Hello and welcome back, Insiders. Jesse Whittock here to guide you through another week in film and TV. Onwards to the weekend…
UK Production Booms… Sort Of
Feeling a little peaky: There was a lot of good news in the BFI’s latest official production spend stats – and some worrying stuff, too. The top line figures for the UK’s film and TV industries were excellent: record spend of £6.3BN ($7.8BN), up more than £600M on the (also record-setting) £5.6BN from 2021. Film production was up a welcome 27% to almost £2BN but high-end TV (HETV) once again provided the lion’s share (£4.3BN), as shows like Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, Slow Horses and Top Boy drove up spend. Inwards investment – a fancy way of saying ‘money from overseas’ – accounted for 88% of that total, but HETV spend was actually down 3% year-on-year. As we all know, U.S. studios and global streamers are reining in the spending as the global economy creeks and fears over the robustness of the streaming model heighten. Perhaps, maybe, just possibly, Britain’s era of peak TV is over, as Max posited in an article yesterday. John Landgraf has been saying the same thing about U.S. TV since 2015 when he famously claimed there is “simply too much TV.” Earlier this month, Peter White wrote how the FX Chairman, half-jokingly known as ‘the mayor of TV,’ was predicting declines in the number of shows in production in 2023. That could make execs feel, to use a British phrase, a little peaky.
Indie-gestion: There was good news for the box office in the UK and Ireland, which bounced back from a haunting 2021 to increase 57% and near $1BN in takings. Unsurprisingly, heavy artillery productions like Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water (still on release) led the growth and gave the film biz a welcome bump. However, the gulf between the studio-backed behemoths and the indie darlings was laid pretty bare: Top Gun’s £83.7M takings were £14.5M more than the collective total of the top 20 indie films of the year – and this was a year that included Kenneth Branagh’s much loved Belfast and Oscar-tipped Martin McDonagh feature The Banshees of Inisherin. With domestic UK film accounting for just 8% (£173.6M) of total spend, these are worrying times for new talent. BFI CEO Ben Roberts is urging decision makers to follow four recommendations laid out in a major review of the sector last year to ensure it “survives and thrives.”
Star Rukh Khan
The ‘Pathaan’ to glory: International box office history was made this week, as Indian feature Pathaanburst out of the starting blocks to post an astonishing $66.2M in its opening five-day week worldwide. Records for a Bollywood film were shattered in India, North America and the UAE, and for any Indian flick in the UK, Australia, Germany and several other territories. Siddarth Anand’s espionage thriller highlights the star power of Shah Rukh Khan – even after a lead role absence of four years. ‘King Khan,’ as he’s known in Bollywood, is a veteran of films such as Chennai Express, Happy New Year and Dilwale. Pathaan, which also stars Deepika Padukone and John Abraham, is also a statement for the continuing power of Bollywood films. A lot of the recent chatter about Indian content has focused on emerging local production markets in the south, whose primary focus is making titles for streamers. Nancy had all the stats you’ll ever need. Read on and then go deeper with Liz’s Q&A with director Anand.
More box office: Over to Mel for more box office news… French actor and director Guillaume Canet will be sleeping a little easier this weekend, if he is not out celebrating after his ambitious $70M production Asterix & Obelix: The Middle Kingdom posted a strong opening. Speculation had been rife in the local media over the box office outlook for the French wannabe blockbuster ahead of its release on February 1, after lukewarm reviews. Revealing his nerves were shot ahead of the release, Canet expressed fears that if the film flopped, finance for other big French language productions would dry up. The feature was also a key test for mini-major Pathé – which bankrolled the film as part of its strategy to invest in big budget, local language tentpole fare that can take on U.S. studio blockbusters. It was a risky route in a period when local films have failed to shine at the box office. For now, the bet appears to have paid off. Opening on 950 screens, the film clocked 466,703 admissions (275,658 of which generated in preview screenings). This was the best opening for a French language film in 15 years, and the eighth best opening for a local movie of all time. It remains to be seen whether the film’s success continues into the weekend and the coming weeks, to propel the film to the lofty box office heights of Alain Chabat’s seminal 2002 hit Asterix And Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, which generated 14.5M admissions ($74M) in 2002.
