The California ‘house of horrors’, where David and Louise Turpin imprisoned their 13 children, Donald Trump and Meghan Markle are all set to be the subject of forthcoming documentaries from British producer ITN Productions after it was buoyed by winning eight-part Netflix documentary Drug Lords.
ITN Productions Managing Director Mark Browning told Deadline that it is aiming for 50% of its annual turnover to come from international productions b7 2020, with the majority coming from the U.S. In 2016, a quarter of its £34M (US$47M) revenue came from outside of the UK, while in 2017 this grew to 32%. “We had no international business three years ago but now we have a reasonably successful U.S. business,” he adds.
The London-based production company, which scored an Oscar nomination last year for its short refugee doc Watani: My Homeland, is now stepping up its activities in North America to achieve this. The firm has previously produced series including Killer Instinct with Chris Hansen for Investigation Discovery and Inside Monster Storms, a fast-turnaround documentary about Hurricanes Harvey and Irma for Discovery’s Science Channel.
It is now targeting four genres as it looks to work with more U.S. cable networks and SVOD services: crime, politics, the British royal family and fast-turnaround documentaries.
Browning says that it has already started exploring a film about the Turpins, who are facing charges of torture and child endangerment. He believes that ITNP is perfectly placed to produce such films as a company with both a news division and a non-scripted production unit and says that there are few U.S. firms outside of the traditional news outlets that are set up to secure such business and that U.S. broadcasters are becoming increasingly interested in “fast-turnaround, highly responsive storytelling”.
Crime is a big part of its catalogue with previous high-profile documentaries including Interview With A Murderer for Channel 4 and Measuring Evil: Britain’s Worst Killers for A+E Networks’ Crime & Investigation channel. In November, it hired Anne Garofalo Paterno, who has over 20 years’ experience in true crime programming, as Executive Producer, U.S. Programming and Development to lead this drive.
“Crime is as hot as it’s been over the last three years and there’s no sign of that slowing down,” he says. In fact, he adds, the genre has been boosted by interest from SVOD services, such as Netflix, which found success with Making A Murderer.
Last week, Netflix launched ITNP’s Drug Lords, an eight-episode series that tells the real-life stories behind the likes of Pablo Escobar, El Chapo and Frank Lucas, the Harlem-based dealer who was the inspiration for Denzel Washington’s American Gangster.
“We want to do more with Netflix and we are in conversations with the other digital platforms,” says Browning, who adds that it “needs to sell the genre” to the likes of Facebook and Apple.
Donald Trump’s presidency has been good for ITNP’s business; it has produced seven docs on the former Apprentice host including The Mad World of Donald Trump, President Trump: How Scared Should We Be? and Ivanka Trump: America’s Real First Lady? Browning believes this business, described by one of his colleagues as “TV gold dust”, will only continue as Trump moves into the second year of his presidency.
Trump is unlikely to be invited to the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and former Suits star Meghan Markle. However, ITN’s cameras have been and the world will likely be watching. The company’s Prince Harry & Meghan: Truly, Madly, Deeply sold into more than 100 territories including to Discovery’s TLC in the U.S. and, similarly, Browning knows that the appetite for such programming will only continue ahead of the May wedding. He adds that given Markle’s background, it also resonates as a U.S. story, which he says will lead to more interest for royal content.
Access to Buckingham Palace and the Royal Family is a key plank in ITNP’s business, as evidenced by its ability to secure a flagship conservation documentary featuring a conversation between The Queen and Sir David Attenborough for ITV.
Elsewhere, ITNP has made a number of moves into factual entertainment. It has produced ob-doc reality series such as Sky 1 school series Harrow: A Very British School and Easyjet: Inside The Cockpit, which followed pilots through training, for ITV.
Browning believes the latter is a transportable format with ITNP using mini-fixed rigs in the cockpit. He says that the firm is already in conversations with other airlines and would love to secure access to Delta Airlines, the oldest airline still operating in the U.S.
There will likely more moves into the semi-scripted space with more factual-based dramas. Drug Lords incorporates a fair amount of dramatic footage and Browning says that this will continue, although the indie is unlikely to try and develop high-end scripted projects such as Game of Thrones.
“If you take something like [Tom Hanks’] Sully, we’re not going to make that movie but we could make the docudrama,” he adds.
ITNP currently has around a dozen employees operating in New York and Washington, DC, including Mike Welsh, the former Nat Geo exec who joined as VP, Production and Development.