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Upgrade Productions builds up executive team, looks to grow Euro footprint

Akshay Mehta and Vanessa Saal

LA-based Upgrade Productions has created two new executive VP roles as the year-old prodco looks to build out its content strategy and expand its European footprint.

The company has hired former Luma Pictures and Bron Ventures exec Akshay Mehta as exec VP, content strategy and business development and Protagonist Pictures alum Vanessa Saal as exec VP, production and distribution.

Both will report to co-presidents Matt Brodlie and Jonathan Kier, who officially launched the company in October 2021 with backing from Germany’s Constantin Film and a strategic partnership with Canada-headquartered Bron.

In his new role, Mehta will be tasked with overseeing the execution of Upgrade’s overall content strategy and building new partnerships.

He will run the company’s day-to-day operations as a member of the senior leadership team alongside Brodlie and Kier, in addition to managing relationships with partners and structuring financing for the slate.

Mehta is familiar with Upgrade Productions and its strategic priorities having played a key role in negotiating Constantin Film’s equity investment.

He was formerly the head of strategy and business development for Luma Pictures and before that held jobs including chief investment officer at Bron Ventures and was an agent in CAA’s Media Finance Group.

Meanwhile, London-based Saal will spearhead Upgrade’s global distribution strategy and expand its European operations and ventures. The role will also see her working alongside Brodlie and Kier to source material, identify co-development partners and secure producers and showrunners for projects in development.

Saal most recently served as MD of sales and distribution for London-based sales, finance and production company Protagonist Pictures. She joined Protagonist in 2014 as head of worldwide sales and before that was senior VP of international sales at StudioCanal in Paris.

The appointments come one month after Upgrade tapped former Fremantle and Leonine Studios exec Caroline Kusser as head of series.

Upgrade also announced a trio of new development projects, including a Spanish-language remake of the 2003 South Korean feature film My Teacher, Mr Kim. The film adaptation is being directed by Mexican filmmaker Celso Garcia and is coproduced with Mineko Mori in partnership with CJ ENM.

The company is also in development on Sunny Side Up, an original Hindi comedy series produced by Mumbai-based production company Writeous Studios, and an Italian-language series provisionally named Untitled 1982 World Cup set during a pivotal period for Italy in sports and politics. The latter is produced by Cloud 9 Film and written by Franco Bernini, Carmen Danza and Manuela Pinetti.

As previously announced, its development slate also includes eight-part Japanese-language series A True Novel, written by Riko Sakaguchi and produced by Japan’s Shochiku; La Jaula, an original fantasy horror series coproduced with Spain’s DeAPlaneta and Minoria Absoluta and written and directed by José Luis Montesinos; and Sausages (working title), from Australian comedian Ryan Shelton, based on the Japanese book series by mystery writer Edogawa Ranpo. Sausages is coproduced with Japan’s The Klockworx and Akiko Funatsu.

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