International Insider: Oscars Preview; Tinopolis Revolt; Netflix Earnings; Super League Saga

Howdie International Insider readers, Jake Kanter with you. Why don’t you join me in taking a moment to reflect on the week that was? And, as always, my inbox is open for feedback and stories. I’m on [email protected] And sign up here to get this delivered every Friday.

The Oscars, But Not As We Know Them

Soderbergh’s vision: It’s the Oscars this Sunday and, in the hands of producer Steven Soderbergh, you can expect an Academy Awards like no other. Working within the confines of Covid, the movie gongs will be staged at the art deco Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, which will be spruced up (see rendering above) and smattered with stars. There will also be satellite locations for international nominees, not least the BFI Southbank in London. Soderbergh has a movie “manifesto” for the ceremony, promising to shoot the action cinematically and have actors “play versions of themselves.” It’s all rather abstract right now, but it certainly promises to be a novel prospect for novel times.

Here’s the catch: Aside from the obvious logistical issues, there’s one big problem for Soderbergh and his broadcasting overlords at ABC: Viewers are not watching awards ceremonies. The Golden Globes and BAFTAs posted record low audiences, and you can probably expect more of the same for the 93rd Academy Awards when the early ratings drop on Monday. The pandemic has dimmed the glamour of these events, and many of the heavily nominated movies have failed to generate buzz with cinemas shut. All in all, it’s a tough gig for the man who made Contagion.

Predicted winners: So what about the runners and riders? Well, as we discussed last week, you can probably expect a good showing from six-time nominated Nomadland after Chloé Zhao’s feature has cleaned up elsewhere. Our chief film critic Pete Hammond thinks it will win Best Picture and Best Director, while he also forecasts a good showing for some international features. Pete predicts that Promising Young Woman lead Carey Mulligan is nailed on for Best Actress, while Emerald Fennell will win for Original Screenplay. He thinks Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round will claim the prize for best international film. Read his full predictions.

Tinopolis Revolt

Tinopolis feels the heat: It’s a row that has become as volcanic as Gordon Ramsay in the kitchen after Hell’s Kitchen studio Tinopolis wrote off £50 million ($70M) in IOUs promised to producers when it acquired their companies. The British super-producer says the financial restructuring is necessary to keep its head above water after it was ravaged by the pandemic. Furious former producers, who have unusually gone on the record to articulate their anger, say coronavirus has been a useful smokescreen for wiping out the debt. We had a deep dive on the whole saga.

A lawsuit is on the cards: It’s a rupture between former colleagues I have not seen the likes of before in my 10 years of writing about television. Thomas Dey, the influential TV industry M&A broker, who facilitated the sale of five companies to Tinopolis, summed up the anger of his former clients: “What has happened is completely outrageous. This is not in line with the deal consummated many years ago.” Now, around 15 producers caught up in the scandal are in talks with litigation funds over launching a lawsuit. They have also drafted a bombshell statement, potentially sounding an industry alarm about doing business with Tinopolis, which owns Premier League producer Sunset+Vine and Question Time outfit Mentorn. This story has got some way to run.

Netflix Feels Pandemic Pinch

Pandemic problems: The coronavirus crisis gaveth to Netflix, but also taketh away. That’s probably the simplest way to explain why the streaming giant fell two million short of its target of having 210M subscribers by the end of the first quarter of 2021. While new members flocked to the streamer in lockdown and gorged on its offerings, Netflix’s pipeline of new content has started to run a little dry in the opening months of the year due to widespread production shutdowns. This is how Netflix put it: “We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays.” Here are the full financials.

The cavalry arrives: The Witcher and You, two of Netflix’s biggest series, will be back in the final three months of 2021. Brit hit Sex Education and Spain’s La Casa de Papel will also return this year. They will be joined by the fourth season of Cobra Kai, the first season produced specifically for Netflix, and feature films Red Notice and Escape From Spiderhead. “We’ll get back to a much steadier state in the back half of the year, certainly in Q4 where we have the returning seasons of some of our most popular shows,” remarked co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos. Netflix also pledged to maintain its spend at $17B this year. To put that in some context, Disney is ramping up its budget for Disney+ to as much as $9B by 2024.

