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Oscar Winners Follow Terminator Producer to New TV Life

Oscar Winner Jane Campion
Oscar winner Jane Campion said in an interview last week in Cannes, “Creative people are always looking for places where they can have freedom and writers have more power in TV.” Photographer: Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images

Oscar winner Jane Campion’s next project, a mystery thriller featuring “Mad Men” actress Elisabeth Moss and fellow Academy Award holder Holly Hunter, won’t be coming to a cinema near you.

Campion, who directed “The Piano,” is following peers such as “Pulp Fiction” financier Harvey Weinstein and “Terminator” producer Gale Anne Hurd to television, where investment in original productions is booming. The first foray of New Zealand-born Campion into TV is “Top of the Lake,” a BBC drama series about a detective investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl who walked into a freezing lake.

“Creative people are always looking for places where they can have freedom and writers have more power in TV,” Campion said in an interview last week in Cannes, France, where she was promoting the series at the Mipcom fair, the world’s biggest market for TV programs. ‘You have more opportunities,’’ she said, adding that financing for classic cinema movies has “tightened.”

TV operators including HBO, AMC, Lifetime and British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc are ramping up investments to buy and create programming to attract viewers, especially to the global pay-TV market, which is predicted by PricewaterhouseCoopers to surge by 30 percent to $254.7 billion by 2016. The audience for television is expanding as more people watch shows on computer screens, tablets and even mobile phones and new video-streaming services allow access at any time.

Supermarket Superstar

Weinstein, the producer behind “Shakespeare in Love” and “The English Patient,” has ventured onto TV in the past few years with fashion design series “Project Runway” on Lifetime Television and the upcoming “Supermarket Superstar,” a reality show featuring entrepreneurs competing to get a food product offered through a major grocery chain.

“TV has become so exciting,” Weinstein said last week in Cannes. “There’s an audience for it and there’s an appetite. The movie business is shrinking.”

Following the economic crisis of the past few years, film financing has tightened, especially for independent films, after hedge funds retreated and many credit lines were frozen. As a result, many Hollywood studios are sticking to big-budget blockbusters sure to bring an audience such as the “Spiderman” franchise or “Marvel’s The Avengers.”

Big Names

Guy Bisson, head of TV research at IHS Screen Digest in London, said TV companies can benefit by attracting producers, directors and actors who previously focused on the cinema.

“Companies are increasingly looking to sell content into the international market and if you can attract a big-name film producer, then it’s so much the better,” he said.

Michael Lombardo, the president of programming at HBO, which operates its own pay-TV operations in the U.S. and sells movies and shows to Britain’s biggest pay-TV operator BSkyB, said the film industry’s shift toward TV projects has happened “very aggressively” over the past two and a half years.

“Story tellers go where they can tell their stories, and the feature film business has changed dramatically in the last years,” Lombardo said. “To get an adult drama green-lit is really challenging,” he said, adding that “ten years ago an A-level actor wouldn’t do a cable or TV series, now they want to go where the good script is.”

HBO set the model for cable channels creating their own content. Recent examples include Christopher Guest, best known for his role as Nigel Tufnel in the film “Spinal Tap,” directing the “Family Tree” series and David Benioff, who wrote the screenplays for movies “The Kite Runner” and “Troy,” as producer and writer on the “Game of Thrones” drama series.

‘Walking Dead’

Because they increasingly own the rights to original shows, the broadcasters can then sell them in other markets and also to video-streaming services such as Netflix Inc. and Hulu LLC.

Netflix rose 0.6 percent to $64.70 in New York trading as of 11:53 a.m.

Hurd, the producer behind “Aliens” and “Terminator,” moved to TV a few years ago with the hit AMC Networks Inc. zombie show “The Walking Dead” about a sheriff’s deputy who wakes up after being in a coma to find the world dominated by the creatures.

“I love that TV puts the character before pyrotechnics and that we can tell 16 hours of character-driven stories,” Hurd said. “You get to work with the same cast and crew over seasons and it becomes like a family.”

Digital Distribution

Other recent moves from film to TV include “Moulin Rouge” director Baz Luhrmann signing a two-year deal with Sony Pictures Television to develop projects for cable and broadcast TV, and actor Kevin Spacey shooting political thriller series “House of Cards,” which will air exclusively on Netflix next year.

Hurd said she doesn’t mind whether viewers watch her work on a computer, tablet or traditional TV screen.

“Story telling is the same and an audience won’t tell the difference between Internet, cable and network,” she said.

British pay-TV operator BSkyB, with more than 10 million subscribers, spent about 2.2 billion pounds on programming last year, up 32 percent from 2007, according to Enders Analysis. Netflix’s costs to acquire content in 2012 will rise to more than $2 billion, Wedbush Securities estimates. Hulu has said it will spend $500 million on shows and films this year.

To share costs, broadcasters often team up for major productions. Campions’s “Top of the Lake” is co-produced by the BBC, Sundance Channel, BBC Worldwide and UKTV in Australia and New Zealand.

‘More Freedom’

Still, spending on TV and video-streaming programming hasn’t reached the level of cinema productions yet, though artists are also attracted by the higher level of freedom.

“TV is way below spending in film production, but also you get a lot more like creative opportunities in addition to more freedom,” said Toby Syfret, a TV industry analyst at Enders Analysis in London.

Weinstein said he’ll devote more energy to TV endeavours because the new digital distribution opportunities allow him to make more money from his rights to movies and shows.

He’s just produced the TV drama “Marco Polo,” for $5 million an episode, in conjunction with Electus, the production company run by former NBC Entertainment head Ben Silverman. The program about the 13th century explorer will be aired on the Starz cable channel.

“The whole point is to own the rights,” Weinstein said. “At the end of the day content rules.”

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