EXCLUSIVE: It’s a deal that’s been nearly six months in the making, but on Wednesday, Sony Pictures Television finally confirmed it has acquired one of the hottest properties in the British production business.
The Hollywood studio has taken control of Sex Education producer Eleven following what president of international production, Wayne Garvie, described as a “pretty competitive” process earlier this year. We first sniffed the deal in April.
Deadline understands that other groups, including All3Media, looked at Eleven, while there were even rumors that Netflix ran the rule over the company on the back of Sex Education and upcoming Tom Hiddleston thriller White Stork.
In the end, Garvie’s years-long wooing of Eleven founders Jamie Campbell and Joel Wilson paid off. He first discussed the idea of investing more than six years ago, but Eleven ultimately sold a 20% stake to Channel 4’s Indie Growth Fund.
Then, when Campbell and Wilson decided in early 2020 to sell, Garvie was at the front of the line. He enlisted the support Left Bank Pictures CEO Andy Harries, who helped convince the pair to take the plunge with Sony.
Even The Crown creator Peter Morgan helped Sony’s efforts, putting in the good word after getting to know Campbell and Wilson through his partner Gillian Anderson, who stars in Sex Education as the unflappable sex therapist Jean Milburn.
“I got them to talk to Andy and he was very positive about why Sony is a great fit, and why we would be great for them,” Garvie tells Deadline. “There were lots of people who were very helpful.”
Garvie admits that he and Eleven’s founders have “dilly-dallied with each other for a long time” and it was “a great opportunity to buy into two young creatives who are yet to reach their peak.” He jokes that Campbell and Wilson are also people you wouldn’t mind getting “stuck on a plane with.”
Garvie says the deal means that Sony’s UK production portfolio is the strongest it has been since he arrived in 2012. He does not anticipate other major investments following a flurry of deals, including taking a stake in sports producer The Whisper Group in February and the $200M takeover of Octonauts producer Silvergate Media last December.
“This is us now, we’ve got the kind of portfolio we’ve wanted,” the former BBC Studios executive says, although he does caveat this by adding “never say never” if the right opportunity with a young production company crosses his desk.
As well as Left Bank and Eleven, it counts English Scandal producer Blueprint Pictures, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost’s Stolen Picture, and Alex Rider maker Eleventh Hour Films among its UK scripted investments. Sony has also backed Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? producer Stellify Media and factual entertainment outfit Electric Ray.
“We’ve got a dream team,” Garvie adds, praising his bosses in Hollywood and Japan for supporting investments at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has rocked the economics of a previously thriving TV and film business.
“We definitely had that conversation about what the future’s going to be,” he says of the Eleven due diligence. “Our belief is that we’re in the content game for a long time. We don’t know when we’re going to come out of this, but we will come out of this, and you want to have the strongest team possible.”