Strategic Partners: Noreen Halpern on successful copros (part 2)


Halifax, NS — As part of her keynote discussion at this year’s Strategic Partners conference in Halifax veteran TV producer Noreen Halpern discussed key strategies for coproduction success. This is part two of Playback‘s two-part story; for part one, click here.

Not every project should be a coproduction

Coproductions have many benefits – bringing more money to the table and more profile to the project being top among them – but sometimes the structure is not the right fit for a project.

As an example, Halpern cited Call Me Fitz, on which she was an executive producer for eOne, which was developed for TMN and Movie Central but initially included DirecTV in the U.S. “That show would not have been good had we brought in DirectTV at the very beginning, because they would have pushed it to be something that it’s not,” she said. With eOne’s Rookie Blue, on the other hand, Halpern recalled that creator Ilana C Frank was clear on wanting a U.S. sale when she first brought the script to eOne. It was a good fit for ABC, Frank thought – calling it “Grey’s Anatomy set in the world of rookie cops” – and the financial structure made sense with ABC as an eventual target broadcaster. The bottom line? “It’s not always just about the money. Ultimately, these coproductions live or die on [whether] both partners see the same creative show at the beginning,” Halpern said.

Producers need to be expert packagers

Halpern said there’s no one way to package a project for a successful sale to a potential copro partner – it’s all about getting to yes. And that often means combining significantly more than a great concept and great writer – also bring in a great director and/or non-writing EP. “The key is really looking at each [project] individually and figuring out how you’re going to combine the elements to make people not only not say no, but ultimately create a bidding war so you’ve got three people who want to do it,” she said.

Stalk your desired talent; directors can be the clinchers

Don’t be creepy about it, but if you’re set on particular talent, go after them. And Halpern says its directors that make a huge difference in a project pitch, not just casting a Hollywood heavyweight actor. So pursuing a director you want to attach – through an agent, beyond the agent through mutual friends, “accidentally” running into him or her at an event – is the way to go. “If you don’t care more about anyone else, no one else will,” Halpern said. And once you have that sought-after director on board, bring him or her to the pitch – having a director of a certain calibre on board means no one wants to say no them, Halpern added.

Really know your partners

“The challenge in putting any coproduction together is that you have two masters,” Halpern said. So to deal head-on with challenges that may come up in working with multiple broadcasters and producing partners, Canadian producers need to be on the scene – a visit once a month is the bare minimum, and an on-the-ground presence facilitates long-term benefits. “Relationships are not just made by going to meetings,” Halpern said, but by bumping into people at restaurants, soccer games, etc. And, in reference to doggedly pursuing desired talent, it’s hard to stalk people from another country, she jokingly added.