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Ian Collie, partner/Head of Scripted at Essential Media and Entertainment, on the format rights to Rake - which have been optioned in the US and France.

Format activity in a nutshell

Format rights to Rake have been optioned in the US and France. One US series was made for Fox with Greg Kinnear taking Richard Roxburgh’s role. One of the original creators, Peter Duncan, had significant involvement. The French option lapsed.

"The publicity value to the company was terrific."

<h6>Ian Collie</h6><p>Partner / Head of Scripted, Essential Media and Entertainment</p>
Ian Collie

Partner / Head of Scripted, Essential Media and Entertainment

Doing the deals

“We were represented by Ted Miller (Co-Head of the TV Department) at CAA, our agents back then. I’d given him a DVD copy of series one and didn’t think much about reversioning because it was one of my first dramas – I was more aware of documentary format sales. The rights were sold to Sony Pictures Television, which sold the developed version to Fox. Being an outsider to the US market, we didn’t have that much leverage but wanted to involve Peter Duncan as showrunner. To Sony and Fox’s credit they took him on.

“DCD Rights has international rights for the finished Australian program, including format rights except in the US. It handled the sale to French company Newen. We had no real involvement in the French deal although Peter and I wanted to be consulted. It is unrealistic to expect to be significantly involved in a version being made in another language.”

Essential’s only other now-lapsed drama format option, for Jack Irish in the US, was negotiated between UTA, Essential’s agents now, 20th Century Fox and Chernin Entertainment. In any future options, Essential would seriously consider attaching a preferred writer.

 “It is unrealistic to expect to be significantly involved in a version being made in another language.”

Amounts paid

Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene in <em>Rake</em> Richard Roxburgh as Cleaver Greene in Rake

“All three deals (two for Rake and one for Jack Irish) were pretty standard. In each case if the shows had gone to series about US$150-200,000 would have been paid, split between all the equity stakeholders. This total would have included a fee for the production of a pilot, a fee half that size for the series, per episode royalties and, assuming more than 12 episodes were commissioned, a series sales bonus.”

Both US deals involved a major US television network and the figures quoted would be lower if the series was to have been played on cable or another type of platform.

“Format fees are not the pot of gold that some people think they are. I thought they would be bigger. It’s almost a vanity exercise. No (the word) ‘vanity’ is a bit strong. But once you share the fees the producers get about 40% of the pie. The fees would grow if there were ongoing successful seasons though. That said, there was a second set of executive producer fees, paid separately, for work done on the series by Peter, Richard and I. They’re fees for service and are not part of net income under the PIA (production investment agreement).”

Beware the hold backs

“It could have been prescient or just luck but when I negotiated the distribution agreement for Rake I reserved the US format rights. Distributors of finished programs are not always well placed to sell formats. They get a commission but selling the original is adverse to their interest: they might end up with a US version competing against the Australian original that they’ve put up an advance for. They don’t mind selling to non-English territories but they don’t want English-speaking versions in an increasingly competitive drama market. It all needs to be discussed from the get go. It can be opening up a Pandora’s box.

“A US studio or associated company might want a holdback on the Australian version into the US even if it is going to be played on a small cable station. Jack Irish was on Acorn TV, a niche streaming service for crime, and we were asked to hold back all seasons in the US in perpetuity. You can’t apply holdbacks forever: that’s just mad. You have to be mindful of this kind of push and pull.

“By the time you share the pie the monetary benefits aren’t great but the intangible benefits are: Essential was up there with Sony and Greg Kinnear on the billboard. The series didn’t do as well as hoped, in that it only lasted for one season, but having a show work here and then be picked up for mainstream US TV is pretty bloody good and the publicity value to the company was terrific, the professional kudos was very satisfying and we’ve got connections in the US and international profile and international profile we didn’t have before.”

Cultural Considerations

“Greg Kinnear was very good in the role but his character couldn’t swear, snort cocaine or fuck around on US network television to the extent Richard Roxburgh’s Cleaver Greene could (on the ABC). If he was on cable he could have been naughtier and truer to the Rake spirit. Perhaps a tamer Cleaver is simply not as interesting. (Kinnear’s character name was actually changed to Keegan Deane.) Or perhaps he was seen too much as an anti-hero; a maverick lawyer getting people off. Dr House on (US TV series) House is also a maverick health practitioner but he saves lives.

“I’m not sure if the interest in formats is as strong now as it was two or three years ago. The US networks are currently more interested in remakes of well-known TV shows or films from the past that have existing brand recognition. We’ve pitched The Principal to Sky TV, the BBC and Channel 4, rather than to a production company. If there’s interest, we will bring in a UK producer to work with us. We think it could work in the UK because society there is culturally mixed like ours. DCD has been very successful selling the original version of The Principal.”

Title Rake
Production Company Essential Media and Entertainment
Format  8x55mins 
Genre Comedy drama
Premiere 8.30pm, Nov 4, 2010, ABC1
Distributor DCD Rights.
Synopsis Criminal defence barrister Cleaver Greene defends the indefensible and is the champion of the lost cause – both in the courtroom and in the bedroom.
Links essential-media.com, abc.net.au


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