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Smart thinking from the people running the content business.

Infinity Hill’s Kuschevatzky eyes more premium TV series

Following success with movies such as The Secret in Their Eyes and Argentina 1985, Argentinian producer Axel Kuschevatzky is setting his sights on TV. Here he analyses the state of the industry and reveals his premium series ambitions.

Axel Kuschevatzky

Argentinian producer Axel Kuschevatzky is already a regular face at the Oscars. His big moment was when the film The Secret in Their Eyes, in which he participated as associate producer, won the award for Best Foreign-language Film in 2010.

Last Sunday, he was unable to win another Oscar but returned to bring Argentinian cinema into the spotlight with a nomination for Argentina 1985 in the Best International Film category.

Far from being a name associated with occasional successes, Kuschevatzky has had a prolific career. For more than a decade he has participated as an associate producer in an average of two films a year. Indeed, the executive has other recognised titles to his credit, such as A Chinese Tale (2011) and Wild Tales (2014), among many others.

In 2019 he decided to team up with producers Phin Glynn and Cindy Tepernman to launch a production company, Infinity Hill, with operations in Los Angeles, Buenos Aires and London. The studio is responsible for high-profile titles such as Staged (BBC), Hail (Netflix), The Manager (Paramount+) and Nasha Natasha (Netflix).

Looking at the current state of the TV market, Kuschevatzky recognises in the streamer model an obvious similarity with the traditional Hollywood studios system. Despite working with platforms that are strong on devices, he insists that all Infinity Hill projects are intended “so that they can be seen on a movie screen.”

Infinity Hill is a producer of great movies, although many have been seen on streamers first. How do you see the future of cinema on OTT platforms?
Today streamers are an integral part of the production model. In fact, they work like studios from another era; they are creators, participants and licensors of projects, just like the studios. It’s interesting because everyone believes this kind of digital distribution revolution has profoundly changed the system, and they have a hard time understanding how similar it ends up being to how the system was in 1946 in structural terms. Today the system is more like 1946 than it was 10 years ago.

In 1946 you had integrated production, distribution and exhibition. Today, anyone who subscribes to a streamer is looking at a vertically integrated system. The platform finances, produces and distributes the film. In the end, it is the outlet. And that’s more like the traditional way. The only big difference is the on-demand concept. But afterwards, as a structural model, it is very similar to the classic Hollywood studios, both in movies and in series.

Michael Sheen and David Tennant’s lockdown comedy Staged

If we include the return to advertising with free ad-supported streaming TV (FAST), it seems that everything changes but nothing changes.
Every time there are seismic changes or very accelerated evolutions people tell you that all of what came before is useless and no longer exists. But time shows that it doesn’t really work that way; audiences go after what is interesting to them. In the last three years, viewers feel that they want constant supply. But that is very expensive and today’s income is not up to that level. So to keep producing, studios want to maximise revenue by boosting AVoD/FAST and rethinking theatrical distribution.

It is very interesting how the crises in the system force us to rethink ourselves all the time. I see it as a beautiful challenge. I started working in television in 1995. After so many years, you start to mistrust trends that appear to be permanent. It is cyclical.

Some time ago, Dennis Villeneuve (Dune) criticised HBO Max’s decision to release its movies on streaming first. What is your position in this debate?
I grew up in the 1970s in Argentina and most of the best movies I saw on a television when I was a teenager, in my parents’ living room or at my grandparents’ house. Of course, watching a movie in the theatre is an amplified experience, for better and for worse. But the path that films now travel is broader; they start in one place and go in another direction. This has been the case for decades.

I am not opposed to one being able to watch movies anywhere, but I think they are different experiences with different emotional repercussions. Does that make a movie better or worse? No. Does it make me want to care for and protect the movie experience? Of course. But I don’t feel that there is an opposition between the cinematographic experience and watching a movie at home. It is not one or the other.

When we did The Manager for Paramount+, we always thought of it as a movie that could be seen in the theatre. We do not limit its scale and production values to the small screen. Although it may not be your final screen, every project we do at Infinity Hill is developed with a cinematic vision.

