EXCLUSIVE: The Ink Factory is re-teaming with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk author Ben Fountain on an original one-hour TV series. Details of the project are being kept under wraps for now, but it represents the latest splashy move for a company that has also closed a round of financing that gives it the capacity to fully finance, if it wants to, its own features and TV series. That level of financial independence is turning Ink Factory into a home for sophisticated, intelligent and risk-taking fare in a landscape increasingly dominated by superheroes and intergalactic tentpoles.
The company is currently midway through production on Ang Lee’s adaptation of Fountain’s well-regarded novel about 19-year-old private Billy Lynn and his company who survive a harrowing Iraq battle that is captured by news cameras. They are brought home by the U.S. administration for a promotional tour, culminating in the spectacular halftime show of a Thanksgiving Day football game. Unbeknownst to all, there is turmoil as the group faces an imminent return to the war. The film unfolds during the game with flashbacks to Billy’s heroism under fire.
The reunion with Fountain is only one of a number of projects in various stages of production. The London- and LA-based production company has one film, Fabrice du Welz’s Message From The King, completed; Billy Lynn in production; and a TV project, the Hugh Laurie-Tom Hiddleston starrer The Night Manager, also filming.
If company principals Stephen and Simon Cornwell as well as Rhodri Thomas and Alexei Boltho have their way, this will only be the start of an ambitious multimedia expansion that covers film, TV and gaming.
Projects in development include The Line, written by Stephen Cornwell & Oliver Butcher, a character-based thriller set in the U.S., which Vin Diesel’s One Race Films has been co-developing and will co-produce as a potential starring project for the Fast & Furious star in 2016. Also in the pipelines is a feature adaptation of John Le Carre’s A Delicate Truth with Bill Monahan (The Departed) adapting. The Ink Factory is going out to directors imminently. Ronald Harwood (The Pianist) has adapted Thomas Harding’s non-fiction book Hanns & Rudolph, about the hunt for Auschwitz Nazi Kommandant Rudolf Hoss. On the TV front, the company is also developing a long-form adaptation of a new Le Carre project.
As Deadline exclusive revealed, the company has also optioned David Vann’s critically acclaimed new novel Aquarium, about a 12-year-old girl who lives alone with her mother. When an estranged family member re-enters their lives looking for forgiveness, he offers the girl a hopeful future but threatens to expose painful wounds from her mother’s past.
Launched in 2010 as a vehicle where the initial driver was the underlying IP of Le Carre (real name David Cornwell, father of Stephen and Simon), The Ink Factory has steadily and quietly emerged as a destination for premium content across a multitude of platforms. “From the beginning, we set out to work with a high calibre of talent, from writers to directors,” says former Weinstein Co. VP Rhodri Thomas. “We want to make things that speak to an audience and creatively occupy a daring space.”
Message from the King is a case in point. The film, which recently wrapped, follows a South African who descends into the Los Angeles underworld in an attempt to avenge his younger sister’s death and rescue her stepson from the immoral world into which he’s been sold. The Ink Factory co-financed with eOne, which will distribute in their major territories and handle international sales. The film received a number of domestic offers at Cannes. The fact that the Ink Factory principals can bring their own coin to the table means they can afford to be more choosy about which deals to say yes to. “They’re smart and they take risks,” says eOne’s president of production Xavier Marchand. “That’s rare these days.”
Finding risk takers with deep pockets and impeccable taste is a heady mix. That’s exactly what The Ink Factory is coming to represent. On Night Manager, for example, the company acted as the studio, both during the development and financing the actual production, with significant equity investments. The Susanne Bier-directed limited series follows a night manager of a European hotel (Hiddleston), who is recruited by intelligence agents to infiltrate the network of an international arms dealer (Laurie, with a deliciously malevolent role). AMC won a multiple-network bidding war for the project.
“That was one of the reasons we wanted to have in-house financing.” says Stephen Cornwell. “We want to identify projects from the beginning of their inception, develop them and retain a strong financial ownership position when it goes into production.”
The company aims to finance two self-developed features a year, co-finance 1-2 third-party features a year, and act as a studio on either a limited or one-hour TV space every 12-18 months. The company is also expanding into the gaming space with its Giant Squid division (ink pun intended). The unit has developed Abzu, which takes players deep into the ocean where they will encounter majestic creatures and long lost secrets. The game is being released on Sony’s PS4.
“It’s about the evolution of narrative,” says Cornwell. “We wanted to create a company that could straddle that space related to interactive media.”
“Content is our core,” adds Thomas. “We need to be able to build a company that could speak to tomorrow’s audience, not just today, and remaining masters of our own destiny.”