William Horberg.

Will there ever be a cultural phenomenon like The Queen’s Gambit again?

Yes, but it may take a while, according to the show’s executive producer William Horberg.

The prominent Hollywood producer chatted today with critic Luke Buckmaster as part of this year’s Screen Forever conference, where he was given the chance to reflect on how the show rose to become Netflix’s most-watched limited series of all time.

Horberg said the final product was the culmination of a vision spanning three decades.

“My partner [co-creator] Allan Scott got the rights to this 30 years ago and has been trying to make it since then,” he said.

“I joined him on this journey 20 years ago and we shot it in 2019.

“It was a long, long road uphill with a lot of rejection along the way.

“The marketplace just didn’t judge this as commercial material and yet it became the most-watched limited series in Netflix history.”

Horberg’s own career is another example of longevity within the industry.

He was the former president of production at Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, where he produced or executive produced a number of successful films including Talk to MeDeath at a Funeral and Lars and the Real Girl.

Horberg was also senior vice president of production at Paramount Pictures and spent 11 years with Academy Award-winning filmmakers Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella in their production company, Mirage Enterprises, where he produced films such as Cold Mountain and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Speaking about the current environment, he said being able to monetise content and aggregate an audience amidst the growing number of platforms was the “dilemma du jour” for content creators.

“The one constant in our business is change,” he said.

“The advent of accessing streaming services has definitely been a game-changer but some things don’t change.

“For instance, you’re always selling to somebody; you’re either a seller or a buyer.

“Even when you are a buyer, you have a boss that ultimately has to greenlight production.

“You’re always in a room trying to get people excited about not only a story, but the audience that is out there for that story and the talent that can tell that story.”

Horberg said the global business of studio movies influenced the nature of the stories that are going to get told.

“Now there has to be IP that the story is based on and a sense of a defined audience before it is made,” he said.

“You also need to have some sort of blazing passion and a way to establish credibility, so if you are selling yourself as a writer, you’ve got to have scripts you have written.

“You really have to gauge where you are in the food chain, and if you are beginner or intermediate, you may want to make alliances with experienced producers, so you can package yourself with people that have track records.”

In the case of The Queen’s Gambit, Horberg added, co-creator Scott Frank had previously worked with Netflix on the 2017 series Godless, meaning the “access, track record, and relationship was already there”.

“[The series] had been a tough sell up until that point,” he said.

“It took a long time for that constellation of factors to coalesce.

“When it comes to selling, there aren’t a lot of things I say yes to myself, in terms of stories or projects that I want to commit to investing all my energy into, because I am sobered by the fact it could be a 20-year commitment.”

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