International Insider: Disney Reaches For The Star; Brexit Visa Crisis; Hollywood Heads Down Under

Hello, and welcome to International Insider, Jake Kanter here. Take a walk with me through some of the global film and TV stories you need to read this week. Want to get in touch? I’m on [email protected], or my DMs are open on Twitter. And sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox every Friday.

Disney Reaches For The Star

Disney doubles down: It was a big week for Disney+, as it set the scene for the launch of international entertainment streaming brand, Star, in 17 territories on February 23. Nearly a year on from launching in Europe, Disney+ is now ratcheting up the heat in the streaming wars as it looks to further grow its rapidly-amassed base of 95 million subscribers in 58 territories across the world.

So what’s Star? Well, you can think of it as the international answer to Hulu. It will go live as a tile within Disney+ and feature series and films geared towards grownups. The content falls into one of three buckets: 1) Star will raid Disney’s rich catalog for brands including Lost and 24. 2) It will hoover up originals from Disney’s general entertainment studios, such as ABC’s Ryan Phillippe series Big Sky (pictured) and FX’s American Horror Stories. 3) Star is greenlighting its own originals.

Tell me more about those originals: Deadline had the scoop this Tuesday on Star’s first eight series out of Europe, including dramas, comedies, and documentaries. You can read about them all here, but executives have particularly high hopes for mafia saga The Good Mothers, which hails from the UK and Italy and is being penned by The Last Kingdom scribe Stephen Butchard. It tells the true story of how three courageous women inside the notorious Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta mafia worked with newly-minted female prosecutor, Alessandra Cerreti, to bring down down the criminal empire. Other projects include a new series from Deutschland 83 creator Jörg Winger, while Disney also pulled the curtain back on a couple of Disney+ originals, not least fantasy parallel dimension series Parallels from Quoc Dang Tran.

There’s more coming: The originals are just the start after Disney set itself the target of greenlighting 50 international series for Star and Disney+ over the next three years. Liam Keelan, VP of original content in EMEA, said a UK slate is on the cusp of being announced. Deadline also hears that Disney is open-minded about co-production if the rights situation is favorable. Netflix, Amazon, and more recently HBO Max, have become very active in the co-production space in recent years, with series like Fleabag (Amazon/BBC) garnering global acclaim.

What not to expect: Disney+ has, for now, firmly ruled itself out of the sports rights arena in Europe. That means it won’t be competing for Premier League rights in the upcoming UK auction. And Disney+ won’t be wringing international value out of some of Disney’s megabrands, such as Marvel. So don’t expect to see Captain Britain any time soon.

Why now: Reflecting on internal subscriber research, Disney’s Europe chief Jan Koeppen summed it up like this: “The adults among them had a term that they often used. ‘We would love to have even more choice’ for what they call ‘me-time,’ the time when the kids have gone to bed… That is really where Star comes in.”

Brexit Visa Crisis

The Brexit problem: When Britain left the European Union at 11PM on December 31, UK film and TV employees lost their freedom to work on the continent without a visa because of the government’s failure to negotiate a deal for Britain’s creative sector. We’re now seeing the consequences of this oversight. An explosion in bureaucracy is preventing people from traveling quickly and freely across the continent. Spring shoots are at risk, per The Production Guild, while casting calls are asking for EU passport holders only.

Pollock over performers: In an interview today, Equity general secretary Paul W Fleming told us that actors and other screen workers have become Brexit “collateral damage” thanks to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s “deeply irrational” fixation on fishing over the collective needs of a £112 billion industry that boasts a kaleidoscope of world-class film, TV, theatre, and music stars. The government, meanwhile, has pointed the finger of blame squarely at the EU, saying its proposals on visa-free travel were rejected during talks.

What now: Culture minister Caroline Dinenage said on Tuesday that “there is not any appetite” to reopen the Brexit deal, meaning that bilateral “negotiations with individual member states” will be the most likely path to a solution. Government-chaired industry working groups are now seeking a way forward. “The British government and the EU can affect change, and that is likely to happen on a multilateral level,” said Fleming.

The bottom line: Brexit has created headaches for film and TV shoots that would be deeply unpalatable even in the best of times — and a global pandemic is certainly not the best of times. The industry wants urgent action to fix the visa crisis before Europe opens up again this spring.

Hollywood Heads Down Under

An eye on Oz: Our new international recruit Diana Lodderhose published a fascinating state of the nation piece on Australia and New Zealand on Tuesday. The feature investigates how production is thriving in the Antipodean nations, thanks to head-turning incentives and a firm handle on Covid-19.

