James Burstall speaks to C21 on the super success of Transparent joining the Argonon Group.

  James Burstall of UK production group Argonon talks to Andrew Dickens about global strategy following the company’s acquisition of factual prodco Transparent TV. The latest in a series of deals by production giant Argonon has seen the firm acquire Transparent Television, the company behind hard-hitting documentaries such as Botched Up Bodies and My Daughter Amy. The acquisition has given Argonon, which formed in 2011 and expanded by buying Leopard Films and Remedy Productions, full ownership of Transparent for an undisclosed amount. Now it’s preparing for Transparent’s US launch, a move that CEO James Burstall says he embraces – but not without some care. “The American market is very sophisticated and very exacting, so our strategy with the US is to approach with caution – we will be forensic in detail,” he says. “It takes time to break into the US and to win buyers and commissions, so this will be no quick thing. We will take Transparent to the next level by exposing the team to the international market and playing to its strengths in popular documentaries and celebrity access. “What I can say about Transparent TV, and what is very appealing and exciting about it, is the way it handles a very sensitive subject with finesse. It will really appeal to the American market and the international audience overall. I am confident it will pick up a lot of commissions.” Argonon is working to exploit Transparent’s documentaries across global markets and will launch the prodco in the US through its headquarters in New York. Transparent, which was founded by joint MDs Richard Hughes and Jazz Gowens in 2004, produces factual entertainment programmes for UK broadcasters and international markets, including Great Northern Cookbook for Channel 5, Restoration Roadshow for the BBC and I Was a Jet Stewardess for UKTV.While Burstall admits that venturing into the US could “often could be tricky,” he emphasises the need to begin conversations with executives early on as well as paying “huge attention to detail.” Indeed, it’s clear he is talking from experience if one looks at the Argonon umbrella, which already includes Leopard Films USA, Leopardrama, Britespark Films and Remedy Canada. Botched Up Bodies Burstall says Argonon is using a three-pronged strategy to expand in the global market. “The first part of our strategic ambition is to bring in world-class talent and create a centre of excellence where some of the most extraordinary creative talent can flourish,” he says.So far the company has brought in names like Bafta-winner Todd Austin, as chief creative officer of Leopard Films; Tom Blakeson, as chief creative officer of Remedy; Ruth Caleb, as exec producer of Leopardrama; and Emmy-nominated Dave Hamilton, who joined the Argonon group to launch Leopard Films USA. Burstall adds that the company’s second prong is all about acquisitions, citing Argonon’s recent stake in Remedy Canada as a successful move. Finally, Burstall highlights joint ventures as key for the company to progress in the international market. “A recent project of ours was when we worked with ex-Cineflix executive Nick Godwin to create a new factual production company, Britespark,” he says. “We have already developed major series with a broadcaster in the UK. Join ventures are vital and it is also important to get resources and funding from different places across the world. They also allow executives to be masters of their own destiny.” Burstall says “umbrella-ing” the indie for the past year had been useful, providing an acid test for their working relationship. “The worst thing you can do is launch head-on into these deals and screw them up. That’s not our methodology.” And what does the future hold for Argonon? “We are always in discussion with executives and production groups about future projects,” Burstall says. “It’s important in a recession to stay positive and invest. We need our entrepreneurs more than ever now to keep things moving forward; we shouldn’t take a back seat.”