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Spacey builds up House of Cards

MIPCOM: Hollywood star Kevin Spacey has said Netflix’s investment in his new series House of Cards and the plan to release all the episodes at once represents a paradigm shift for the industry.

Kevin Spacey in Cannes today

Here in Cannes to promote the show, Spacey said the artistic freedom he, the writers and producers had been given was unparalleled after Netflix last year went straight for a two-season, 26-instalment order.

The series, based on the BBC miniseries of the same name from 1990, relocates the political drama from Westminster to Washington. Sony Pictures Television has international distribution rights and has already scored sales with undisclosed networks around world. Production on season one will wrap soon and Netflix announced recently it will debut all 13 one-hour episodes available at the same time on February 1 next year.

“One of the things that makes the show unique is that it is in many ways a new paradigm, which is that when they do air them they’re going to drop them all at once – all 13,” said Spacey of the Us online video rental service.

“That seems to be the way in which viewers are quite often watching shows – they get stuck on them and they spend the whole weekend watching, so it’s going to be very interesting to see how this new approach to putting a series out is responded to.”

The artistic director of London’s Old Vic theatre, who is due to step down from that role in 2015, said his interest in doing House of Cards and perhaps similar serialised projects has been spurred by the changes he’s witnessed in Hollywood over the past two decades.

“The kind of films that studios are making is not of the same kind of films that they were making in the 1990s. I was working at a particularly interesting, ripe and fertile time for drama,” he said.

“That isn’t to say there aren’t wonderful dramas that do come out but the focus, the shape of the industry, has shifted. As a result, that shift has opened up opportunities in television and when you look at where are many of the most interesting plotlines, storylines, characters, acting, directing, it’s in television.”

Asked by C21 why House of Cards was heading to Netflix first, however, rather than cable, Spacey’s answer was straight: “Because Netflix made the best offer to us, because Netflix didn’t want us to do a pilot, because Netflix gave us an order of 26 episodes, which was extraordinary.”

He said it was too often the case that TV series suffered from not having the comfort of such artistic freedom, with short episode orders meaning showrunners and writers inevitably change, impacting the end product.

House of Cards showrunner/writer Beau Willimon (The Ides of March), also in Cannes along with co-star Robin Wright (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), concurred. “The artists gravitate towards the most interesting material and projects and where they have the most freedom,” said Willimon.

“I feel that TV over the last 10 to 15 years is what film was in the seventies – it’s the Wild West. Anything is possible. There are people who are willing to put a lot of money behind incredibly challenging and provocative subjects, which you don’t find as much in the studio film world.”

House of Cards is also Willimon’s first move into TV but he said those working on the project hadn’t really approached it that way – more as a 13-hour movie. He added, however, that it was hard to know what to call House of Cards due to the nature of its release via Netflix.

“Television will not be television five years from now,” he said. “Everything will stream. Any difference between internet and television will cease to be. The idea of 24 hours in a day where people have to fill up one-hour slots will cease to be. People will search for content, they won’t see what’s on at 8pm at a given time so the entire paradigm is shifting. We’re simply responding to it, adapting to it and exploiting it to do something new.”

The deal with Netflix was put together in March last year by Media Rights Capital, with Spacey’s Trigger Street Productions producing in association with the firm. Spacey exec produces alongside Fincher, Willlimon, Dana Brunetti, Joshua Donen, Eric Roth, Andrew Davies, Michael Dobbs and John Melfi.


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