What place does TV occupy within Infinity Hill’s strategy?
So far, we’ve done very well with the series Staged in the UK, which had worldwide distribution and we did three seasons. The first two were seen in primetime on the BBC and the third will be out soon, also on the BBC. It was born as a pandemic series. We did it in partnership with Michael Sheen and David Tennant and it was like an explosion in the UK; the BBC asked us for more seasons right away. In addition, it became a cult series among actors. In the second season there were Cate Blanchett, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Ewan McGregor, Christoph Waltz, Whoopi Goldberg, Ken Jeong [making guest appearances].

This happened because the actors were amused that Staged was a comedy about the vanity of actors in the pandemic. However, it was not planned. Our initial idea was to dedicate ourselves exclusively to movies, but when the pandemic hit and forced us to close filming, for different reasons we ended up inventing this series. And it made us very happy.

Argentina 1985 picked up a nomination for Best International Film at the Oscars

Since then have you decided to produce more television?
Yes, then we did The Daughter of God, which is going to premiere this year on HBO Max. It is a documentary series in which Dalma Maradona reconstructs her life and her relationship with her father, Diego. For me it is very interesting because it captures the intimate Diego, the one that is rarely seen – the person with the weaknesses, his desires, the most complex areas of him, told from a place of much love but without fleeing from the most complex and uncomfortable issues of Diego’s life. It is something that has never been seen, a window into the intimate world of someone who could not help but have a public life.

Another TV project already announced is The Islands, about the Malvinas/Falklands war. What can you tell us about it?
[Former NBC Entertainment chairman] Paul Telegdy, through his company The Whole Spiel, approached us to propose telling the story of the Malvinas war. Not the political plot, but how it affected the lives of the people, both the British and Argentine troops and the islanders. He pointed out that no one had yet told the story from different points of view based on multiple experiences. Like with Argentina 1985, it made me wonder why nobody has told this story before. Maybe it’s because time had to pass? There are also issues that need to be elaborated in social terms, perhaps due to a kind of distrust between the parties.

Of course, when we announced it, many Argentines asked us, “But what are they going to say?” For me it was always very important to establish integrity from an Argentine point of view and that it should not be a British series where you have two scenes in which Spanish is spoken. Not that. We want to explain the importance in historical and emotional terms that Malvinas had for Argentines and what happened afterwards.

Until now, most of the Argentine films or series that dealt with the Malvinas told more or less the same thing; the points of view were very similar. Part of the challenge is, precisely, trying to address the diversity of the experience of the people who went to the Malvinas.

And at what point do you enter a project?
There is not a unique model. There are directors, producers, screenwriters and actors that we like to work with over time. They are long relationships that imply continuity, as in the case of the actor David Tennant or the directors Santiago Mitre, Pablo Trapero, Ariel Winograd and Daniela Goggi.

Infinity Hill movie The Manager for Paramount+

Sometimes someone comes along and proposes to make a film, but sometimes we make a choice or have an idea and we decide to develop it. Sometimes we start the projects and other times someone else starts them and we get on the road. We don’t have a rule with that. As we like to work in partnerships, our ambition is not just to own the project – we like to connect, discuss and share responsibilities. And it is also a model that allows us to do many things at the same time.

Are you developing projects purely from Latin America or Spain?
The projects we have are mostly in English. This has to do with the scale of the [English-language] market and the demand of the audience, platforms and networks. What we do always do, and it’s almost philosophical, is to try to have Latino talent in the projects, even if they are Anglo-Saxon.

How do you decide whether a project is a movie or a series?
What rules is the narrative – it is what defines the scale. A story that includes multiple points of view and is, by definition, large in scale, this 100% justifies it being a series. Argentina 1985 could have been a series if the narrative had more points of view. The decision to focus only on two naturally made it a movie.

It has to do with what you’re focusing on. When I worked in big corporations, I always thought it was essential to know the exact scale of each project, so as not to take production to a scale that does not require to it. Do not force projects to be what they are not. In general, we producers try to be a tool for telling the story. It is not about imposing upon the story, but it is the story that tells us how it wants to be told.