The Ink Factory’s mission statement is a simple one: “We believe in telling original and exciting stories reaching a wide audience, partnering with talent who inspire, challenge and innovate.”
The Ink Factory was initially set up by co-CEOs Stephen and Simon Cornwell to capitalize on the IP of their father, David Cornwell aka John Le Carre. The independent studio, which recently secured $180 million in funding to enable it to step up its development and production capabilities, has proved it can live up to its mission statement having already given us the likes of The Night Manager. Now, with Hotel Artemis, a genre flick with an all-star ensemble cast that includes Jodie Foster, which has debuted in theaters with a box office tally of $3.1 million, it’s doubling down.
I caught up with Stephen as he was on set for the last few days of shooting their latest Le Carre adaptation, The Little Drummer Girl, to talk about why the company sees commercial and creative strength in diversifying their portfolio and the possibility of a Hotel Artemisuniverse.
Simon Thompson: Hotel Artemis is a world away from the likes of The Night Manager which The Ink Factory is perhaps best known for. Why do a genre flick like this?
Stephen Cornwell: You’re absolutely right and that’s one of the main reasons we wanted to do it. When we saw the project and evolved our relationship with Drew Pearce, the writer and director, and Mark Platt, the producer, and we all agreed to do it together, one of the things that Drew said to me was that he saw Hotel Artemis as John Carpenter meets Wong Kar-wai. This fusion of, and homage to, 70s movies and elevated Asian cinema that just sounded like a lot of fun. It had a very classical quality to it and feels like a contemporary version of A Canterbury Tale as it’s a nurse’s story. From an Ink Factory point of view, it is very different from quite a lot of what we’ve done but it’s also what we want to be doing more of. It also spoke to the ethos that we feel is central to what we look for in projects and that’s a very distinct point of view – it celebrated genre and embraced genre but in a way that had a unique voice. What was also very compelling to us was that if it’s a success or even a semi-success, it opens up a universe in which we can potentially tell more stories in.ST: It’s very interesting that you talk about opening up a universe because that is not something you’d previously done with your work and this very much felt like the beginning of a story. People have suggested links to the John Wick movies, that they’re connected somehow. What do say to that?
SC: Hotel Artemis is definitely standalone in our minds. It is clearly an entry point into a kind of conceptual universe of these secret facilities and a subculture in a near future setting that would, if Drew wanted to, be a fun universe to start unpicking and unpeeling. You also have a universe of characters to continue to explore, together or individually, and that was something that appealed to us with the project right from the very beginning. There are multiple ifs along that road but that was definitely a really interesting idea to us, building that universe and building that world and building those relationships. In terms of the John Wick parallels, I’ve seen that online and we’ve seen it in a few of the responses to the film. I love John Wick so any kind of comparison is a compliment, it’s a tremendously good genre movie in multiple ways and there is some resonance between the two. If we saw an evolution of the Hotel Artemis universe, I think that would actually amplify that difference between the two rather than speak to convergence. Universe building is a very interesting thing, it’s something we want to look at more and it’s something in the future space fused with TV or broadcast or interactive.
ST: So, Ink isn’t just looking at properties as a movie or a limited series?
SC: It’s really fascinating and I think it says a lot about the future of storytelling, the kind of economics of storytelling that, for us, make it really interesting. I think from Drew’s perspective, as someone who has worked a lot in the Marvel universe and on some other big franchises, he was fascinated by the idea of creating and effectively initiating an original idea that could become more than that but starting from something completely out of his own of imagination.
ST: Would you be open to the concept of moving into producing that kind of content, a completely unique, and potentially highly lucrative, pop culture IP?
SC: I think there is a big challenge about how, in a non-studio environment, what is the future of feature film? The idea, in a way, of taking the lessons of Marvel and others but remembering they all started with an original idea. Star Wars started as a spec script, at the beginning of it all that was a piece of original material. In terms of the core of the company with Le Carre and others, while we see that as being very much part of a component of what we do, we’re still very interested in the idea of creating worlds and characters and building out the concept of interconnected universes. I think we’re looking, creatively and commercially, towards the idea of a kind of wheel of possibility, bringing an audience into a world and then transitioning them to other spokes on that wheel, other ways and formats and platforms to reach audiences and stay relevant.
ST: What are the questions you’re asking yourself as a business when you look at projects?
SC: There are a few. Can you do this with works by great authors? Can you make fantastic movies and series and then navigate that audience into more interactive media and connect those? To me, that’s fascinating creatively as well as the commercial opportunities. Once you have captured an audience, whether it’s cinematically or any other form, the next step is to think of exploring that in a really interactive way and how you can go on connecting to that audience. That’s something that we’re very, very interested in doing and that we very much see as part of our future. For the business in general, the future of narrative, how to bring in a younger audience and how to hold that audience, and particularly how to do that in a more independent way than the studios can do. What are the opportunities there in the way that people view, see, share and get excited by ideas?
ST: You talk about the business and your process in a very holistic way. Is it as much about potential revenue strands as it is about anything else?
SC: In all areas, I think storytelling and quality of storytelling are where we begin and end. The defining asset creatively and commercially is phenomenal material. Whenever we look at a project, for any kind of economic evaluation or anything else, it’s driven by a kind of a creative excitement, a creative commitment and a broad commitment to embrace and push the envelope of great storytelling. Like I say, today is often about looking at where those stories take you in the future beyond the initial story, even it’s a shift of media. You have a very intimate relationship with the audience, you have brought them something very special and, in the sense, your promise to them, is to bring them more of that and not only in a linear way that is exciting and rewarding. If you’re franchising or sequelizing or building out your universe, you have to have a return on that level with your audience as much you do on your financial investment.
ST: Working in both limited series TV and film, is there a preferred space that you operate in?
SC: I think what’s fascinating is that the audience who used to go to the movies for the likes of The Godfather and the Chinatown has almost entirely migrated to TV now for that kind of storytelling. I think there has been a phenomenal opportunity there because, the broadcasters, particularly in the US, and the non-linear platforms, have seen ways of using high profile projects both to bring an audience and to bring prestige and brand value. With that has come the migration of talent and great filmmakers into that space and so the price of that has gone up, the cost of producing great drama. The big projects are getting more and more expensive and it’s getting more and more expensive to compete in that space. We’re doing it again with The Little Drummer Girl, it’s a six-hour production which is super cinematic so bigger than The Night Manager, and that costs.
ST: When it comes to budgets and investment, where do you find is the budget safe zone is for The Ink Factory?
SC: In the feature space, in general, what was the $25 million to $40 million market sweet spot a few years ago has, in the reality of independent studios, become the $10 million to $20 million sweet spot. From a genre movie standpoint, so the likes of Hotel Artemisand Get Out, there’s also incredible opportunity in the under $10 million space. If you can produce something in there that can reach an audience and has a real vitality and distinction to it, it’s an area that has huge potential and appeal. I’d love to find those kind of projects, and that’s not to say they have to be horror specifically, but in the genre space. I think that’s also a flip side of the shift towards longer-form narrative pushing people to TV. Being able to tell visceral, unique and compelling stories on the big screen in 90 minutes while also being able to tell long-form stories on the small screen? It’s a massive opportunity for us.
Hotel Artemis is in theaters now
Simon Thompson is a freelance journalist, producer and broadcaster originally from the UK but now living and working in Los Angeles. He has worked for, and with, the biggest brands in the industry including Reuters, E! News, BBC, ITN, Euronews, Sky News, Digital Spy, IGN, Sc…