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Part 2: Tom Pope and Rockzeline

When Rockzeline formed in 2012, it was as a distributor of online content. They sold projects such as Australian web series The Wizards of Aus to Canal Plus, and helped set up the digital offer of public broadcaster France Télévisions. But in recent years, they’ve expanded into developing and creating their own original productions.

Producer Tom Pope says their focus shifted because creatives they’d distributed projects for kept returning with ideas they wanted to develop.

“So for a number of those projects we actually came on board and helped to find the finance and act as producers,” he says from Rockzeline’s offices in Paris. “Now our focus is very much on original productions.”

In 2017, they launched their first production house outside of France – called Deadrock – and chose Sydney as the location (it has since also opened Rockland in Montreal).

Why Sydney? “Australia and the talent that we could access there just seemed like a great place to start,” producer Tom Pope says. “We were always really impressed by the quality of content being sent our way out of Australia. Airlock, but also Wastelander Panda and The Wizards of Aus. They were really among the highest calibre…

“Of all of the shows that we distribute, of all of the digital content that's been sent our way from around the world, definitely our highest rate of success has been proportionately, with Australian shows.”

The second reason for Deadrock was Australian producer Enzo Tedeschi, who’s long been known for his innovative approaches to funding and releasing projects. Way back in 2011, he made Australia’s first entirely crowdfunded movie The Tunnel, by selling each of the 135,000 frames for $1 each, and released it for free on torrent networks at the same time as traditional means (cinema, DVD, TV and iTunes). And the following year, he was making an eight-part web series, long before others had realized the potential of the medium.

“Enzo, who we set up Deadrock with, we know through distributing his web series Airlock and we were really impressed by the way he went about his business,” Pope says. “He had a very similar outlook to our own as far as approaching digital content.”

Pope says more and more opportunities are becoming available for English-speaking content that companies can subtitle or dub into different languages.

For Rockzeline, their focus is on developing projects with creatives, instead of acquiring and distributing content that’s already completed as they once would have done.

“[We’re looking for] less and less things that are fully made, but then again you always have nice surprises come your way,” he says.

But he says the main thing creatives need to consider when they want to sell a project internationally, is that if it’s already been available for free on a platform like YouTube, it can impact sales.

“It's easier for us to sell if it [will be] exclusive to that territory.”

“It's definitely understandable that creators want to get their content out there, putting it up online so as many people as possible can see it. But as far as sales are concerned, we made our name initially by selling that kind of web series format… territory by territory, window by window.”

There are exceptions, if the content is good.

“For instance in the case of The Wizards of Aus we managed to sell that to Canal Plus… it was so out there and so different and the production value was so good, they still wanted it even though it had been available in France on YouTube.”

As for where the biggest demand is for making and acquiring online content, Pope says there are a number of big players emerging.

“As far as high quality short form content is concerned, France was really one of the trailblazers with Canal through Studio+, but also Black Pills, who are actually a French company even though they have offices in LA.

“But we're now seeing players in the US come to the fore.”

Pope refers to YouTube RED, who they are in talks with, and who in mid-2017 said they would fund more than 40 original shows and movies in the next year. Then there’s also Ex-CEO of DreamWorks Animation, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who is in the process of drawing up funds for WndrCo “to the tune of billions of dollars to then reinvest in high-end, short-form content.” Add to that the investment of services like Hulu and Netflix.

“Basically Hollywood has come to the party now,” he says.

“But as far as actually territories watching and being interested in digital online content, I wouldn't say it's country specific at all.”

Going forward, Pope says Rockzeline are more open to different genres and episode lengths than they perhaps have been in the past.

While in recent years their focus has been on genre content, such as sci-fi and horror, they’re currently in post-production on their first comedy with Deadrock, Pet Killer

"We worked with an Australian writer but it's actually a French project, so the director we sent over from France.”

To get an idea of just how fast this space is changing, Pope often says “traditionally” when he’s talking about their approach, but has to correct himself because the timeframe he’s referring to is just a few years ago.

For example, when he was talking about episode and series lengths, he said, “as far as the format’s concerned, traditionally – well can't say traditionally, it's only been a couple of years – but that would have been the 10x10 minute, short-form content for the likes of Black Pills and Studio+.”

So “traditionally” that 10x10 minute format has been their approach. But he says now they’re seeing more opportunities for longer form content, “so anywhere between 20 to 50 minutes an episode” and have expanded what they’re looking for.

“We're open to an ever growing variety of projects. But always with a really strong and unique creative vision. So if it's a comedy then it's going to be something along the lines of a The Wizards of Aus – something that's quite zany and out there. We're not looking to make a sitcom or Friends."

He says pitches to Rockzeline or Deadrock need to be clear, concise and indicate the visual style, even if the idea is not fully developed.

“We have had luck in the past selling things when we're going off of the short or a trailer. It doesn’t have to be any longer than a minute [but] any kind of video content is always a massive plus. It gives a clear idea of how a director's going to approach something. And also what's it going to look like.”

But like anything when it comes to online content – there are no hard or fast rules. “It's by no means a deal-breaker,” he says.