producer gub neal 1

– . – Producer – Gub Neal

Producer – Gub Neal

New Directions

Gub Neal, former head of drama at Channel 4 and controller of drama at Granada (where he co created Cracker and won an Emmy for Prime Suspect), tells us why his new independent production company, Artists Studio, will enable writers to retain creative and financial control over their work.

Why is it so important to you to protect the rights of writers in the UK?
We’re trying to create an environment where writers are more involved in the key decisions about the realisation of their idea, and also the ownership of the rights. Giving up the rights to their ideas has become a sort of accepted code of practice in the UK, which is a very odd thing in many respects. Because if they’re responsible for originating and creating something, and very often for writing it as well, it’s quite a high price to pay to surrender both the rights to the material and the management of those rights to a third party. They completely bypassed the writers when they did the terms of trade deals. Five or six years ago when the broadcasters agreed with PACT to let the producers have rights, as far as I know, the Writers’ Guild wasn’t even in the room. So there was this extraordinary bypassing of creative propriety, where the people who were responsible for inventing the material, and ultimately realising it in script form, didn’t get a look in. And then the rights were taken forwards as the essential catalyst for the multiplication of value in the floatation of a lot of those independent companies. When you see the sort of money that was changing hands, particularly for the drama production companies, all of that was being done independent of the writers. I find it extraordinary that these companies were selling for 25- [or] 30-million and their entire library was based on property that was in effect bought for the price of a script fee!

Does neglecting the writer show a lack of foresight on the part of investors?
When an investor buys a company that’s got, say, half-adozen global titles or UK top-end titles, they buy the rights—but not the people who originated the rights. In essence what they’ve done is buy the production machinery but not the DNA that was responsible for whatever it is. In the current market, everybody is now wondering how these production companies— that have been purchased as if they’re originators—will propel themselves into the next phase, the next wave of activity. And I guess the eyes are on that at the moment because you’ve got companies like Tiger that were initially bought by IMG and then sold within a period of two years for half the price, which suggests a pretty significant scaling down of value.

Is the value of entertainment and factuals more closely tied into the production sector?
Yes, that’s right, but in drama, all any of us were doing in terms of the independent sector was curating the asset, which was the writer. To have insisted on taking all the rights away from them was, frankly, rude. But then I might be in the minority, because I’m running a business that is predicated on trying to correct that. What the independents should be doing is working with people who are still establishing reputations and profiles in the industry, because they’re very valuable at that stage. You need that level of patronage. And in a way, maybe you sell your shirt a few times to prove that it has value. But once you’ve reached the stage where you have reputation and traction, you shouldn’t really be signing the rights away to anyone.

continues in movieScope issue 20