With a Canadian version of The Audience announced this week, UK indie The Garden is basking in the success of a fruitful Mipcom. Clive Whittingham reports.
The Garden, a company founded by former Dragonfly Film & TV execs Nick Curwin and Magnus Temple two years ago as a “small boutique indie,” is on a growth trajectory. The firm’s staff, which have ballooned to 75 from a six-man starting position two years ago, are shifting down the road in London Bridge to larger premises.
“We started by saying we wanted to be a boutique indie, and we really did mean it, honest,” Curwin tells C21 from the middle of The Garden’s large new open-plan office. “When things take off it’s irresistible. We will continue to grow. It’s probably less about a huge step-change in the UK, it’s more about growing abroad. We can grow a bit here and a lot abroad, that’s the direction the company is going.”
That made last week’s Mipcom in Cannes an important one for Curwin, Temple, the company’s MD Scarlett Ewens and creative director Jon Smith. Midway through the market Curwin told C21 he’d “never had a Mipcom quite like this one” and a subsequent deal for a Canadian version of unscripted format The Audience with Corus Entertainment’s W Network certainly suggests the international focus is taking effect.
The Garden currently distributes its content and formats through ITV Studios Global Entertainment and also recently agreed a US representation deal with talent group Creative Arts Agency.
While admitting he was disappointed with the ratings for the UK version of The Audience – in which 50 people follow an individual around for a week to help them make a life-changing decision – Curwin is pleased with the way the Channel 4 show is travelling. There are now 14 local versions springing up around the world and it’s this sort of thing the company wants to do much more.
“We want a pipeline of programmes and formats with the potential to travel so we feel more like an international indie based in London rather than a UK indie that occasionally has a foray into other parts of the world,” says Curwin. “That feels like it’s happening. The difference at Mipcom this time was having several titles out there. That’s a fantastic development in the evolution of the company and exactly the direction we want to go in.”
When its formats do travel abroad, Curwin and his team regularly jet off around the world and take a hands-on approach to developing the local versions. “We try to keep a close check on them,” he says. “That’s not through a distrust for the other production companies at all, because we’ve had really good experiences so far, but more because we care. Just because it’s being made somewhere else doesn’t mean we don’t care; we want it to be good.”
Ewens adds: “We’re really quite hands-on. It’s not just when we’re out there consulting; Jon, particularly, does a lot of consultation over the phone and e-mail all the way through the process, augmenting the bible and giving them answers to specific questions they’re facing as they go along.
“We like to make sure there is a bit of The Garden’s touch with the other productions. We make good programmes so if we can influence others to make our formats well then hopefully it will be of benefit to everybody and it will help the programme sell better.”
The Audience concept came from a lunch with Channel 4 commissioning editor David Glover nearly two years ago, when the idea of what it would be like to have 50 people follow you around everywhere cropped up in conversation. “With The Audience, it’s quite high-budget and high-concept so quite a lot of people come to us asking for help because it’s quite different to a lot of the stuff they do,” says Smith.
“It was important to be able to pilot it. You can think these things through but the reality of what it’s like to have 50 people following someone around means you just have to have 50 people at some point and try filming it. Channel 4 was great supporting us with the pilot and we learnt all sorts about the format from that; some things worked brilliantly and there were other things we just couldn’t do.”
The next concept the company is eyeing for international sales is an eight-part BBC series called Keeping Britain Alive, in which all aspects of the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) are filmed on a single day. It seems like a natural progression from The Garden’s previous big international hit 24 Hours in A&E, which has also been broadcast and remade around the world.
Temple says: “We do think ahead in a way we didn’t do before, thinking about what will be on screen next year and travelling the following year. We definitely see the UK as the key creative place for our ideas, but we’re thinking more about how our ideas might apply somewhere else. Even things that started very much as a UK commission we’re now thinking more about how they might apply somewhere else. Not every country has an NHS, obviously, but everywhere has a healthcare system, so to follow that on a single day feels like a compelling idea we should be talking about.”
Ewens says interest is coming from some of the more distant Asian and South American markets as well as Europe, North America and Australia, which all points towards the “small boutique indie” becoming a big hitter on the international stage.