CANNES - Indie film group Sierra Affinity has made a bold move into the small screen space, launching a new television distribution and production venture with Chris Philip's TV venture Engine Entertainment and a deal with Marc Rosen and Leon Clarance's fast-growing Georgeville Television.
Sierra/Engine Television, the 50-50 joint venture between Sierra and Engine Entertainment, arrives for its market debut at MIPCOM with two straight-to-network-series orders courtesy of Georgeville: the pirate-themed Crossbones, which British writer Neil Cross (Luther) is creating together with producer Parkes MacDonald and which has a 10 episode order from NBC; and Hunters, a pandemic thriller from Michael Straczynski and Will Smith’s Overbrook Entertainment, which ABC has commissioned for a full 13-episode first season.
"To have straight to series orders with NBC and ABC: nobody in the (independent) marketplace has this," Chris Philip, who will run Sierra/Engine Television told THR. "These are the sort of series that will be our focus as we launch the company: content that can travel around the world. We are definitely looking to be a distribution-led production company."
The third Georgeville-produced series Sierra/Engine Television will be shopping to international buyers at MIPCOM is Blake Seven, a reboot of the 1970s sci-fi classic, which SyFy has commissioned for a first 13-episode season. Martin Campbell (Green Lantern) will direct the pilot from a script by Joe Pokaski (Heroes).
Philip and Sierra/Affinity's Nick Meyer said while their joint venture would be launching with drama series at MIPCOM, their upcoming slate will also include non-scripted product and series produced for digital distribution. Meyer told THR the move to TV was "a logical extension" of Sierra's independent feature business and would see Sierra/Affinity applying its skills in packaging content and financing to the independent TV business.
It's no accident that Sierra is moving into TV now. The U.S. television business is beginning to resemble the feature film business - as the studios/networks reduce the volume of in-house production and increasingly look to outside suppliers to provide new series. The expertise of sales and financing operations such as Sierra - accustomed to tapping private equity and international funding to bankroll feature films which are then sold to studio distributors - seems custom designed for this new world of indie-financed TV. Later this week, Harvey Weinstein will give a keynote address here at MIPCOM in which he is expected to announced a similar push into international television production and distribution by The Weinstein Company.
"If you look at the situation now - networks are not wanting to finance shows on their own," commented one veteran sales exec at MIPCOM. "They would rather pay a license fee and have someone else deficit finance a show and take on the risk. It's very much like the independent film business."