If you want to attract a younger audience, you have to watch what they watch. Not what you think they are watching, says producer Dean Devlin, best known for “Independence Day” and “Stargate.” But he never designs his shows for one market.
“It’s no longer all about gender or age demographic. If you go to a sci-fi convention, they are not just kids, they are not just older people. It’s everybody!”
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At Berlinale Series Market Selects, which runs as part of the European Film Market in Berlin, with his latest show, sci-fi series “The Ark,” Devlin continues to pay homage to the kind of stories he loved as a child, from Douglas Trumbull’s “Silent Running” to “The Omega Man.”
“I don’t pay any attention to trends. When we did ‘Stargate,’ every studio in Hollywood said that science fiction was dead. And then we had a hit,” he tells Variety in Berlin.
“I wrote this thing as a sort of love letter to the kind of science fiction I grew up watching. My mom was on the original ‘Star Trek’! I wanted to make a throwback series and then let it develop over time, in unexpected areas.”
“The Ark” shows the remaining crew of spacecraft Ark One, on a planetary colonization mission to save humankind, fighting to survive. It was created by Devlin and Jonathan Glassner, and is produced by Devlin’s Electric Entertainment and Balkanic Media. The SYFY series was picked up by NBC Universal Global Networks Germany. The deal also includes all pay-TV rights.
“When you have times that are difficult, escapist entertainment is more valuable. Science fiction really lends itself to that. The whole world has just gone through trauma, so the idea of getting an hour a week to think about something other than economy and health is welcomed,” he says.
Despite his blockbuster experience on “Independence Day” and “Godzilla,” Devlin notes that the current feature film market is “a bit depressing.” Television, on the other hand, is “blooming.”
“We had a film last year, called ‘The Deal,’ and we are about to start another in May. But unless it’s a Marvel movie or horror, you are basically making it to sell to a platform. If you are already spending all this energy, you might just as well make a series.”
“I think we will see more and more platforms licensing shows again instead of owning them. While it will create more competition for me, it will also give me more places where I can go and make shows. At Electric, we have never done a show where one platform owned it,” he adds.
Shot in Serbia – just like his previous effort, “The Outpost” – “The Ark” boasts an international cast. Which actually fits the story, he argues. “It takes place in the future and in our version of it, the borders are coming down. It doesn’t matter which country you are from. We are more united, because the world is on fire,” he says.
Now, Devlin is taking a dive into unscripted – “It came from a guy who was in one of my movies as a teenager. He went on to become a war hero and now pitched me this idea for a reality show.”
He has been also working on “Almost Paradise,” shot in the Philippines. “It’s a retro detective show. We want it to feel like a comfortable old shoe when you watch it, even though it’s set in this exotic location. You are in a whole different world,” he explains, adding that the idea is to produce original content for FAST channels (free, ad-supported television in a linear format), and AVOD platforms, create live events, and further develop premium app Electric Now.
“We just expanded to Australia, with the U.K. and Canada as the next stop. We realized that we had this vocal fanbase for ‘The Librarian,’ for ‘Leverage,’ and yet they didn’t actually know each other. If you like one of our shows, you will probably like the rest. We created an app where we can aggregate our fans together and we can activate them to see whatever else we are doing.”
Meeting people in person again is also key, especially for companies like Electric, he notes.
“My wife says that when you are in a car, and someone cuts you off, you scream at them. If it happens in a supermarket, you go: ‘Oh, excuse me.’ It’s much easier for foreign buyers to tell you to screw off when you just send them a link.”
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