Universal International Studios has struck a first-look deal with “Call My Agent!” and “Parallèles” writer Quoc Dang Tran as it continues a charm offensive directed at international creators.
UIS has inked a first-look deal with the French-Vietnamese writer and showrunner who will develop and produce English and French-language television projects with the studio for the global market. French-language series will be co-produced with the “Marianne” writer’s recently formed label, Daïmôn Films.
“He really leads from themes that speak to his heart versus responding to the industry, so we’re excited to do business with a creator who listens to their gut instead of just what the network is mandating,” Beatrice Springborn, president of Universal International Studios, tells Variety ahead of a keynote at French TV festival Series Mania.
“That has helped him stand out as someone with a real point of view, [who] is a real visionary.”
Dang Tran added: “It’s an absolute privilege to join Universal International Studios, a studio that’s dedicated to telling bold and compelling stories. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have a creative home at a place where creators’ originality and distinctive vision of the world are truly fostered.”
Dang Tran — who is represented by Film Talents in France and Range Media Partners in the U.S. — served as a writer on hit French comedy “Call My Agent!,” a France Televisions title that has become a global sensation via Netflix. In 2018, he created “Nox,” a limited series for Canal Plus, and went on to write the 2019 Netflix series “Marianne.”
His new series “Parallèles,” which world premieres at Series Mania, will debut on Disney Plus on March 23. The six-part series is the streamer’s first French-language original and tells the story of four friends whose lives are turned upside down when a mysterious event scatters the group into different timelines. He also recently adapted “The Drops of God,” a cult manga about oenology — the study of wine — that’s set in France and Japan. The show is currently in production and will be released at the end of the year.
Springborn tells Variety that partnerships like Dang Tran’s represent the kinds of deals the studio is looking to do in the global market. “Part of our mandate and where we really want to focus our time and energy over the next couple of years is expanding into local [stories] for global [audiences] and also local for local,” she says.
As revealed by Variety, the studio recently struck a deal with one of the hottest players in Spanish-language programming, Buendía Estudios, the producers of “Cardo” and “Veneno.”
Universal International Studios rebranded from NBCUniversal International Studios in November 2021 to further align with the Universal Studio Group and sister studios UCP, Universal Television and Universal Television Alternative Studio. Springborn and David O’Donoghue, who were part of the interim international leadership in the last two years, were recently named president and head of UIS, respectively. The global operation includes “Downton Abbey” producer Carnival Films, Working Title and Matchbox Pictures.
Springborn takes over from Jeff Wachtel, who left Universal in October 2020 after two years running the international business.
A former Hulu executive, Springborn says the rebrand is “a complete refresh of the way we look at our values, our mission and our vision.” It’s not about doing lip service, she says, but rather about building and rebuilding trust and “being additive to everything we do.”
Of utmost importance is becoming a place where creators are taken care of — an approach the studio hopes will help it to attract the world’s top talent. “We are prioritizing the culture of a studio and being value-add in terms of everything we do, whether that’s having executives [on hand] or bringing a book or title to develop that [a creative] wouldn’t get anywhere else, or just having the level of one-on-one attention to detail,” says Springborn.
Broadcasters Telemundo in the U.S. and Sky in Europe and global streamer Peacock are the “priority” as far as distribution goes, but the executive quickly highlights that it’s still possible to work with different platforms.
“It’s dependent on show, honestly,” Springborn says. “Peacock’s not going to do every show that our partners want to produce. And there are going to be some shows we prioritize for them because they need entertainment specifically earmarked in a genre or a creator that they’re bullish on.”
One such example is “Big Little Lies” author Liane Moriarty’s novel “Apples Never Fall,” which is getting a series adaptation at Peacock. “We had a lot of interest across many different platforms, but ultimately Peacock was the most bullish in terms of the deal, and then you’ve got a Liane Moriarty project based on a bestselling New York Times novel helping to drive subscribers.”
Ultimately, Spingborn says, “We’re focusing on building our footprint across Europe, not just in the U.K. or in English-language territories, but in France, Spain, Germany and Italy.”
Africa and specifically Nigeria are also on the cards. To that end, NBCUniversal Formats recently unveiled “The Real Housewives of Lagos,” following “the opulent lives of six of the most glamorous women” in the country’s largest city. Formats like “Real Housewives” and a number of scripted properties such as “Superstore,” “Safe Harbour” and “Suits” have been another way of growing the studio’s international reach.
The next title in the catalogue that’s ripe for adaptation in the global market?
Ryan Reynolds and Denzel Washington’s “Safe House,” a 2012 action thriller that could have legs beyond its Hollywood debut. “It’s a very commercial film, and something that could be reimagined,” says Springborn.
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