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International Insider: Johnny Depp’s International Comeback; Embracing Middle Earth; Warner Bros. Discovery Exits; Cineworld Woes

Good Afternoon International Insider team, Max Goldbart here with your mid-August dose of headlines, analysis and silly emojis. We’re taking a break next week but will be back with your favourite Friday lunchtime newsletter in a fortnight on September 2. For now, read on.

Johnny Depp’s Very International Comeback

Back in the director’s chair: Johnny Depp has had a decent fortnight. Last week, we revealed a first-look image of his eponymous role as King Louis XV in Jeanne du Barry (his first film for three years) and this week focus pivoted to the director’s chair, where the once-disgraced star is due to return for the first time in a quarter of a century. Depp will sit behind the camera for Modigliani, a feature film about Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani. Al Pacino is on board as co-producer with Depp and Barry Navidi, sources confirmed to Deadline’s Zac Ntim, and the film is based on a play by Dennis McIntyre. No word yet on whether Depp will act or not but he did perform in his previous directorial effort, 1997’s The Brave, opposite Marlon Brando. The project seems to represent what appears to be a slow return to the mainstream for Depp, whose fortunes have been on the up since he won the notorious Amber Heard defamation court case in June. Public perceptions appear to be changing and creatives are slowly welcoming him back into the fold. For many of course, the jury remains out.

Mads world: One star particularly close to the situation has been Depp’s Fantastic Beasts replacement Mads Mikkelsen, who spoke to Damon Wise from the Sarajevo Film Festival about a potential route back into the Warner Bros. Discovery franchise for Depp. “The course has changed so let’s see if he comes back,” Mikkelsen told Damon, describing himself as a “big fan of Johnny”. “I think he’s an amazing actor, I think he did a fantastic job,” he added. The whole interview is more than worth a read, as the beloved Danish star walks us through his wonderfully eclectic career, which has seen star turns in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Pusher, Casino Royale and the Academy Award-winning Another Round. He was collecting his Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award for outstanding contribution to the art of film.

Embracing Middle Earth

One acquisition to rule them all: Huge M&A news Thursday as Swedish video game company Embracer Group snapped up Middle-earth Enterprises (part of The Saul Zaentz Company) and therefore the lucrative IP catalog and worldwide rights to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. One of the world’s most beloved franchises, which is soon to launch the most expensive TV show of all time, now belongs to the group, which takes motion picture, video game, board game, merchandising, theme parks and stage production rights. Wow. Financial terms were not disclosed but we imagine this cost a fair whack. Following the runaway success of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy, The Lord of the Rings is about to hit a whole new generation with Amazon’s Rings of Power mega tentpole, which this week revealed its long-awaited rollout schedule. Cue an army of Tolkien fans huddling round their TV sets at 6pm PDT on Thursday September 1. Embracer must be on to a winner here.

Warner Bros. Discovery Exits

GB News

GB blues: Barely a week goes by without Warner Bros. Discovery tinkering with its international offering and this past one was no different, as it exited its shareholding in fledgling UK news network GB News and said goodbye to HBO Max International Originals chief Jennifer Kim. Discovery (as it was then known) backed GB News with fanfare last year but the network has been beset with problems – technical, ratings and political – and has become something of a poisoned chalice. The channel was lent early authority as it was driven by feared British broadcasting heavyweight Andrew Neil but within weeks he was out, and, within months, he was chastizing the network for being a “UKIP tribute band.” Warner Bros. Discovery’s shareholding has been bought out by existing backers Legatum Ventures Limited and Sir Paul Marshall, who have led a £60M ($72M) funding round and, with new faces in the form of the likes of former Tory minister-turned-cheery-documentary-host Michael Portillo, the channel for now more than lives on.

