HRTS Member Profile: Craig Cegielski
Craig Cegielski is President of GK-TV, a division of Graham King and Tim Headington’s GK Films. I recently had a chance to speak with Craig to discuss Camelot, content, and Kevin Beggs.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in entertainment? How did you get involved with the HRTS?
-I knew I wanted to work in entertainment since I was six years old. I was fascinated by the worlds introduced to me by epic films like “Lawrence of Arabia” or “Mutiny on the Bounty”. I was also glued to television watching series like “The White Shadow” and “The Jeffersons”. I suppose I was simply in love with this whole cadre of content and wanted to be a part of it. I was also inspired by Irving Thalberg, a young entrepreneur who partnered with Louis B. Mayer to create a formula of quality which carried MGM through the Great Depression. He knew how to make the best with what he had, and I aspire to do the same.
I was first introduced to HRTS by Gary Marenzi while at Paramount International Television then later on by Kevin Beggs at Lionsgate. Simply put, anything that Kevin was involved in I fully supported. I knew it was an organization that offered unique perspectives from showrunners and network executives alike.
Q: What do you look for when developing a new property?
-I look to extend the brand Graham created in his theatrical business. It all starts with a strong story that thematically embraces the use of power, often wielded by the young. We gravitate towards edgy, provocative characters with a maturity to them but also a sense of recklessness. For instance, the young King Arthur in our first series “Camelot”.
It’s a high bar to hit and you have to entrust that consistency of creativity to people who have done it before.
Q: Can you tell us about “Camelot”?
-I’m really proud of “Camelot” because we brought it to Starz in January and it quickly went into production. It’s a legend that’s been told before but with Starz we have an opportunity to look at the story in an authentic, realistic vision and portray the plight of a young man in 6th century Britain, thrust into a position of power. We’ve been blessed to have actors like Joseph Fiennes as Merlin who plays Aristotle to young Arthur’s Alexander.
It’s an exciting opportunity for us to move forward with proven creative elements, specifically Emmy Award winning directors, costume designers, set designers, along with introducing talent like Eva Green in her first television series.
It will always be a priority to assemble talent with proven track-records, be they producers, directors, showrunners, and actors, and provide them with an environment from which they can realize their vision. Graham has the proof of concept in his collaborations with Leo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie, Marty Scorsese and others who consistently deliver.
Q: In what ways does your international experience inform your decision-making process?
-one hundred percent. There isn’t a show that I would ever develop that I didn’t feel had a global perspective or global viability. Gone are the days where we can sit isolated and just make a television show for a specific territory. Sitting down with broadcasters from the UK to Greece to Vietnam to Ireland to Italy, they inform me as much as looking at the daily ratings of US programming.
One of the most important things that ever happened to me was I was asked to prepare a list of the Top 10 content distributors in America whose content services the Top 20 markets internationally. For over a year I amassed this comprehensive, forensic knowledge about where programming from the US was going internationally and how it was performing.
As I hear a pitch or see a pilot I see where it ticks certain boxes in terms of international needs and then I can go out and make the handshake deal with the guy in Spain. To be able to make a promise in the room and then deliver on that promise is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job. Saying a show has international appeal is a punch line to some, unless they spent time talking to foreign broadcasters and educating themselves on the current international programming landscape.
Q: How would you compare the GK-TV brand to that of your competitors?
-I would say the GK brand is consistent quality. A lot of our competitors are eclectic and opportunistic, bound by certain parameters that force them into producing a various array of programming, often times diluting their brand. We’re very specific which enables us to preserve a level of integrity and carefully manage the creative and business process. One benefit of being a privately-run company is that we’re not bound by a “take what comes” mentality, which often is driven by shareholder directives of continued growth, even at the expense of reduced margins. Sacrificing brand in search of volume isn’t something that is part of our DNA at GK-TV.
Q: Where would you like to be in five years?
-Still here at GK-TV, delivering on that promise of continued high-quality programming, with a few statues on our shelf as our proof-of-concept, continuing to enjoy the intimate relationships with show creators and buyers worldwide.
Q: Anything you would like to add?
-I’m blessed with an amazing team that embraced my strategy and now adopted it as their own. Susan Gross is an amazing executive that brings more to the table than her business card shows, and I’d be lost without Katrina Matheson whom I brought over from Lionsgate. This whole endeavor of building the unit with Graham continues to be a team effort. I’m crazy enough to take the risks and they’re smart enough to make sure they’re measured.