Cinecittà drama Finally Dawn, and Pietro Castellitto’s Enea
In a sign of a growing presence in the film world, the company is basing itself out of a vast beachfront villa just down the road from the festival’s main hub for the first time this year.
Deadline sat down with top Fremantle execs, Group COO and CEO Continental Europe Andrea Scrosati and President Of Global Drama Christian Vesper, in the peace of its lawned garden to discuss the genesis and implications of the new scripted fund.
DEADLINE: How did Fremantle connect with IBI Investment House?
SCROSATI: It came to us through our CEO in Israel Guy Hameiri, who is also going to be the CEO of the fund. He runs our company there [Abot Hameiri), which we initially invested in and then bought out two years ago.
He came to me around like nine months ago, saying that the leadership in IBI was interested in finding a way to invest in scripted content. Together, we developed this model that I think is pretty new.
DEADLINE: What do you mean by new? There are other funds in existence investing in scripted content.
ANDREA SCROSATI: I think the interesting component here is that it’s a financial institution partnering with a content production company. The projects can only come from Fremantle. So that’s the intriguing component, for us. Then, this fund will fully finance those projects, which is also rare, especially for TV. To have a self-funded studio kind of model on drama is slightly rare. And then Fremantle will go out and sell.
DEADLINE: What encouraged you to go down this route?
SCROSATI: It’s coherent with our strategic positioning. Talent has a lot of opportunity choices… but to super simplify, there are two key potential choices. One, talent signs a deal with a big direct-to-consumer operation. It’s an absolutely a fine choice. But obviously, what happens is that the talent then has to deliver results that are coherent with the platform that needs to sell the subscriptions.
Our approach to talent is different. We say, ‘We’re going to focus on your project, we’re going to support your project, we’re going to potentially finance or risk on your project, and then we’re going to find the right home for your project, because not every project is okay for every place.’ This new device helps us with this strategic positioning.
There is a tactical component because of where the market is today. Big traditional buyers didn’t stop buying but are for sure on a slower kind of pace. We strongly believe that good content has a future. I’m very positive about where the market is going to be in three or four years from today. In every market there’s growth, and then an adjustment.
The problem with where the market is today is that there are great opportunities, sometimes that involve great talent, but they have a time component and you risk not doing those projects if you’re waiting for the green light from Apple, Disney, Netflix, or Amazon.
DEADLINE: If the commissioning contraction hadn’t happened would you still have gone down this route?
SCROSATI: Yes, for the strategic reason I mentioned.
CHRISTIAN VESPER: Not Maria, because Maria is a film and starts very soon. And that was a different calculation. But for the two TV shows that we discuss in the [press] release, part of the consideration there was we believe in the projects. We know there’s a market for them but the talent attached has a discrete window, and so much of our business model has been based on how we bring in talent. How do we service our talent? Our job is to help them get their shows made and on the air. And this gives us one more powerful tool for doing that.
DEADLINE: Will the new fund change the way you deal with the broadcasters and streamers ?
SCROSATI: The buyers are our partners. These shows will go to a client or a streamer. The fund is simply a way to accelerate the production time schedule. The buyer will be able to access a product when it is actually already in production or is already produced.
VESPER: One of our best clients in the UK is struggling now with some of their bigger shows. Even if they’ve greenlit them, they can’t find the financing for the rest of the budget. This is partly to step into that void. The networks, the linears and the public broadcasters, they’re struggling to fulfil all their programming needs with the resources they have and this provides yet one more avenue to do that.
DEADLINE: Can the fund be accessed by all the companies producing scripted content under the Fremantle umbrella?
SCROSATI: Yes, as you can see with the first three projects. One of them is taking place in Israel, one in in UK, and one is a Chilean-Italian coproduction, shot in Hungary. It’s going to be fantastically global.
DEADLINE: Parent group RTL has set a four-year revenue target of €3B ($3.2B) by 2025 for Fremantle. Is this goal still realistic amid the current market adjustment?
SCROSATI: The goal was set by our shareholders… I’ve worked for a few different shareholders over the course of my career. The thing I’ve found incredibly strong is that Bertelsmann and RTL have set a goal but have also given us all the support and instruments to reach that goal. It is a very ambitious goal because obviously the company was doing a very different number three years ago, but again they have given us all the support.
One thing, which is really important to say, is that the growth we have done in the last few years has been a been a mix of M&A and organic growth. This growth is not simply because we are acquiring companies, but rather because we are diversifying and creating a business portfolio. An example of this, is that five years ago, we were delivering two movies a year, and last year, we delivered 17, and with the exception of Element, which is an acquisition, all these movies come from companies that were already part of Fremantle.
VESPER: When I joined the company, Wildside was already a crucial part of the company, and I’ve been here six years now and the growth there is all organic and extraordinary.
SCROSATI: The M&A we’ve done is all part of strategic plans. It’s been about acquiring companies that were best in class in a sector where we were not present. Element is a fantastic example of that. We did not have an English language, movie production company. Or, best in class in potentially growing regions where we were not present. We invested in Latin American company The Immigrant a few years ago when it was a start-up. It now has three productions on the go and its first movie Adolfo won the Generation 14 Plus prize in Berlin.
VESPER: One of our companies in England, Dancing Ledge (This Is Going To Hurt, Crossfire, Wedding Season), is hitting it out of the park in terms of the number of series they have on BBC and all the platforms. Like The Immigrant, we invested in them when they had done nothing. It’s not like we’re buying revenue. A lot of the M&A is investment in the future.
DEADLINE: Do you plan to keep up the pace of scripted company acquisitions of the last three years, or is that calming down?
SCROSATI: In line with what we were just saying, If there is something that is coherent with our growth, in areas where we’re still not present, or there is a company or creative team that we really think has potential, we will still invest. The other component is the cultural element. We are a big company but we’re very lean. The scripted management team is basically in front of you. The only way it can work is if we see can see an element where it will work intellectually and culturally.
DEADLINE: Do you have further growth plans for scripted in the U.S.?
SCROSATI: It’s our first territory. The company’s core business is still the entertainment and unscripted business and the U.S. is a massive territory for us for that. In addition, Dante di Loreto is leading the scripted team and has a lot going on.
VESPER: We have a show, Fellow Travellers, coming out on Paramount+ at the end of September. It’s a big mini-series with Matt Bomer, Jonathan Bailey and Allison Williams, that was developed with Showtime and that we produced for them. Six-part, gorgeous, about the gay panic in the CIA in the 50s. We also produced two seasons of Mosquito Coast for Apple.
We have a number of big shows that we’re about to announce. What’s interesting is that we have a couple of projects that the US have set up to shoot here (Europe), and vice versa. We’re trying to make sure that our European producers have the resources in the US, and the other way round. We’re constantly strategizing about this, it’s important for us to continue to build that business in the US.
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