Jeff Greenberg on Screen Dreams Down Under

November 14, 2019
We spoke with the Gersh Agent at Screen Producers Australia’s annual conference Screen Forever.

In the current climate of insatiable market demand for new and diverse content, agents are looking seriously at Australia for new talent.

Representing a diverse roster of over 40 writers and producers working across a plethora of platforms including CBS, HBO, Showtime and Netflix productions such as Eric Wallace, Showrunner of The Flash (The CW), Adam Perlman, Executive Producer on Billions (Showtime) and Sarah Walker, creator of Wonderland (Network 10), it’s fair to say, Jeff Greenberg, has his finger on the pulse of the global TV market.

With a focus on TV packaging and a noted interest in closely collaborating with creatives to work towards the shows they’re passionate about, writers, producers and actors Greenberg represents include David Schwimmer, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Brad Hall and Kevin Nealon.

The current fragmented landscape in media production marks a time of unprecedented change and opportunities in television – arising from a rise in demand for diverse shows and voices which appeal to a global audience. Series such as Netflix’s Brisbane-based Tidelands, Matchbox Pictures’ Clickbait – a Netflix production set in Oakland, California, being filmed in Victoria and produced by Marriage Story and Once Upon A Time in Hollywood producer David Heyman; and the ABC/BBC series The Cry are some of the examples, to name a few.

With the number of shows being commissioned on the increase globally and showing no signs of slowing down, the upside and the complexities of the current boom in production is a fraught question, particularly with the market situation changing “overnight”.

Much of the conversation amongst industry navel-gazers centres around the wealth of companies making forays into making series and what the repercussions are for Australian producers.

With Disney+ launching this week, and competitor services from Apple and NBCUniversal on the way, we caught up with Greenberg to find out what the challenges and opportunities alike are for series creators.

What is your background, and what’s your role in working with writers on series like Billions and The Flash?

I started in the William Morris Agency (WMA) mail room, and I’ve been at Gersh now for eight years. Originally, I worked after law school, delivering mail. I’ve always wanted to work in TV and it’s a dream that I get to help writers create their vision of a TV show and help make their dreams come true. It’s a really fun job. I represent writers/executive producers on The Flash and Billions. For both those shows, I put the writers on the show after it was already sold. I helped package the new Lizzie McGuire series which is coming to Disney+, as I represent the show creator [Terri Minsky].

The international market seems to be changing by the minute with the plethora of new buyers and platforms. Disney+ (which hits Australia on November 19) has just arrived in the US. How can Australian writers and producers adapt to this new and changing climate?

Telling local stories and stories that are true to people’s hearts is the key to good television or good filmmaking. I think that staying true to people’s own voices and sharing the human emotion and interaction that people have been storytelling for thousands of years is still the answer. I think that good storytelling and really great characters will win the day, regardless of the location or where it takes place.

Has the global boom in demand for series TV created a more open market and higher demand for more diverse input and voices?

Absolutely. And there’s such a need for great writers right now. And there’s so many great writers all over the world, and with the world getting smaller, since everything is so accessible, it’s easy for us to find great Australian talent or UK talent or talent anywhere. And because everyone wants diverse stories, stories from other parts of the world are certainly diverse and really exciting. And you can create a more balanced writers’ room and viewing experience.

One of your clients is from Sydney, who worked on a local network series here in Australia (Sarah Walker, creator of Wonderland). What are the opportunities available to writers from Australia and around the world?

When you’re selling a show, you want to find the right home for it. Moody Christmas is a show that was an Australian show from ABC Australia. And we sold it to Fox six years ago. It wasn’t the right time for it to end up on Fox, and it ended up selling to a few other places. And now it’s back at Fox and premiering in December, which is really exciting. But not every platform is right for every show. People often think, “everything’s right for Netflix because they do everything” but that’s not accurate. Places actually have pretty specific brands that you want to focus on.

Should writers have an idea before they start of which outlets they should be targeting and platforms which might be interested?

I wouldn’t have them make a project for the market, I’d have them make the product they want and then certain outlets might be right for it, and others wouldn’t. And that just means that when we take out your project, it’s not going to go to every possible outlet, but it’ll go to the ones that make sense for it.

What are you looking for from writers and producers?

The writing has to be phenomenal. It has to be a story that I feel connected to. And then it’s just people that you want to spend dinner with, someone that you want to hang out with. I really just introduce people to friends. I say, “I’m going to introduce you to 50 people”. “And I want to make sure that those 50 people want to spend more time with you after I introduce you to them, because that means they want to work with you”. And that comes from the writing being phenomenal. But that’s just the beginning. That’s just the bar you have to jump over to even get in the door. And then it comes from being an interesting, personable character that has great stories in addition to the ones that were in the script. And that’s what I look for in a client.

The international and US market is much more open and inviting to Australian content, with the rise of accessible, global digital platforms – for example shows like Apple’s Shantaram series (which was shot at Docklands Studios in Melbourne). What can writers from Australia do to get attentional from global gatekeepers?

What’s so great about Australia is there’s so many opportunities to sell locally to buyers. And the networks are so great at finding young talent and seem to really foster diverse voices here. So once writers already have the support of the ABC or Channel 10, they’re legitimised by them. And then it’s easier for me to get really excited about them. When I met Sarah Walker, she was just coming off Wonderland. That was something that I thought looked amazing and was thrilled to be able to work with her.

TV is so exciting and saturated, there’s so much great content. When I started 13 years ago, everyone wanted to be in features and I’ve always loved TV.  TV for me, I’ve always thought was where the best storytelling was happening, because you had a hundred hours with the characters instead of two. And you had years of spending time with the characters instead of two hours. And that’s why TV is so exciting.TV actually moves the zeitgeist of America. TV is what makes movie stars. That’s what’s changing the culture. It’s really exciting.

Is the rise of this TV production boom going to end? What does the future of series entertainment look like?

I think we’re going to go back to four or five places to get content the way it was 20 years ago.  What we’re missing right now in television is the watercooler moment when everyone’s talking about a show. What was exciting about the last season of Game of Thrones wasn’t just a show that I loved, but it was that I knew everyone was going to be talking about it on Monday.

That’s what makes TV the communal experience. And that’s what humans want, communal experience. That’s why people go to festivals. That’s why they go to concerts. That’s why they watch the movie that everyone else is watching. With this much TV and as many platforms and as many options on any one platform, everyone is not watching the same thing and that’s what we’re missing a little bit in this golden age. It’s not about making the biggest show, it’s just making the show that’s the “most true to yourself” and giving it the time to find the audience. So hopefully that happens. That’s what I predict is going to happen. It’s exciting right now, because there’s so much great content out there and I love that all the best creators are focusing on TV.

If you had one takeaway for TV practitioners, what would that be?

I think it’s the same for any writer anywhere. It’s to network and do great in your space. Because if you have fans and people are talking about you, I’m going to hear about you and I’m going to want to work with you. Write what you love and care about. That’s the takeaway.

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