When an Exec Has the Tables Turned
A former AMC senior vp tells all about her job change from TV buyer to seller, including her fears (will the phone ring?) and why she likes it better.
When I left AMC IN 2009, I feared that nobody would ever return my phone call again. When you're a buyer -- I was senior vp scripted series and miniseries -- you have a lot of "friends." But would people be just as interested in talking to me in my role as president of Cineflix Studios, a newly formed production company just entering the scripted space after a decade of success in unscripted?
In my four years at AMC, where I launched flagship dramas like Mad Men and Breaking Bad and the Robert Duvall miniseries Broken Trail, I'd gotten used to thriving on the unknown. After all, I'd started the business from zero. A former screenwriter, I'd never been a network buyer before, so I had to make the introductory rounds at the agencies in Los Angeles. I remember going to CAA and sitting with a TV packaging agent and explaining that AMC was going into the originals business. We had a substantial budget, I explained, and wanted to make one to two shows a year. I'll never forget this. He asked me at the end of the meeting: "Why should I believe you? A new network's really coming to town?" In that moment, I realized I was truly on the cusp of a new chapter, both in my life and in television.
Moving to Cineflix Studios two years ago offered a similar set of challenges -- some anticipated and others I didn't expect. For example, while at AMC, I was very hands-on in almost every aspect of our shows. This included the music: I asked Vince Gilligan to cut nearly all of the music from his almost-perfect pilot -- I don't think we changed a frame of it -- for Breaking Bad. (Vince was shocked at first, but he and I have since joked about it.) I also weighed in heavily about the marketing of Mad Men. In fact, the first-year poster for Matt Weiner's drama -- the silhouette of Jon Hamm's character, Don Draper, sitting on the couch -- came only after we passed on all of the early concepts presented by the marketing department. We decided to go with the last frame of the opening titles we had created. The marketing team's original take -- a photograph of the actors -- had no real graphic quality. It didn't connect for me, and I remember saying, "We have this incredible opening sequence; let's use the final image." And it worked.
That AMC team -- Rob Sorcher, Vlad Wolynetz and myself -- were fortunate to have so much input when it came to our projects. But in creating Copper for BBC America, a drama which centers on an 1860s Irish immigrant cop navigating the corrupt streets of New York City, I realized my role would be very different. Although I could voice my opinion, that didn't mean I would have the final creative say. Coming from a background where I could (try to) change the mind of a very opinionated showrunner, this was a challenge.
Another difference: Working for a basic cable network in the U.S. meant that I didn't have to focus on the global marketplace. But working for Cineflix, an international studio and distributor, has allowed me to see a different side of our business -- to travel the world, meet with international network executives and attend my first MIP conference. That initial year I went everywhere: Italy, Scandinavia, France, London, Australia and Germany. Buyers were overwhelmingly welcoming and said they loved the shows I'd worked on (the buyer in Sweden, in particular, is a huge Breaking Bad fan). Under the impression that American shows were the bulk of international programming -- it remains one of the U.S.' major exports -- I was intrigued to learn that most global channels want to broadcast regional programming. In Canada, they want to watch shows about Canadians; in Germany, they want to watch shows about Germans.
I think one of the reasons that Copper appealed to international buyers so much and sold well is because it's essentially about immigrants. The series is populated with characters and mostly unknown actors from all over the world. When it came to selling Copper, we got our greenlight from BBC America fairly early, and we basically presold the series in most major territories before we started episode one. We were fully financed before we went into production, which was pretty great for our first show.
As a buyer, I found myself locked in meetings that had little to do with the creative process and more with creative strategy. Today, I spend the majority of my day doing what I love: reading material, hearing pitches, developing projects, producing series and selling them domestically and internationally.
And, I'm happy to report, my phone still rings. Maybe not as much as when I was a buyer, but I've found that if you're a seller and you're doing your job well, it's the buyers who will call you.
Christina Wayne is president of Cineflix Studios and exec producer on Copper, which premieres at 10 p.m. Aug. 19 on BBC America.