Kim’s gone: Across the pond, Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva had all the details on the circa-70 HBO Max layoffs that included SVP International Originals Jennifer Kim. Kim’s departure will ramp up the importance of Gerhard Zeiler’s international team, according to the memo from HBO Max chief Casey Bloys, which will be left solely responsible for pursuing non-U.S. opportunities, taking advantage of a sizeable international footprint that is nonetheless itself being parred down. Individual drama and comedy teams will evaluate potential co-productions and pitch to the U.S.. Kim was responsible for acclaimed co-productions including Russell T Davies’ Aids drama It’s a Sin and leaves at the same time as the likes of Jennifer O’Connell EVP, Non-Fiction & Live-Action Family Originals for HBO Max; Michael Quigley, EVP of Content Acquisitions at HBO Max; and Linda Lowy, EVP Casting for HBO Max, TNT, TBS and truTV. Setting out the thinking behind the decision, Bloys wrote: “Unfortunately, the environment in which we operate is changing rapidly, and it is up to us to continue to refine our model to chart a course for long term success.” Change is afoot, as ever, at the new conglomerate.

Cineworld Woes

“Evaluating options”: Cinema was one of the hardest hit sectors by COVID and Cineworld was not immune. The world’s second largest exhibitor updated on its position Wednesday to say it is in “active discussions” over a potential restructure through a “comprehensive deleveraging transaction.” The financial jargon emerged after a below expectations recovery over past months, which comes in spite of major tentpoles such as Top Gun: Maverick that have given the wider sector a shot in the arm. The outfit’s shareprice plummeted the following day and we’ll certainly be keeping a close eye on where things head. Nancy had the coverage.

Big Interviews

Making waves: Earlier this month Insider dove deep into streamer activity in Africa and Asia and this week our very own Jesse spoke exclusively to two key players making waves in the two continents. South Africa’s Showmax content chief Yolisa Phahle dropped the trailer for the streamer’s epic fantasy drama Blood Psalms and delved into what she terms the “Black Panther effect” on international audiences, after the Marvel movie proved African stories could become international smash hits. She is perfectly placed to take advantage. Elsewhere, India’s Applause Entertainment turned five and broadcasting veteran Sameer Nair used the occasion to unveil a sketch show billed as, wait for it, “Saturday Night Live meets The Kumars at No. 42.” I for one can’t wait. Go deeper with Yolisa here, and Sameer here.

The Essentials

🌶️ Hot one: Ruth Wilson is back on Showtime, leading The Woman in the Wall alongside Good Luck to You, Leo Grande actor Daryl McCormack in a BBC co-production. Andreas had this one.

🌶️ Another one: Cracker from Diana Lodderhose here who brought news of Shtisel co-creator Ori Elon’s latest project, a biographical series about famous Zionist leader Theodor Herzl.

🌶️ Another one: More Black Mirror season six casting in the shape of Signs star and third Culkin brother Rory Culkin.

🏪 Setting up shop: British YouTube star Joe Sugg, who has launched BBC Studios-backed entertainment indie Final Straw Productions.

🍿 Box office: China’s Bona Film Group, valued at a whopping $1.5B, made its Shenzen trading debut.

🚪 Exiting: RTL Deutschland Co-CEO Stephen Schäfer after less than a year and following a restructure.

🏕️ Festival latest: Cannes drama The Worst Ones was picked up by Kino Lorber for U.S. and anglophone Canada.

🏕️ And another: The TIFF doc lineup is out: helmed by Hilary and Chelsea Clinton’s In Her Hands.

🤝 Partners: Indian media and entertainment giant Eros Media World and Riyadh-based content production outfit Arabia Pictures Group.

🏈 Footballllll: UK NFL coverage is switching from the BBC to ITV, which will air weekly highlights shows and three live games including the Super Bowl.

😠 Angry: The Ukrainian Institute, which slammed a prestigious German filmmaker program for inviting Russians and Belarusians, as well as Ukrainians, to take part.

🧑‍💼 New job: Amol Rajan, the BBC’s Today program presenter and Media Editor, will take up the University Challenge reins from Jeremy Paxman in 2023.

🎥 Trailer: Vivian Kerr indie drama Scrap, which heads to Deauville.

🖼️ First-look: Emily Blunt in the BBC and Prime Video’s The English from celebrated auteur Hugo Blick.

And finally: This week saw the sad passing of 81-year-old Wolfgang Petersen, legendary German director of The Perfect Storm, Air Force One and Das Boot who made quite the mark on global cinema. Mike Fleming Junior’s obit can be read here.

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