Agents & Producers Debate Pay Deals At Berlinale Series Market

Pay deals in the U.S. and the streamer reset’s impact on international TV development were among the topics at the opening panel of the Berlinale Series Market this morning in Europe.

During the panel at the EFM event, Gersh partner Roy Ashton described that while production costs have gone up significantly over recent years, writer pay had not kept up with the inflation. He suggested indie producers, writers and agents should collaborate more to ensure packages lead to better financial deals when they approach streamers or studios.

Ashton noted that the model behind Netflix’s hit action series The Night Agent, which has been viewed tens of millions of times on the service, meant its writing team did not receive more than originals shows launched at the same time that performed far worse. Creator Shawn Ryan last year gave an interview in which he said anyone assuming he’d made a fortune off of the show’s success were “way, way off.”

Writer pay and residuals was among the biggest sticking points in the labor strikes of last year. The collective bargaining agreements included some concessions on payouts, but these would unlikely equate to the financial upside a hit would have garnered for a network show in the past.

Ashton pointed to the fact streamers and studios almost always control the rights to shows and films as a sticking point. “The money is being made by these huge — and we love them all, but you have to share more of the — so when someone creates a show that makes a lot, you compensate the talent side,” he said. “That’s not happening.”

Producers should ‘reinvent themselves’

Elsewhere on the Silver Linings — Overcoming Crisis Through New Opportunities panel, which was moderated by Deadline’s Stewart Clarke, ZDF Studios Director of Drama Yi Qiao urged international producers and indies to “reimagine” their roles and take a far more commercial approach to development strategy.

Despite the streamers pulling back on originals spend as they seek profitability and the impact of other economic headwinds such as the ongoing TV ad market downturn, the panellists all acknowledged many producers remain stuck in a “peak TV” headspace.

Danna Stern, the former Yes Studios boss who’s now an indie producer through her In Transit Productions imprint, said the “basic requisite” of development in 2024 is understanding where a show would sell to and its audience would be. She used the example of how many have rushed to find young adult projects for streamers.

ZDF Studios’ Qiao added producers “need to reinvent themselves a little bit and wear both hats: creative and financing.”

“From the very get go, you have to understand the project from the inside out and have the vision of who you are pitching to,” she added. “Develop it to the stage you’re very sure that you can transport the idea of your creativity and at the same time think about the economics. You can’t develop in a bubble.”

“When we started development on our shows, a lot of us were in the heyday of 2021-2022, until the April when the fallout we’re feeling started,” added Stern, who is known for bringing shows such as Fauda to the international market. “It seems a lot of us are still chasing those rainbows. Things have moved on much more rapidly than we can, as producers developing scripted, adapt to. That realisation has to be there and we have to look as far ahead as we can to see where we can connect with those audiences and who they are.”

The panellists, who also included Gaumont Germany President Sabine de Mardt, all agreed talent and IP were driving market economics.

The tenth Berlinale Series Markets kicked off this morning. Content showcases and panels will continue over the next two working days, with the likes of Mr Bates Vs the Post Office producer Patrick Spence, Happy! showrunner Patrick McManus and The Cleaner writer and star Greg Davies appearing.

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