International Art Machine’s content lens

International Art Machine’s content lens

The global studio’s founder and CEO Roy Price spoke to about the path ahead.

Roy Price

Soon after moving on as president of Amazon Prime Video and Amazon Studios, Los Angeles-based media executive Roy Price booked a flight to Hong Kong to incorporate the name ‘International Art Machine.’ A journalistic outfit reported that Price was resuscitating his career as an art dealer but the simpler truth is that he was planning his comeback in the content business.

Price is the executive behind many of Prime Video’s Emmy and Golden Globe-winning shows like “Fleabag,” “Marvellous Mrs Maisel,” “The Boys,” “Maid In Heaven,” and “Patriot” during his over 13-year association with the global streamer. Prior to Amazon, he was a consultant at global management consultancy McKinsey and Co. He also ran content development for Walt Disney Content Animation.

With International Art Machine, Price has hit the ground running by announcing three projects in association with known names from the Indian media and entertainment industry. This includes projects like Amish Tripathi’s “The Shiva Trilogy” helmed by Shekhar Kapur and Suparn S Varma, “The Kitty Party” with Preity G Zinta and “Gods” with Dibakar Banerjee.

Roy’s vision is to create originals that will move the needle in their local markets while at the same time whetting the appetite of an international audience. Just the kind of shows that global streamers are desperately trying to make. Netflix has had some success with shows like “Squid Game,” “Money Heist,” and “Dark” and Prime Video showcased the Bong Joon-ho’s acclaimed film “Parasite” but Price believes the best is yet to come.

In a freewheeling conversation with International Art Machine founder and CEO Roy Price speaks about shuttling between Mumbai and Tokyo, assembling his team, the potential of the ‘Shiva trilogy’ and more.

Edited Excerpts:

On being mistaken for an art gallery

There was an article at one point that I was starting an art gallery and that tells you something about the importance of careful journalism because I’ve never been in the fine art business in my life. I guess someone just looked at the name of the company and decided that was the news story. People perceived it as a sophisticated name, so I never corrected it with anyone.

On setting up International Art Machine

When I left Amazon, the major theme I felt in international TV was the growth of Asian originals coming from Mumbai to Tokyo. Almost immediately I booked a ticket and was in Hong Kong and Mumbai within a week. I set up International Art Machine with a vision for a studio that could work locally and serve the growing multinational streamers. I called the studio International Art Machine because I think of TV and film as art. Not because we deal in paintings…although we could extend it to NFTs.  

Primarily, we’re looking at Asian originals as we’ve seen content like “Parasite,” “Squid Game,” “Drive My Car” mostly from Korea come from Asia since 2017. This trend is going to continue Asia-wide and I knew this was the place to be.

First, I set up in Hong Kong as it was a convenient mid-point between Tokyo, Seoul, and Mumbai but then switched corporate headquarters to Singapore. Karishma (Naina Sharma) is based in Mumbai and I’m based in LA going back and forth to Mumbai and Tokyo, though mostly on Zoom now.

Focus on Asian markets

India, South Korea and Japan are the primary markets followed by Indonesia. There’s China but it is more complicated than it used to be. There’s a robust market in Asia for the kind of international series that we tend to focus on.

The studio’s content lens

We want to create a series that could work for the global streamers. Not to say that they primarily cater to international audiences but they have the scope that global streamers are looking for. They would move the needle in a given country and be led by fantastic talent.  It should also have the chance to travel and be appreciated elsewhere just for its terrific quality.

At the end of the day, streamers want the kind of ambitious shows that are going to stand out in the market. Those shows don’t always have massive special effects or tremendous budgets but are usually creatively ambitious, and have a great team and spellbinding storytelling. It could be like a “Game of Thrones” or something much more personal. For a streaming service, the shows that really make a difference are the top few shows of the year. These top shows will drive 80 percent growth of the platform and bring people through the door. Those are valuable shows.

Those kinds of shows tend to be non-intuitive game-changers. The thing they have in common is that they’re trying to be different, trying to be new, and tend to have ambitious teams. That’s our mindset and we’re trying to internalise that perspective and find exactly that kind of show.

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On the potential of the “Shiva trilogy”

The “Shiva trilogy” just seemed like the ultimate web series that had to be made. To bring Shekhar (Kapur), Suparn (S Varma) and Amish (Tripathi) together to tell the story of the novels would make for a compelling watch. To be honest, ‘Shiva’ is a multi-dimensional and complicated character that lends to an interesting story. That’s why the novels have done so well. The Shiva trilogy is a story that delves deep into the complexities of mankind. It is layered with philosophy that’s not only relatable but as relevant then as it is now. We’re really excited about this series and it fits with what we want to do. It is going to be done in the best possible way and will move the needle in India and even outside of India could be interested in the show.

On creating a show that has legs to travel outside of India

It is a matter of time before we see a show coming from India that is a global success. There wasn’t a Korean show that really travelled before “Squid Game.” There really hasn’t been a Japanese one either that has been a global hit. We’ve only been making web series and higher budget series for a few years and the number of shows is still small.  As there are more shows and ideas, I’m sure we’ll see a global hit from India. There are so many stories and storytellers that one of them is certainly going to catch on more broadly.

It is a mistake to overthink it and try to create a show that appeals to a global audience but misses the mark with the local market. We’re going to do it the right way for the local market and it’s going to catch on elsewhere because it is a great show.

On the timeline to bring projects to screen

I would like to sit down in Mumbai and watch some of these projects on TV by next year. We’re looking at finishing some of them by the end of this year or at the beginning of the following year. The safer bet would be to actually premiere at the beginning of 2024 but it really depends on what happens in the next four to five months.

Web series or film?

At the moment, we’re doing a web series. We’re inventing the web series process as we go along. Since India has only produced so many web shows to date, there are only so many writers who’ve worked on it. As more writers get experience working on web series in the next decade it’ll be easier to create TV shows. We’re working on the scripts for our current projects and are excited to move forward with them.

There’s such an exciting market in India for film that it is easier to do. The process of filmmaking is well oiled in Mumbai because that’s what the industry has been working on for a long time. It is definitely tempting to work with some of the great filmmakers and move into the film side later on.