‘Doctor Who’s Regeneration
Fussell T Davies: Tom Fussell has been overseeing quite the revolution at the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Studios. CEO since 2021, he and his predecessor Tim Davie, who’s now BBC Director General, are among the most commercially minded execs the BBC has ever put into leadership roles, and together they are ambitiously seeking a more global future for BBC Studios. I sat down with Tom and grilled him on Doctor Who’s future and walking the tightrope between public service media and commercial exploitation. His take on transformational (ed’s note: regenerative, maybe?) – Doctor Who deals with Bad Wolf and Disney+ is worth reading. The BBC was criticized for bringing in commercial rivals to help deliver and distribute the show as it nears its 60th anniversary, but Fussell called these deals “an excellent commercial outcome” that also bring the much-loved Russell T. Davies back into the fold as showrunner. It’s a Sin creator Davies was, as you’ll likely remember, the man who regenerated (sorry, I’ll stop) Doctor Who in the mid-2000s, laying the foundations for its revival and current format. With Disney+, Bad Wolf and Ncuti Gatwa on side and rumors of plans for an expanded Whovian Universe brewing, the Doctor’s future is one of the more intriguing narratives of 2023.
Inside Channel 4’s Failed Sale
Not 4 Sale: Jake has spoken to nearly two dozen people about how the UK government’s plan to privatize Channel 4 was doomed to failure. Sources explain how former Prime Minister Boris Johnson pursued privatization for both business and ideological reasons. The deep dive also reveals moments of tension between Channel 4 and ministers, and recalls one somewhat slapstick moment during the 18-month process, when government sources say Channel 4 leaders were called in for a “no tea, no coffee” meeting to receive a “real bollocking” over leaking to the press. Others joked that it was not unusual for the DCMS to forget to offer refreshments. Jake’s story also reveals that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp held informal talks about Channel 4. Just imagine if that had come to fruition. ITV, Sky, and Warner Bros. Discovery also spoke to the government about whether they would bid for the crown jewel of British broadcasting. Ultimately, abandoning privatization was as much about the coherent arguments against a sale as it was about political chaos in Britain. Johnson’s spectacular downfall neutered the government’s desire to make generational changes to the UK’s television ecosystem. Read all about it.
Panahi On Hunger Strike
“I will remain in this state”: Back to Mel for an update on the worrisome jailing of Jafar Panahi… The six-month detention of Jafar Panahi took a worrying turn this week after the Iranian filmmaker announced on Wednesday that he was going on hunger strike to protest his illegal imprisonment at Iran’s notoriously harsh Evin prison. The move came after hopes that the director was on the verge of being released on bail were dashed last week. Panahi’s lawyer Saleh Nikbakht successfully challenged his detention at the Supreme Court in October, on the grounds that the 2010 sentence, which was reactivated in July, had passed Iran’s 10-year statute of limitation period. Nikbakht also represents the family of Mahsa Amini, whose death in police custody in September unleashed the ‘Life, Women, Freedom’ protests sweeping the country since then. In a statement posted on the Instagram accout of Panahi’s wife Tahereh Saeedi, the director said: “I will refuse to eat and drink any food and medicine until the time of my release. I will remain in this state until perhaps my lifeless body is freed from prison.” It’s another dark chapter in the long-running story of Iran’s assault on its citizens and creative community.
🌶️ Hot One: A ton of star power boarded Guy Ritchie and Jerry Bruckheimer’s upcoming war flick The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. Andreas with this.
🌶️ Another One: Wild Bunch International will sell Gabriel Abrantes’ buzzy feature Amelia’s Children, as Mel first told you.
🌶️ Sure, more heat: A trio of Nordic networks joined as co-producers on Ukrainian war comedy-drama anthology series Those Who Stayed.
🔥 Burning: Your Honor co-creator Ron Ninio’s latest drama is espionage thriller series The Clinic. I had this one.
🔥 Seriously Hot: MK2 Films boarded sales on Sydney Sweeney starrer Reality.
🔥 On fire: Writers Nathan Bryon and Tom Melia followed up Sundance title Rye Lane with new rom-com The Whole Hog. Diana broke it.
🎙️ Not a novelty: British podcasting firm Novel secured £5M ($6.2M) to adapt pod stories into film and TV. A Max scoop.
🗣️ Calling out: South African streamer Showmax and the Joburg Film Festival issued an open commissioning brief in the hunt for 10 new films, as Zac revealed.
🏪 Setting up shop: A new shingle for former Fremantle execs Sarah Doole and Sangeeta Desai and financier Anton.
🇦🇺 Aussie, Aussie, Aussie: Australia’s lawmakers will force streamers to invest in local content via quotas.
😐 Profiled: Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, as part of Sky’s latest doc slate.
🤝🏽 New job: Christina Wayne is succeeding Peter Smith at MBC Studios.
❌ Let go: Ten more BBC News anchors are exiting ahead of the relaunch of the channel.
And finally… RIP to Baise Moi and Lupin actor Adama Niane, who passed away aged 56.
Melanie Goodfellow and Jake Kanter contributed to this week’s Insider
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