A group of leading long-form journalists have launched a podcast studio backed by Sister, the production group run by Elisabeth Murdoch, Stacey Snider and Jane Featherstone and behind hit HBO/Sky drama Chernobyl.
Josh Dean, Vanessa Grigoriadis and Matthew Shaer as well as screenwriter and producer Adam Hoff have formed Campside, which will focus on premium narrative non-fiction storytelling.
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Campside has formed with a “significant” start-up investment from Sister. The company has a slate of around 11 non-fiction podcasts in production or development spanning the true crime, scandal, and adventure genres.
Stacey Snider, Global Chief Executive of Sister, and the Campside quartet told Deadline how the deal came about and what they hope to achieve.
Campside’s first podcast will be a 10-part series on the Hollywood Con Queen scam, which has seen hundreds of people in town taken in by a person impersonating the likes of Amy Pascal and Kathleen Kennedy.
Other titles include Masked, an investigation into a botched murder case in Seattle, The Lost, hosted by Italian journalist Matteo Fagotto, an exploration of a mother and daughter finding each other decades after the latter was stolen from the former by the Spanish government in a national black market adoption scandal and Hooked, the story of a serial bank robbery spree set against the backdrop of America’s opioid crisis.
The group began talking last summer about collaborating on deeply reported serialized stories. “We started thinking what if we tried to form a company around the idea of using narrative journalists to bring these complicated, hard to put together, time and resource intensive projects together,” Dean, author of books including The Taking of K-129 as well as Pineapple Street and Gimlet’s true crime podcast The Clearing, told Deadline.
The story picks up in Hollywood, where Dean was pitching. At the end of each meeting, he’d mention the podcast studio and it would receive the most interest. He then thought investment from Hollywood sources may make more sense than venture capital or funding from other areas. This led him to former Universal and Fox feature chief Stacey Snider, who is now Global Chief Executive of Sister. The pair talked for three or four hours. “I knew Stacey as a studio head, I had no idea I would think of her as a partner for a podcast company. She spent a lot of time talking about how she was most proud of doing Munich and Lincoln and all of these non-fiction-based stories so I came out of that and Slacked the other guys and said I think I’ve found a partner,” added Dean.
“Liz, Jane and I had talked about working with storytellers regardless of the medium,” Snider told Deadline. “On a personal level, I am super passionate about podcasting and Liz and Jane share that passion. It felt like our values and interests were all in sync [with Campside]. We were able to persuade them that we’re in it for the long haul, looking to create value over time with partners and that our independence would benefit their business.”
The two companies have already identified three projects to develop for television as part of a first-look agreement.
The first is Masked, which is being reported by Shaer, who has written NYT profiles of the likes of Chelsea Manning and Michael Avenatti, and created and hosted Wondery’s Over My Dead Body true crime podcast, and Eric Benson.
Shaer told Deadline that Masked is a passion project, coming off of the back of a story he wrote for The Atlantic about the problems of DNA science. It tells the story of a botched murder investigation in Seattle and Campside has full access to the man at the heart of the story. “There’s a couple of things that make this stand out; one is that the murder took place at a Halloween party where everyone was in costume. The other thing is that forensic science became a really important part of this man’s story and trial. It’s a straightforward true crime story that feels a little like The Night Of or a Richard Price novel, and it’s also about the science,” he added.
Hollywood Con Queen is hosted by Dean and co-developed with Grigoriadis. The podcast was originally aiming to launch in the summer after the pair were told of an “imminent” arrest, although this may no longer be the case, so they are working out whether to launch it as one eight-part series with a cliffhanger or a longer season with the full story.
“The scope of that scam is incredible; we knew it went back five to six years and continued right up to the quarantine ended global travel. It’s as in depth and complicated a scam as I’d ever heard of and there’s a lot of material to mine,” said Dean.
Vanessa Grigoriadis, the author of books including Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus and New York Magazine’s Tabloid: The Making of Ivanka Trump podcast, told Deadline that podcast is a totally different type of reporting. “You have to ask questions in a much more linear way. When you’re a profile writer, you’re used to hanging out with a person and trying to get a sense of them and find small moments that reveal character,” she said. “The thing [about the Hollywood Con Queen] is that she scammed all of these people on the phone so once they figured it out, they started tape recording her so there’s some incredible recordings of her pretending to be big Hollywood studio executives or Wendi Deng. The way that we talk about good quotes, [podcasters] talk about good tape and that’s some pretty good tape.”
Hooked, meanwhile, is an adaptation of Dean’s story Hooked: America’s Busiest Bank Robber for Bloomberg Businessweek. It tells the story of a former Boeing engineer who became a successful bank robber before descending into opioid abuse.
Hooked is already in development for TV by John Ridley for ABC Studios.
Hoff, who has optioned or adapted over a dozen non-fiction stories for film and television, added, “Every time I open our company Slack feed, Josh, Matt, and Vanessa have 10 new amazing ideas: their own ideas, or ideas from journalist friends.”
Snider said that some projects will be shepherded out of LA and others from London, where Featherstone is based. “There will be times where the podcasts that they’re working on lend themselves to the Sister brand and will be perfect adaptations for us and there will be times where they will be utterly worthy in and of themselves but not necessarily right for Sister and we will work eagerly to help them find the right home for those projects,” she added.
“For us, Sister stands for having creators’ backs, telling them the truth, navigating the complicated highways and byways of the media world, so that was something that was valuable to them.”
Campside has also signed with UTA’s Emerging Platforms division, which helped negotiate the deal with Sister alongside Morris Yorn and Blakemore Fallon.
“We are extremely proud to be on this journey with Campside and unveil this esteemed group whose passion lies in extraordinary journalism,” said UTA’s Oren Rosenbaum. “This collaboration represents more than a coming-together of brilliant creatives, but a pivot in how stories are told and consumed. Their trajectory is singular and inspiring and we couldn’t be more grateful to Sister for sharing our dedication to this team and for helping pave the way for new and exciting opportunities.”
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