Euphoria executive producer Ron Leshem flew into Spain this week and recalled how Hollywood had initially turned down the HBO hit over concerns about teenage lead characters.
In a panel at Madrid’s Iberseries & Platino Industria today focused on content for Gen Z, Leshem said both Euphoria and the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things hit the same roadblock, as networks initially fretted over the idea of teenagers leading a series that wasn’t specifically a teen drama.
“Everyone told us we needed to be more like Skins,” he said, referencing the influential British drama from Channel 4 that set Nicholas Hoult, Kaya Scodelario, Dev Patel, Joe Dempsie and Hannah Murray on the road to stardom.
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“We didn’t want to do Skins. We wanted to stand out and do something different,” said Leshem, who eventually sold Euphoria to HBO alongside co-creator Sam Levinson. “Artistically, we wanted to do Trainspotting meets Kids meets Requiem for a Dream.”
HBO’s Francesca Orsi and Casey Bloys were ultimately “bold and imaginative enough” to pair Leshem and his team with Levinson and his “genius filmmaker’s soul, and the rest is history,” said Leshem.
The show, set in a fictional Californian town, focuses on a group of teenagers who balance hope with the strains of love, loss and addiction. It’s primarily written by Levinson and is based on an Israeli series of the same name Leshem and Daphna Levin created more than a decade ago. Leshem and Levin are exec producers on the U.S. show, along with Levinson and the likes of Power‘s Gary Lennon and star Zendaya.
Leshem said many of the teen-led dramas that were being pitched at the time were “didactic” and based on the assumption Gen Z struggles to make connections with others.
Euphoria is currently gearing up for a third season on HBO and is primarily responsible for propelling Zendaya and Sydney Sweeney into the starlight as Rue and Cassie, respectively. Angus Cloud, who played Fezco, died in July after an accidental overdose. Season two became HBO’s highest-rated show since 2004, behind Game of Thrones, though House of the Dragon has since overtaken it.
Eight seconds myth
Elsewhere in the panel, which was hosted by The Gersh Agency partner Roy Ashton, Leshem said the myth that Gen Z audience had attention spans of just eight seconds was based on an incorrect interpretation of a Google viewing trends report from 2021.
“Everyone was so worried that was the end of one-hour drama, but they got it wrong,” he said. “What it actually meant was we have eight seconds to grab their attention.”
He added the challenge for show creators and filmmakers applied to all audiences, in a world saturated with scripted content. “There’s so much noise out there — 600 shows in Hollywood alone, most of which will — so how do you make sure this generation will give you their engagement? You have to surprise them.”
This meant through the series’ set-up, “visual philosophy” and crossing genres to create new takes on older themes, referencing the likes of Barbie, Casa de Papel (Money Heist) and Squid Game.
YouTube Spain’s Strategic Partner and Manager, TV and Film, Vicky Gazalla, also provided insight into the viewing habits of Gen Z, which she described as the “most disruptive generation of all time.”
“They require seemless digital [content and experiences, so we are making sure we provide perfect experiences for them,” she said. “They are actively using YouTube. It’s their favorite platform and they are consuming it on all devices.
“Gen Z really values the breadth and depth of content that they can find on YouTube. They consider YouTube creators as celebrities. From our point of view, it’s about those perfect experiences for those users.”
Gazalla revealed the top video genres driving the generation’s usage were music, gaming (playthroughs and live streams), movie trailers and content related to new releases, leaning (academic and more informal), and lifestyle (wellbeing, meditation, etc). She added they were interested in both short-form, or ‘snack’ content for “quick entertainment or quick awareness” and long-form content on the platform.
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