Fast Five: IP Is Still The Buzzword, ‘Tenet’ Is Off the Roster, and Netflix Pulls a Turkish Production
July 27, 2020
What makes a story valuable? For American studios, the answer lies in intellectual property. They need something they can point to and say, “it’s based on that.” For overseas networks, the answer is same-same but different. They want something they can watch and then point to and say, “bring me that!”. While American studios value IP that’s as niche as a self-published story on Reddit, international studios want IP that has already proven to be popular in other markets, which is why they’re now reformatting television hits from around the world. But up first, some (more) cinematic uncertainty.
FOR THE FIRST TIME IN 2020, TENET DOES NOT HAVE A RELEASE DATE
The grand reopening of American cinemas has been unfairly placed on the shoulders of Warner Bros.’ much-anticipated Christopher Nolan epic, Tenet. While other studios were busy pulling movies from the summer schedule during the height of the pandemic, Tenet refused to budge. When it finally moved, all the remaining movies followed suit. Disney wants to open Mulan but doesn’t want to be a guinea pig, while Sony wants to be the guinea pig, but doesn’t want to open The Broken Hearts Gallery without Tenet following it a week or two later. Now, for the first time since the pandemic began, Tenet has been pulled from the schedule entirely. AMC has publicly declared that it will reopen cinemas in mid-August, with the hopes that the studios buckle down and release content. The problem is that New York and California will not allow cinemas to reopen and those are the country’s two largest markets. Without them, it would be difficult for studios to turn a profit with an American release. Rumors have swirled that Tenet would launch on HBO Max, but AT&T shut those down and said the more likely result is that the movie will get worldwide release overseas instead, where countries have opened cinemas and follow that with a staggered American release going city to city like movies used to do before wide releases were the norm.
WRITER MATT QUERY SELLS HIS INTERNET HORROR STORY TO NETFLIX
Intellectual property has been the buzzword around town for years. Original ideas don’t carry as much weight as the exact same idea that’s already based on something. This is why writers rush to create blogs and Twitter accounts based on their spec scripts, and why Wattpad has about a dozen development deals with networks and studios. But what is a writer to do when they have a great idea nobody will read because it’s not based on an existing IP? How about posting it to Reddit? That’s what writer Matt Query did earlier this year, when he posted his horror story My Wife & I Bought A Ranch to the Nosleep subreddit that hosts spooky stories. Once the story was posted, it became an official piece of IP and Netflix paid seven figures to take it off the market and hire the writer’s screenwriter brother to adapt the feature script. Writers creating their own IP is nothing new. Academy® Award-nominated screenwriter Eric Heisserer got his start when he took his story, The Dionaea House, and turned it into an anonymous website that went viral. $#*! My Dad Says started as a Twitter feed by comedy writer Justin Halpern, before being adapted into a sitcom. There are plenty of ways for aspiring writers to transform their material into their own IP to help make a sale or land an agent, you just have to be willing to think outside the box and find a unique way to get your story out there.
POPULAR FORMATS ARE IN HIGH DEMAND OVERSEAS
Just how valuable is a strong story to television networks in other countries? Mansha Daswani over at Worldscreen investigated and found the answer to be, “incredibly.” The entire article is worth a read, but what it does reinforce is that storytelling is a universal language and that a relatable narrative can be easily adapted into local languages. Networks see an adaptation of a scripted format as a shortcut, because most of the work has already been done. The characters have already been fleshed out and the story structure is already sound, so it’s much easier for a local writer to adapt it for their market. A show like Liar, originally an ITV and Sundance co-production, has been sold to five other countries because the premise is one that can be understood anywhere in the world.
WHAT IS THE PROPER WAY TO DEAL WITH GOVERNMENT CENSORSHIP?
That’s the question Netflix found itself posed with when the Turkish government censored the drama, If Only, when it discovered one of the characters in the show was gay. Authorities denied Netflix the right to film the television program in the country, so Netflix—not wanting to bow down to pressure and censor the show—chose simply to cancel it altogether instead of filming in another country. It’s an interesting approach and one that raises questions about who actually won here. Did Netflix win by making a clear statement that it wouldn’t censor content at the behest of the government, or did the government win by forcing Netflix to go one step further and shut down production altogether? Canceling the show actually sends a stronger message on behalf of the government that no production with gay characters is welcome. There were rumors that Netflix would pull all other productions from the country, but those are so far unfounded, as the other five Turkish originals are plugging along. The message sent by Netflix seems to be one of complete indifference, which is a shame.
THE DANGER OF RUSHING A STREAMING SERVICE
So you’ve been itching to re-watch the Harry Potter movies. Maybe you want to relive your childhood, or maybe you want to share the magic with your own children. You see the advertising for HBO Max, WarnerMedia’s new streaming service, announcing that it’s launching with the entire franchise so you sign up. Well, I hope you managed to watch them all in time, because licensing deals can be made well in advance of when the deal actually kicks in. In this case, the Harry Potter movies had a pre-existing commitment and will be pulled from HBO Max to fulfill their contractual obligations. A similar thing happened with the DC movies, until WarnerMedia cut a deal to extend their time on the service. Peacock is in the same boat, rushing to launch with major franchises that it has no way of retaining. The original Jurassic Park trilogy was one of the selling points for the new NBCUniversal streamer, but those are all leaving as part of a pre-arranged Netflix deal. The Matrix and Shrek franchises are also leaving, and some movies only lasted 24 hours before disappearing. So what’s the deal? Well, the plan was to use these major films to lure in subscribers with the hope that there's enough material to satisfy them once the big ticket items are gone. Or, they hope people will have watched Harry Potter and Jurassic Park right off the bat and not notice or care that the movies are missing. Either way, it’s a gamble on the studio's part that they won’t end up with many unhappy customers just a few months into launching.
Written by: Conrad SylviaConrad Sylvia is the creator of the The Week in Television, a private industry newsletter that recaps the week's television news in a humorous and unique manner. Throughout the years he has developed projects for studios and production companies and continues to provide freelance research on the current television landscape and international marketplace. He is also a fan of drinking in the bathtub. A full tub if he's happy, an empty tub if he's sad.