Hello readers and welcome to International Insider. Jake Kanter here, bringing you a curated recap of all the global film and TV news you need to know this week. Any tips or stories can be sent to [email protected], or my DMs are open. And sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every Friday.
Warner’s HBO Max Bombshell
Warner’s seismic strategy: Gravity-defying news from the U.S. overnight, where WarnerMedia announced that it’s going to dump its entire 2021 theatrical slate on HBO Max at the same time as the films screen in cinemas. That means movies including Matrix 4, Godzilla vs. Kong, Dune, and Denzel Washington’s The Little Things will be all be available to Americans from the comfort of their sofa. There were murmurs at rival studios that WarnerMedia was going to drop a bombshell in December — no one knew it would be this big. Here’s the full story.
Pandemic plan: WarnerMedia CEO Jason Kilar told my colleague Anthony D’Alessandro that the company is “here for the long term” when it comes to backing cinema, but needs to indulge in some self-preservation in the short term. “We’re focused on getting through this pandemic like any business is, and we’re putting a lot of brain cells against what the right thing is to do to serve fans, and to serve partners, and to serve ourselves.”
What it means internationally: Well, very little — for the moment. “What we announced today is just for the United States. So, we have not announced anything in terms of outside the United States other than these films will have a traditional release,” Kilar said. Warner showed it was committed to the global box office through Tenet, but amid continued uncertainty for cinemas, the company is exploring different release ideas before HBO Max goes global next year. For example, a potential home entertainment premiere could be on the cards for Wonder Woman 1984 in the UK this month, though nothing is cast in stone.
HBO Max Goes Global
Sticking with HBO Max, global chief Andy Forssell told the virtual Web Summit on Thursday that the streamer will start rolling out in Europe in the second half of 2021, building on plans to launch mid-year in Latin America. The ultimate aim is for HBO Max to be in 190 countries and Forssell said it’s “imperative to achieve scale” soon. My colleague Peter White had the story.
The content plan: HBO Max’s launch will help in “breaking down the silos” that exist in HBO’s international programming strategy. HBO has been producing originals in Europe, Latin America, and Asia for a number of years, including series such as Czech crime drama Wasteland (pictured). “One of the things that we’re going to do with Max is that all of our international productions will eventually live on Max and we’re going to do a much better job of coordinating between all of the folks,” said Forssell.
Other streaming news: It wasn’t just HBO Max creating waves in the streaming world this week. Discovery pulled the curtain back on Discovery+ on Wednesday. The service brings together content from Discovery Channel, TLC, ID, Food Network, and HGTV, and goes live in the U.S. on January 4. Discovery+ is already available in the UK.
World of opportunity: Although Discovery+ won’t have a dedicated commissioning team, it will open up new opportunities for international producers. Discovery SVP Lisa Holme told us this week that the streamer has picked up the UK version of BBC series Race Across The World, produced by Undercover Boss outfit Studio Lambert. There will be other international acquisitions and co-productions, she added.
Why All3Media Bought Silverback
King of the swingers: In a surprise bit of business on Thursday, All3Media swooped to acquire Silverback Films, the blue-chip natural history producer behind Netflix’s David Attenborough epic Our Planet. The terms of the purchase were not disclosed, but it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that Silverback would have been valued at tens of millions of dollars. The producer’s revenue grew 74% to £16.4M ($22M) last year.
Chest-thumping: All3Media CEO Jane Turton told me that Silverback gives the production group immediate access to a small, but elite pool of natural history program makers at a time when the genre is booming. “There is an enormous appetite for very high-quality natural history and there are very few people who can produce it. There is a huge scarcity factor,” said Turton. “We were keen [to buy Silverback] way back when. I was never quite sure whether they would willing to do something like this. We are more than chuffed that we’ve got there. It’s very special. We haven’t got anything in natural history in the group.” Click for the full interview.
‘The Crown’ Kerfuffle
Warning shot: It’s not every day that the British government makes pronouncements about topical TV shows, but that’s precisely what happened on Sunday, when Oliver Dowden fired a shot across the bows of Netflix. The culture secretary wants The Crown to feature a disclaimer making clear it is partly fictionalized amid growing disquiet about the show’s alternate history. “Without this, I fear a generation of viewers who did not live through these events may mistake fiction for fact,” Dowden said. Full story here.
The reaction: Netflix was tight-lipped about Dowden’s intervention, but others in the industry were less diplomatic. One source bitingly asked why The Crown is so high on the government’s agenda, given that the arts sector is in the throes of an unprecedented Covid-19 crisis. Others implied that the government is simply currying favor with the crown after Prince Charles’ pals have said the Netflix series is “trolling on a Hollywood budget.”
The bottom line: Netflix is certainly not legally obligated to add a disclaimer and, given it has carried no such viewer warning for four seasons, it would not be a leap to assume that this remains the preference of producers and Netflix itself. But as concerns about The Crown’s historical accuracy grow louder the closer it encroaches on living memory, these sorts of conversations will become harder to ignore. Heck, even Helena Bonham Carter (aka Princess Margaret) had her say on last week’s official The Crown podcast: “We have a moral responsibility to say, hang on guys… it’s not drama doc, we’re making a drama.”
🌶️ Hot one of the week: Two-time Oscar-nominee Cynthia Erivo (pictured) is to star in and produce a film about Sarah Forbes Bonetta, a 19th Century African princess ‘gifted’ to Queen Victoria. Andreas Wiseman had the scoop.
📝 Brit List lands: This year’s Brit List of best unproduced scripts was topped by Amy Guyler’s TV comedy-drama The Jude Problem from Headline Pictures. Full list.
👋 Farewell then: Rest in peace Dave Prowse, the Brit best known for playing Darth Vader in the original Star Wars trilogy. He died at the age of 85. Andreas had the obit.
🍿 International box office: DreamWorks Animation/Universal’s The Croods: A New Age led the weekend in China with a $19.2M debut. Nancy Tartaglione had the details.
🏆 Awards news: France’s Academie des Arts et Techniques du Cinema has confirmed a March 12, 2021, date for its César Awards, the local equivalent to the Oscars. More info here.
🖊️ International Critics Line: In the spotlight this week: Denmark’s Oscar hopeful Another Round, starring Mads Mikkelsen. Read Todd McCarthy’s thoughts.
🚚 On the move: Charlotte Lewis has been promoted to head of comedy at Objective Fiction, the All3Media-owned production outfit behind shows including Netflix/Channel 4 co-pro Feel Good. Go deeper.
🎦 Trailer dash: Netflix dropped a rousing first trailer for UK feature The Dig, starring Carey Mulligan, Ralph Fiennes (sporting a west country accent), and Lily James. Watch it.
📺 One to watch: Richard Curtis’ iconic British comedy Vicar Of Dibley returns for a series of lockdown specials. Starring Dawn French, the show gets underway on BBC One on December 7.
Keeping the show on the road: The Grand Tour boys, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, are not renowned for loving red tape and protocols, so filming their newest adventure in Scotland amid Covid conditions may have been a shock to the system. Long gone are the days when Clarkson can share cigarettes with soundmen, according to showrunner Andy Wilman. Instead, producers spent £50,000 ($67,000) on a mobile testing unit, staffed by specially-trained medics who kept the team in line. Or, to put that in Grand Tour speak, it was a “Scooby-Doo van with three boffins in it.” Read our full interview with Wilman to see how Amazon kept The Grand Tour motoring during the pandemic.
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