New Establishment: Forte Entertainment

The Toronto prodco behind Hello Goodbye thinks it has the recipe for a breakout original Canadian format.

It’s been two short years since Andrea and Mitchell Gabourie launched Forté Entertainment, and the Toronto-based production company is beginning to hit its stride. The team behind the two-season Zoink’d (described as The Gong Show for kids on YTV), unscripted series Life Story Project (OWN Canada) and digital short series Let’s Get Hitched (CBC) are set to launch the third season of the popular Hello Goodbye on CBC in 2018, while their original format Snapshots has been optioned for development in international markets.

The Gabouries have a lot of experience in the format space. Between 2010 and 2012, Andrea served as director of live-action productions at Corus Entertainment and was previously a producer at Insight Productions. Her credits include Project Runway Canada (Global/Slice), Project Runway All-Star Challenge (Lifetime U.S.) and How to Look Good Naked Canada (W Network, OWN Canada). Meanwhile, Mitchell served as a showrunner on Discovery ID’s Worst Thing I Ever Did and directed projects like Mob Stories for The History Channel and Project X for CBC. He also has more than 25 years as a commercial and branded content director.

Now, the duo are eyeing growth in the format space – particularly original children’s unscripted.

“There has been some international success in adapting those big adult-oriented formats for the kids market: Project Runway: Junior, MasterChef Junior, Chopped Junior,” says Forté president and exec producer, Andrea Gabourie. “I think that’s proven the reality concept works for kids. But what we think is really new ground is purpose-built reality concepts for kids.”

Case in point: Snapshots. Created by the Gabouries, the children’s reality show pits three kids against each other in a series of competitions to see who can take the best photo ever. Aimed at viewers aged six to 12, Snapshots originally debuted on CBC Kids in September 2016 and attracted an average audience of 58,000 (2+). The series ranked in the top five kids shows on the channel, after Arthur (67,000) and Ollie! (61,000).

Forté teamed up with Distribution360 to sell the concept internationally and in 2016, prior to its CBC broadcast premiere, Warner Bros International optioned the format rights for New Zealand. In June 2017, U.K.-based prodco Three Arrows Media optioned the series to develop for the British market.

“The producers who we’ve optioned the format to see the potential in all the different ways that it can [work with] public broadcasters or commercial broadcasters. The show can be curriculum-, entertainment- or play-based. We’ve also shot with kids who are eight and kids who are 13. Those are two really different demographics. I think we’ve shown that even within the kids genre you can narrow-target your show to within the different age splits,” says Andrea.

In addition to Snapshots, the company is in development talks with an international broadcaster on an original kids co-viewing series called You’re Kidding Me, which the Gabouries describe as a Punk’d-style unscripted prank show. Andrea adds the company is creating seven other series for the kids space, and is particularly targeting the U.S. market for its bigger audiences, larger shelf space and faster turnaround times.

While the Gabouries say selling original Canadian formats is a primary focus for the prodco and is a large component of its growth strategy going forward, all told, format fees typically account for 5% to 9% of production budgets. When creating original concepts then, Andrea says Forté is open to various deal structures – whether that’s selling the format rights, partnering with international broadcasters to produce original series, or selling its completed shows to international broadcasters.

Of course, the company has also found success adapting international series for the Canadian market. Forté, in association with Pivotal Media, has produced three seasons of Hello Goodbye for CBC. The adult-targeted, 13-episode docuseries based on the Dutch show of the same name, details the backstories behind airport greetings and farewells, and reached an average audience of 385,000 in its second season on CBC.

Forté is also turning its attention to the digital arena, given the growing broadcaster and SVOD demand for digital-first content, says partner and exec producer, Mitchell Gabourie.

“There are new opportunities for high-end, commercial-quality content to live online and to find a very mature audience online. That whole world of aggregated channels and subscription-based content is something we are actively pursuing,” adds Andrea.

Forté recently produced 15 digital companion episodes for Corus Entertainment’s one-hour TV doc Great Canadian Homes (HeartHat Entertainment), which will be rolled out online throughout the year. It has also filmed a digital series pilot for The Call, from Eric Toth (Still Standing) and Pat Thornton (Filth City), the creators of CBC Comedy original digital series My Kitchen Can Be Anything. Forté is also partnering with the writing duo on its first feature. Umpy, a young adult-oriented feature comedy about “an overgrown manchild” obsessed with becoming a baseball umpire, is currently in development thanks to Harold Greenberg script development coin. In addition to these projects, Forté is also currently in development with Corus Studios on a new fashion series, with casting currently underway.

On top of its TV, film and digital projects, the company relies on its commercial production division, Headtrip Films. Headed up by Mitchell, the division has created TV and digital ads and branded content for clients like Scotiabank, Ford and Dell. The company typically produces between 15 and 20 commercials and short-form branded projects a year, which Andrea says require short-term commitments, but provide steady revenue that can then be funneled into growing Forté’s content production business.

“Having all that commercial experience is incredibly helpful when creating formats with strong branded content,” adds Andrea. “It gives the brand even more confidence in our ability to understand their needs, treat their projects and their messages with the respect that they want.”

As it looks to expand its production slate, the duo stressed the importance of staying nimble in today’s market. Forté currently employs six full-time people and staffs up for larger productions. “We have to treat our scale, and what we can take on, in a really smart way,” says Andrea. “A lot of what that comes down to is, Mitch and I work a lot.”

And a lot of that works goes into development, something the Gabouries believe is now more important than ever before. Andrea says the company has about 30 ideas that are in various stages of development. “We self-fund talent reels, sizzles, shorts, scripts, whatever we feel we need to best sell a project in its first round of meetings,” she says. “We’ve poured a ton of energy and financial resources into development because we know how important it is to sustain the business,” says Mitchell.

A version of this story originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of Playback.