DIFF Daily 2010

Interview: Jeff Lerner, senior vice-president, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Dec 16,2010 - 12:27 PM

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s senior vice-president Jeff Lerner has a decade’s experience in taking the Hollywood major’s television arm into international markets. He tells BEN WALTERS why Sony has established a regional TV production hub in Dubai, alongside offices in Beirut and Cairo. Their first programmes, produced in partnership with local creators and executives such as Sony Pictures Dubai president Ziad Kebbi, are expected to air early next year with more towards the end of 2011.

Why has Sony set up shop in Dubai?
Sony Pictures is a global player and we produce content that appeals to audiences all around the world. We have production offices in nine or 10 countries now. We’re not aggressively expanding into every market but moving strategically when we find the right partners. There’s a lot of creative talent here that we want to partner with.

What kind of content will you be producing – pre-existing shows, exportable formats or new work?
The priority is the needs of broadcasters. There’s a wealth of original good ideas that we’ll support in bringing to the screen as well as our library of fiction and non-fiction programming. Our formats that work strike a chord with audiences, whether it’s scripted or unscripted. With formats – TV comedies, long-running dramas, cop shows, game shows – a lot of work has already been done, which is an advantage especially in a set-up like this where initially you have finite resources.

Is Sony also considering feature film production in Dubai?
There is a crossover form the television side to the film side. There’s always the possibility of expansion. My own core business is television but we’re open to great ideas and the line is blurring – you see movies made for television now that a few years ago you might only have seen in theatres.

Are there potential problems to do with suiting content to local audiences and dealing with government approval?
That’s probably true everywhere where we do business, dealing with issues of permissiveness or censorship. We need to educate ourselves about the values and tastes of the audience. We don’t want to be thrusting ideas upon the audience without sensitivity to what they want. We’re not looking to impose any specific message, we’re looking to engage audiences in a way they’re comfortable with. Our product is meant to make people relax and feel good. Whatever we need to do to achieve that, I don’t see cultural differences as a tremendous obstacle. I’m not terribly concerned about censorship. Our partners here have a successful track record in the region and they would be our guides and decision-makers in that area. No one in Los Angeles is going to dictate what shows should be done here. We’re not looking to divide and conquer, we’re looking to be local producers. Our philosophy is local production for the audience the content is intended for. More and more, we want to be providing a supporting function for our local partners.

This is your first visit to DIFF. What’s your impression?
I see a coming together of a lot of passionate content developers, which I find very encouraging. I’ve had several conversations with young filmmakers with fresh ideas, and I also enjoyed Variety’s panel on ‘crossing over’ – both the region merging with the west and co-production within Arab nations.

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