Simon Pegg: "Theatrical Cinema, Sadly, Appears to Be Dying"

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Simon Pegg

Pegg and his Stolen Picture co-founder Nick Frost spoke at a London TV conference, where they revealed that they were adapting Neil Gaiman's 'Ocean at the End of the Lane' and a 1960s sci-fi novel.

Stolen Picture co-founders Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and CEO Miles Ketley on Tuesday discussed the creative process of their U.K. production company, in which Sony Corp.'s Sony Pictures Television owns a minority stake, mentioning such new projects as adaptations of Neil Gaiman's novel Ocean at the End of the Lane and 1960s sci-fi novel The Technicolor Time Machine

Speaking at C21’s Content London, Pegg also suggested that "theatrical cinema, sadly, appears to be dying" while TV has "become a really, really fertile" creative ground and is "no longer the poorer cousin" of film, providing a "cinematic and exciting" playground.

Pegg mentioned that big studios must often rely on big-budget superheroes to succeed. Meanwhile, "there is this burst of creative excitement" in TV, and "anything seems possible," he said. “What used to be this little, poor cousin of the auspicious silver screen is now dominating it, and kind of offering so much more.”

He added: “Now a lot of supposedly film actors are migrating back to television, because that’s where all the acting is taking place. On film it’s just about flying around in tights.”

Pegg said that in this "second age" of television, people have great home viewing set-ups and choice in terms of TV programming.

Stolen Picture was launched in May 2017 by Pegg and his long-term collaborator Frost. They first worked together on the cult U.K. TV series Spaced in 1999. Ketley, a former Fox Searchlight executive, was previously COO at indie production company Bad Wolf. Sony Pictures Television also has an exclusive TV distribution deal with Stolen Picture. 

Ketley said the company wants to make projects "faithful" to its founders' lens, but not all in their own voices and not beholden to them. He mentioned that Stolen Picture, specifically Pegg, for example, is "working with another writer on a Neil Gaiman book"-based project. Pegg later said that project was for Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane, which the firm is developing as a limited series based on the novel he said influenced him when he first read it and originally led him to think about making it into a movie.

The 2013 book is about a man who returns to his hometown for a funeral and remembers past events. The story touches on such themes as the search for identity and the disconnect between childhood and adulthood.

Pegg also said he was working on a TV version of Harry Harrison's 1960s sci-fi book Technicolor Time Machine, aboutmediocre film director looking to save his job with the help of such characters as a mad scientist, a cowboy and an ocean-crossing Viking. 

Frost and Pegg said "creative autonomy" was the driver behind their decision to launch their own production firm. Pegg said actors can work on a movie that makes $50 million "and get 50 quid."

Frost said Stolen Picture wants to "make good things that make money, hopefully."

"We have always wanted a smaller group of people to find something life-changing" instead of going for mass appeal by "speaking from the heart," Pegg said about the kind of content the firm is looking for. Frost added that such content can "stay with you" for a long time.

He also quipped about how creating TV is "great fun, but really difficult." Frost joked about the time before Stolen Picture was created: "I didn’t know how a TV company made money."

Amid all the Hollywood giants' existing and planned direct-to-consumer services, Ketley was asked if he could see Stolen Picture launching its own streaming service. "Yes, I can," he said. "Audiences are going to look to people like Nick and Simon" to help them "navigate" through a world of increasing content choices.