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Creating a family business on the small screen

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09 April 2014

Simon Chinn (left) is regarded as one of the world’s leading cinema documentary producers, with Oscar winning films like Man on Wire and Searching for Sugar Man to his name. His cousin Jonathan (right), meanwhile, is a well known reality TV show runner, with an Emmy for Fox/PBS’s American High.

The pair have recently teamed up to launch Lightbox, an indie focused on the small screen. The company’s first project is a series of documentaries for Xbox about the start of the digital revolution.

The plan, says Simon Chinn from his London office, is “to take both our experience and find the intersection between the two.” That means creating TV content that’s “really distinctive and unique,” with the production values of feature docs, but also popular and mainstream.

Adds Jonathan Chinn, via Skype from LA: “We are hoping to run the gamut of non-fiction, all the way from formatted reality to premium, high end documentary content. But always with an eye on trying to do things a bit differently.”

With offices in the UK and the US, Lightbox aims to create non-fiction shows for traditional broadcasters in the US and the UK, as well as some of the new media buyers such as Xbox and Netflix.

The pair hope to grow the company organically in both markets, creating a transatlantic, mid-sized indie of note. Simon Chinn says that he’ll keep producing feature docs through his existing company, Redbox. “I can make a good living out of feature docs and be creatively fulfilled. But I’ve never really seen it as a scaleable business.” Despite his track record, feature docs can still take years to produce: the deal-making is tough, and producers have to reinvent the wheel for each film.

“I don’t want anyone to think that I’m some arthouse, indie film maker coming into TV – that is not my sensibility,” adds Simon, who is a fan of C4’s Educating Yorkshire. “I think Educating Yorkshire is more moving and inspiring than the best indie cinema, which struggles to hit those emotional notes.”

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