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‘Walking Dead’ Maker Skybound Strikes “First-Of-Its-Kind” Deal With Prime Video For Scandi Dystopian Thriller

EXCLUSIVE: Walking Dead maker Skybound Entertainment has struck what it is calling a “first-of-its-kind” deal with Prime Video over a dystopian thriller series from Scandinavia.

Amazon has taken rights in the Nordics for VAKA but Skybound retains worldwide distribution and controls the show’s “global commissioning structure.” This means Skybound can strike deals with buyers and sellers in different territories while the door remains open for Prime Video to acquire VAKA for other regions further down the line.

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Set in Stockholm and starring Aliette Opheim and Jonas Karlsson, VAKA follows the spread of a deadly insomnia epidemic. A disgraced minister must balance addressing the crisis and caring for his son, while an ambulance nurse goes to great lengths to save her lover.

The show is co-produced by Amazon MGM Studios, Unlimited Stories and Sagafilm, the latter of which was acquired by Skybound and 5th Planet Games last year. The Icelandic Rebate Incentive provided financial support and discussions with global distributors are understood to be well underway.

Rick Jacobs, Skybound’s Managing Partner of Linear Content, said the team were “eager to jump” into the new funding model having already made the hugely-successful adult animation Invincible for Amazon, for which the streamer takes global rights and is launching the second tranche of Season 2 episodes today.

“It’s a great opportunity to take an original from a streamer and open up the possibility to distribute elsewhere,” he added.

While the deal is a “first-of-its-kind” for Skybound, Jacobs stressed that there is irony in the tie-up feeling like a “return to the old models” where shows are commissioned in one territory and then sold around the world.

Former CBS entertainment president Glenn Geller, who joined Skybound last year to run its TV division, said VAKA “fits squarely into the box” occupied by fans of its content such as The Walking Dead. “It has more post-pandemic resonance in terms of connecting our recent shared experience and exploring a different take on what we’ve all been through, so we are excited to be involved more directly,” he added.

VAKA is a “great example of a new model that going forwards is probably going to become more prevalent,” Geller said, but he stressed that Skybound is still happy for streamers to take global rights on certain shows such as Invincible.

Another such global offering is Amazon Spain’s Tell Me Your Name.

Directed by Hugo Stuven, the Skybound horror series follows the inhabitants of Río Blanco, a strawberry-growing village that has accepted that the Moroccan seasonal workers settle in Fuensanta, an abandoned town. But the coexistence generates tensions. Sonia (Michelle Jenner), head of an NGO that helps with integration, knows this, and so does Father Ángel (Darío Grandinetti), the local priest, and Safir (Younes Bouab), the imam.

Jacobs compared Tell Me Your Name’s tone to the company’s Cinemax series Outcast from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, but with an added twist.

“Before hearing the pitch I didn’t even known exorcisms existed in Islam so this is an incredible story that hits all the things we are looking for in horror, tapping into primal fears through the lens of cross-cultural exploration,” he added.

Both shows speak to Skybound’s strategy to push beyond the recesses of the U.S. and owning global IP is the name of the game, with conversations currently taking place over development in India, Brazil and Korea.

The company founded by Kirkman and David Alpert is well positioned to be one of the few U.S. production outfits that owns the rights to the majority of its shows, Jacobs explained, taking an approach that is much more common outside the U.S.

“International producers have done such a good job of retaining IP for such a long period of time,” he added. “We have built up that efficacy to deliver those stories and I don’t think there are many other companies [in the U.S.] of our size who can do that. The big thing it comes down to for us is what the core fandom is looking for.”

Skybound Japan

‘Heart Attack’
‘Heart Attack’

With this in mind, Skybound has been adding boots on the international ground of late by opening Skybound Japan while backing the rebranded French production outfit helmed by former France Télévisions commissioner Médéric Albouy.

Skybound Japan is led by The Sniffer producer Ash Nukui and is co-producing live action series Heart Attack with local network Fuji TV.

The show is another post-pandemic series and focuses on a group of persecuted variants: individuals with unique but minimal powers that range from telekinesis to controlling the elements. Cast out by society, the Variants have been exiled to a small island and constantly monitored by a government organization called the VCU.

Geller said the team is exploring the possibilities of making “live action anime” out of the region. “One third of the world watches anime but no one has really ever made live action anime,” he added. “Genre fans are normally described as ‘deep but narrow’ but anime fans are ‘wide and deep’ so we want to capture all those fans.”

Jacobs, meanwhile, talked up Skybound Japan’s strategy of tapping into local-language originals rather than remaking local fare for the English-language market.

He said: “Traditionally a lot of American media companies have explored Japan specifically from the lens of, ‘How do we get access to Japanese IP strictly for remakes?’ While that market is really robust, I think our partners appreciate the fact we want to make Japanese-language content and bring Japanese content abroad.”

While there hasn’t been a non-English hit the size of Squid Game since the Netflix Korea smash broke out more than two years ago, Jacobs said the market is now far more used to local language fare, and it is “no longer a news story.”

“Three Best Picture Oscar nominees were local language so I just think the breadth of local-language content has been normalized to the point it no longer has to be a story when it’s a hit,” he added. “Local language shows are in the Netflix top 10 every week.”

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