Illustrious list of shoots: Nine major international projects have set up camp in Oz since 2019, including Thor Love and Thunder (New South Wales) and George Miller’s fantasy-romance-drama Three Thousand Years Of Longing (Sydney). Across the ditch in New Zealand, James Cameron’s Avatar sequels and Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings are among the projects lensing. Other shoots have switched to the country to escape coronavirus hell in LA, not least Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s A24 and Apple comedy-drama Mr. Corman.

Man on the ground: Graeme Mason, CEO of federal government agency Screen Australia, told Diana: “We’ve gone from having tumbleweeds in the studio spaces to all spaces and crew and facilities houses taking some really good bookings. We all feel like we’re fielding more enquiries and have more stuff going on than any of us can remember happening before.”

The cinema sector isn’t too shabby either, with Australian theatres operating at something like 75% capacity, helping make it the third biggest territory for Warner Bros’ Wonder Woman 1984. In a message of hope for Covid-stricken countries, Joel Pearlman, CEO of exhibitor Roadshow Films, said: “These films are performing and they are demonstrating that audiences absolutely want to return to cinemas when they can.”

Roland With The Punches

Master of disaster: Andreas Wiseman sat down with Roland Emmerich to discuss the circuitous route to shooting his independent, $140 million blockbuster Moonfall. His experience will likely resonate with many. He had to shut down pre-production last year after spending up to $7M on the Halle Berry and Donald Sutherland sci-fi story. Once filming was underway, Emmerich had to contend with testing three times a week, finding a workaround for an absent Stanley Tucci, and a Covid case right at the final hurdle.

It’s Roland’s world, we’re all just living in it: “Everyone tells me the pandemic feels like a never-ending Roland Emmerich movie, like a Roland Emmerich movie in slow motion,” the Independence Day helmer told Andreas. Read the full Q&A here.

Mission less-possible: Of course, it’s not just independent movies that have had to wrestle with coronavirus complications. Diary clashes (another regular Covid headscratcher) have forced Paramount to rethink its plan to shoot Mission: Impossible 7 and 8 back-to-back. Tom Cruise will now be needed on promotional duties by the studio for Top Gun: Maverick ahead of that film’s planned release on July 2, and will be out of action for a period. Tom Grater had the scoop.

The Essentials

🌶️  Hot one of the week: Star Wars lead Daisy Ridley will headline the movie adaptation of hit psychological-thriller novel The Marsh King’s Daughter. Limitless helmer Neil Burger directs. Andreas had the exclusive.

🍿  International box office: Chinese moviegoers ushered in the Year of the Ox with the colossal three-day debut of Detective Chinatown 3. It grossed an estimated $398 million, giving it bragging rights to the biggest opening weekend ever in a single market. Nancy Tartaglione has the details.

🏆  Awards news: After shockingly being snubbed by the Golden Globes, Michaela Coel’s searing BBC/HBO series I May Destroy You has garnered a bunch of nominations for the UK’s Broadcasting Press Guild Awards. Full nominees here.

✍️  International Critics Line: Anna Smith has reviews of Taiwan and Romania’s Oscar contenders. Read her take on A Sun and Collective.

🚚  On the move: BBC Studios has hired Amanda Wilson and Elliot Johnson, the co-founders of Banijay-owned production company Sharp Jack, who have been responsible for co-creating international hits including The Chase and Strictly Come Dancing. Scoop here.

🎦  Trailer dash: Take a look at the exclusive first trailer for Fizz and Ginger Films’ low-budget UK sci-fi Infinitum: Subject Unknown (pictured above), which features cameos from Ian McKellen and Game Of Thrones star Conleth Hill. Watch here.

📺  Ones to watch: Bloodlands, the first commission for Bodyguard creator Jed Mercurio’s production company Hat Trick Mercurio Television, lands on the BBC this Sunday. Dubbed an “Irish noir,” it stars James Nesbitt as a Northern Irish police detective. Trailer here. Kevin Macdonald’s Guantanamo Bay thriller The Mauritanian also premieres in the UK on February 26. Trailer.

And Finally…

Amazon spooked: Describing your show getting canceled as “a massive kick in the willy” is a Britishism that International Insider finds too amusing to ignore. The man who uttered those words: Comedy hero Nick Frost, who had (presumably) just had an unwelcome bit of news delivered by Amazon, which has exorcised his ghost-hunting comedy Truth Seekers. In a now-deleted Instagram video, Frost grimly revealed: “Sadly, Truth Seekers will not be returning for a second season… If you liked the show, thank you. And if you didn’t, are you happy now?” But it was a comment from one Deadline reader that perhaps summed up the problem for Amazon: “Loved the first series. It was different, fresh and funny. Shame on you Netflix!”

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