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Media magnate Elisabeth Murdoch, veteran Hollywood studio executive Stacey Snider and British television producer Jane Featherstone are teaming to launch Sister, a new global content company with offices in London and Los Angeles, the trio announced Tuesday.
Murdoch — who has backed a string of enterprises over the years in forging her own career path versus working for her father, Rupert Murdoch — is putting up virtually of all the financing for Sister. The venture will absorb and build upon the foundation of Featherstone’s Sister Productions, launched in 2014 with a minority investment from Murdoch and home of the Emmy Award-winning Chernobyl.
Sister will harness Snider’s decades-long film experience and Featherstone’s TV background in developing and producing material for a multitude of platforms, including feature films and television.
The trio didn’t reveal how many projects they are targeting, or at what budget range, but did say they are fortunate to be well capitalized and have the “independence and confidence to write our own rules, to be bold and bespoke in the choices we make, and to utilize our resources to champion visionary storytellers. And to those storytellers we say, come and be brave, come and be rebellious, come and do your best work.”
Lest there be any confusion, the name of the company doesn’t mean Sister will focus solely on projects from female writers and filmmakers. “We embrace it much more for its values than its gender meaning. It’s collaborative, it’s joyful, and it means we have each other’s back,” Murdoch told The Hollywood Reporter in a phone interview from London, where she was flanked by her new partners.
Murdoch and Snider got to know each other when Snider ran 20th Century Fox, the movie studio owned by Rupert Murdoch that is now part of the Disney fold. Elisabeth Murdoch’s animation company Locksmith has a three-picture deal with 20th Century, and she worked closely with Snider on Ron’s Gone Wrong, set for release by Fox/Disney in November 2020.
“I had to pitch Stacey a movie, which was quite scary. I obviously had met her before at Fox events, but we actually got to know each other in a much more practical, creative way,” Murdoch said.
Added Snider, “We went through the deal-making project and development and got to see how one another operated.”
Snider — who previously served as Universal Pictures chairman before running Steven Spielberg’s DreamWorks, making her one of only a handful of women to ascend to the top of the Hollywood hierarchy — says she’s OK with no longer being atop a movie studio following Disney’s mega-acquisition of much of 21st Century Fox in March.
“What is so exciting to me personally is the commitment we are making to the story, regardless of the platform. The things that excited me when I was a young executive are the things that excite me now: finding great writers and great material. I’m as hungry and competitive for that as I was then,” Snider told THR. “Jane has done exactly the sort of work I admire, and to be honest, fricking envy. The idea of working together between London and the U.S. was a dream come true.”
At Fox, Snider helped shepherd such hits as The Greatest Showman, Logan and, most recently, Bohemian Rhapsody, released last fall. She also collaborated with Spielberg on Lincoln and the upcoming West Side Story, a Fox title that Disney inherited.
The Disney-Fox deal took more than a year to close, making life difficult for Snider’s team. The film studio’s last big box office hit was Bohemian Rhapsody before suffering a string of misses this year, including the X-Men installment Dark Phoenix, prompting Walt Disney chief Bob Iger to tell Wall Street investors that the performance of the Fox slate wasn’t what he expected.
“I thought a lot about that,” said Snider, who hadn’t spoken publicly post-merger until now. “I believe passionately the most important asset to any company are the people. In this transaction, at least on the film side, it was an acquisition of assets, not people. After the merger was announced, the best people left and walked out the door at a time when there was an incredible land grab for great executives.”
The three women are co-owners and co-founders of Sister, with Murdoch serving as executive chairman. Snider is global CEO and head of Sister LA, while Featherstone is head of Sister London. The company’s corporate headquarters will be in the U.K.
The new company will incorporate the existing teams behind Sister Pictures’ slate, including executive producers Chris Fry (Chernobyl, Giri/Haji) and Naomi de Pear (The Power, Flowers) and producer Katie Carpenter (Flowers, The Bisexual). Dan Isaacs, current COO of Sister Pictures, will become COO of Sister London.
Sister Pictures has 26 employees in London. This year, it produced 25 hours of scripted television, a figure slotted to rise to 32 hours in 2020.
Murdoch and Featherstone are hardly strangers. In 2007, Murdoch’s Shine Group acquired Kudos Productions, which Featherstone ran. Featherstone rose to Shine TV chairman in addition to serving as CEO of Kudos, overseeing production on a series of hit U.K. dramas including Broadchurch, Humans, Spooks, The Hour and River.
Featherstone left Shine in 2014 — as did Murdoch — and subsequently founded Sister Pictures. Last month, Chernobyl (HBO/Sky Atlantic) won 10 Emmys, including the trophy for outstanding limited series.
Forthcoming titles from Sister Pictures include the second series of Emmy-winning writer Abi Morgan’s The Split for BBC One, Giri/Haji for BBC Two/Netflix, the adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s literary phenomenon The Power for Amazon and Adam Kay’s adaptation of his international best-seller, This Is Going to Hurt, for the BBC.
Murdoch, who lives in London, says she will focus much of her energy on Sister. Her other ventures include the mobile video startup Vertical Networks and animation house Locksmith. Murdoch is also a minority shareholder in Youngest Media and 110% Content.
“There is a really exciting opportunity to be a well-capitalized, super-focused and very discerning independent that can be a conveyor of wonderful talent and wonderful material,” said Murdoch of Sister. “We can also provide a safe harbor for buyers.”
Added Featherstone, “This is about super-sizing Sister Productions. Los Angeles and London are the two centers of our industry, and talent is working in both places. What we can do is provide a home for talent to be flexible and nimble in terms of what story they want to tell and on what platform. That’s a very rare thing in this business.”
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