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Cannes: 42’s Josh Varney and Ben Pugh on US-UK production relations and the writers’ strike


Five years ago, 42, the British management and production company whose clients include Nicolas Hoult and Ralph Fiennes, crossed the pond. Modeled after American outfits such as Entertainment 360 and Anonymous Content, 42 jumped into busy territory of American producer-managers, with a Beverly Hills-based office headed by co-founder and manager Josh Varney and producer Ben Pugh.

Early adopters of Netflix, 42’s slate has included streaming features like the much-watched vampire movie Night teeth and the sci-fi movie Outside the wire, with Damson Idris and Anthony Mackie. Theatrically there is the Cuban Missile Crisis drama The Courierstarring Benedict Cumberbatch, and Focus Features’ The silent twinwhich premiered in Cannes in 2022. In M&A, 42 sold a minority stake to Lionsgate in 2020, and earlier this year the company acquired OB, a music video and commercial outfit.

This year, 42 is on the Cannes market with an adaptation of Tom Michell’s book The penguin lessons starring Steve Coogan. Before landing in the Riviera, Varney and Pugh spoke to each other THR about US-UK manufacturing relations, the WGA strike and the future for 42.

What was the thinking behind launching an outpost in LA?

VARNEY It was always the intention to build into two of the most important markets in which our customers operate. We started selling in London 10 years ago – Ben as a producer of commercials and music videos and then into film – and me as an agent with ICM in London and Independent Talent Group. We always admired the management and production business model and that representatives and producers can coexist peacefully. We really set up this company with that as our core purpose of building a global footprint – although I have to laugh when I say “global” because it’s really just London and Los Angeles. We admired companies like Anonymous Content and 3 Arts and Management 360, so we set up our version in London first. It’s become a really competitive environment — management production — in a way it wasn’t when we first started. Now that the agencies have consolidated, it has given us a lot of opportunities to bring in brilliant people.

PUGH From a production point of view, when I moved here, we started with production and later we built out the management side. We wanted to be in the US market for both film and television, and also have a foothold in the international market. Now those two marketplaces are more connected than ever. Although the buyers are separate, they are often the same buyers in different markets. For the people we produce for or represent, it’s very exciting to understand what one of those buyers is doing in the domestic market as opposed to what they’re doing in the UK market or the pan-European market. can offer. The management production room is incredibly busy.

What was your pitch to Hollywood when you came out and opened up shop?

VARNEY I’ve never had the ethos of the way the UK has historically thought, which is, “I don’t trust the US system.” I had always been a very different representative, always wanting to work with my American colleagues. It has certainly changed. When I was an assistant at ICM in London, it was definitely pre-Internet, pre-email, and there was an hour a day when you could call your American colleagues. What I saw rising through the company as a young person was a kind of distrust. I never quite understood. Now there are many more trusts on the other side of the pond. I think that’s actually a generation change. This generation really wants to work globally because they only know globally.

PUGH When I moved to Los Angeles, we started production first. We were not offering management at that time. In the beginning it was understanding how to produce in North America with all that comes with union production and studio production. There were partner-managed hybrid projects coming out of the streamers at the time. We had a core base in London to then go into all those European and incentive-led areas, and we sold to those buyers and shot in North America as needed. That led to us getting our first Netflix deal at the time. Netflix is ​​a big studio now, but back then people still hoped to make all their movies with theatrical studios.

That was five years ago that we started the office here and it changed so quickly. What was it like working with Netflix back in the day?

PUGH I remember being in our UK office before I moved and someone telling us about one of the deals that had been done with Netflix. Then move here and know Matt Brodley (former Netflix director of the original film) and get insight from him. I said to someone, a colleague of ours who is not yet 42, “It would be great if we could do a deal with Netflix.” That person said, “Nobody’s going to want to do that because movies aren’t theatrical.” And I was like, well, we want to do that. Within months, that mindset had changed because the pace of change was so rapid. Buy in them Sandcastle (the 2017 British war drama starring Hoult and Henry Cavill), that was a good example of them needing substance at the time. By the time they were green lit Outside the wire, we worked with brilliant Netflix executives, who were relatively nimble. The lobby of the building was in complete turmoil. You would go there and see 45 people waiting.

What Makes a 42 Project?

PUGH We’ve discussed this a lot and thought about it a lot because we have a lot of different manufacturers in the industry. Just absolute quality and the fact that they are somehow commercial. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re generally commercial, but they should always know what their audience is and what they’re doing for the financier or the buyer who’s giving us the chance to make them.

How will the WGA strike affect the market in Cannes?

VARNEY It still feels so early, doesn’t it? I’m in the middle of a lot of conversations, where everyone is still trying to figure out what the impact is. I think the WGA was very clear in its guidance, but beyond that, there’s always going to be a gray area around things that exist — what can be sold, what can’t be sold. I know all the agencies and management companies are in the middle of all those conversations. How do we make sure we don’t accidentally step into an environment that will trip up a project? We fully support the writers and fully support the strike action.

Studios and distributors seem to change strategy with each quarterly report. Is this something you think about when you package or sell a project?

PUGH The only way to think about that is to work with the great talent you really believe in. And second, really understand who the audience is for the movie. And hope that the partners you work with can also adapt to what the shifted market looks like. I don’t think you can try to guess how those shifts could happen any other way, you just have to prepare by making something that people want to go to, whether it’s in theaters or on a streamer.

What space do you want to grow 42 in?

VARNEY I think if you ever come from a space where you feel like you’re in boot mode, you’re in trouble in this industry. You have to stay curious and hungry all the time. The business is changing so fast. Who knows where AI will lead us in the next three days, let alone the next three years? Even after the company has been around for the past 10 years — we’re 10 years old this year — we still feel tremendous excitement for the future.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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