The founder of Take 5 Productions reigns over a prosperous television kingdom
The CPA in John Weber steps to stage front when he’s asked to describe today’s roaring television industry. Research estimates upwards of 450 scripted shows will be released by year’s end, toppling the record 417 set in 2015 and more than doubling the output from 2009. This current boom, in both programming quantity and quality, is labelled by many as a new Golden Era of Television. But when pressed for his view, the founder, president and CEO of Take 5 Productions keeps a level-headed perspective. He prefers to describe it as a “period of significant volume.”
His 20-year ascension, from entry-level accountant to founder and president of his own production company, has taught Weber the television industry is anything but predictable. Since its inception in 2009, Take 5 has produced or co-produced 355 episodes of 17 television series, with a combined production budget of US $1.5 billion (more than $800 million of it spent in Canada).
This year alone, with nine series in production, Weber and his team will work on 98 hours of television fueled by a $450-million war chest. But even during these prosperous stretches, when streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu are spending a king’s ransom on original content, success isn’t ironclad. Prosperity brings pressure.
“There’s more and more competition and it’s forcing the level of quality up, because your shows, in order to get those eyeballs, now have to be better,” explains Weber from the set of Reign, a historical romance, at Cinespace Film Studios’ flagship Toronto facility. “And you’re seeing that. The quality of television is better than it’s probably ever been in history.”
This drive to perform at a higher level was central to Take 5 finding its potent stride. The company built momentum on the back of award-winning period dramas The Tudors and The Borgias, and found a champion with the beloved and bloody Vikings. Post-production work on critically-acclaimed series like the cult-smash horrorfest Penny Dreadful further reinforced Take 5’s reputation as a go-to Canadian partner for American and European co-productions.
“Our goal as producers is to take the financing we have and put as much of that money onto the screen as possible,” says Weber. There are budgets to manage, costs to maintain and, because many of Take 5’s projects are shot overseas, the tax structuring of different countries to factor in. “You need to be really efficient with your resources to make sure you’re taking the script that you’re delivered and maximizing its creative value. That’s our challenge. That’s everybody’s challenge.” One fit for the production king of Canadian drama.
— Michael Hill