Some ratings: As always during earnings season, Netflix pulled the curtain back on high-performing shows — and it was good news for the streamer’s international line-up. Mexican thriller Who Killed Sara? has become Netflix’s most popular non-English language series ever in the U.S., with an estimated 55M subscribers tuning in. Over in films, Below Zero, from Spain, was watched by 47M, while Korea’s Space Sweepers and Poland’s Squared Love drew 26M and 31M respectively.

Not So Super League

A momentary nightmare: It was over almost as soon as it began, and for many football fans (sorry U.S. readers, I’m not calling it soccer) will already seem like a bad dream, but this week will forever be remembered for rapacious club owners wildly overreaching with their vision for a European Super League. A lot of smart things have been written about this preposterous project, but I’ll say this: The breakaway league did that rare thing in an age of endless culture wars — it united tribal groups of people, politicians, royalty, TV stars, and billion-dollar companies in condemnation. That is something we can all celebrate.

How TV responded: It’s also worth remembering who was on the right side of the debate among live soccer rights holders in the TV world. BT Sport, a prominent British sports broadcaster, was out the gates early with a statement branding the ESL a “damaging” prospect for the football ecology. Amazon, which streams the Premier League in the UK, was initially reluctant to saying anything, but eventually admitted it had “concerns” about the plans. DAZN, the Kevin Mayer-chaired emerging force in live sports streaming, said it was not “involved or interested in” talks to launch the ESL. Meanwhile, Comcast’s European broadcasting giant Sky, which airs the Premier League, Bundesliga, and Serie A across the UK, Germany, and Italy, declined to criticize the proposals in a studiously neutral statement circulated on Tuesday. The furthest Sky went was saying it had “not been involved in any discussions” with the ESL.

Vidyut Jammwal Interview

The Indian Arnie: Tom Grater sat down with Indian action film star Vidyut Jammwal, who in a decade has gone from glorified extra roles to becoming one of the biz’s most appreciated action stars, with credits including the Commando series. He talked about playing the “guy next to the bad guy,” lockdown in Mumbai, his martial arts skills, and his move into production through his new company Action Hero Films. Check out the full interview.

The Essentials

🌶️  Hot one of the week: The Boy George movie biopic, which is to be called Karma Chameleon, has moved from MGM to Millennium Media and is eyeing a summer 2021 start in London and Bulgaria. Andreas Wiseman had the scoop.

🍿  International box office: Godzilla Vs Kong is approaching the $400M global mark after overtaking Tenet as the No. 1 grossing movie of the pandemic era in the U.S. earlier this month. Nancy Tartaglione has the details.

🎬  Cannes lineup incoming: Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux has confirmed Wes Anderson’s latest film The French Dispatch (pictured) and Paul Verhoeven’s drama Benedetta will be selected for this year’s festival. More here.

🎥  And action: Production is underway on the sequel Downton Abbey film, which is set to release on December 22. Hugh Dancy, Laura Haddock, Nathalie Baye, and Dominic West will join the cast. Go deeper.

💰 BFI Screen Fund: The UK government and the BFI have announced the £7M ($9.7M) UK Global Screen Fund, a one-year pilot fund designed to help plug the sizeable gap left by Creative Europe’s MEDIA funding post-Brexit. Full story.

👑  Farewell Philip: Prince Philip’s funeral took place last weekend and was watched by more than 13M Brits. You can reflect on our coverage right here.

🚚  On the move: The BFI has announced Mia Bays as the new Director of BFI Film Fund for an initial three-year term. Read our story.

🎦  Trailer dash: Here’s the charming first full trailer for musical romance Annette, which was announced as the opening-night pic at the Cannes Film Festival. Check it out.

And Finally…

Mourning McCrory: Team Deadline joined the biz in mourning the shock loss of Helen McCrory last week. The Peaky Blinders actress died at the age of 52 after being diagnosed with cancer — an illness that only a few of her closest friends and colleagues were aware of. The tributes were many and marvelous, not least from the Peaky Blinders team, who carried on filming in her absence but immortalized “Aunt Pol” on a clapperboard. The most moving words came from McCrory’s husband, the Billions and Homeland actor Damian Lewis, who wrote in The Sunday Times about her being a “meteor” who lit up his life. It was his reflections on McCrory’s sense of humor that linger in the mind — and it’s clear she was mischievous right until the end, telling her family: “I want Daddy to have girlfriends, lots of them, you must all love again, love isn’t possessive, but you know, Damian, try at least to get through the funeral without snogging someone.”

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