Wednesday, May 23, 2018
  • Friday, Jun. 2, 2017
Merman Launches Branded Entertainment Division; Sharon Horgan, Kira Carstensen Among Key Players
Pictured (l-r) are Merman’s Jeremy Rainbird, Kira Carstensen, Sharon Horgan and Clelia Mountford
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Merman--the narrative film and TV company founded by Sharon Horgan (co-creator and star of the Amazon series Catastrophe) and partner/producer Clelia Mountford--has launched a branded entertainment division with offices in Los Angeles, London and New York.

The branded content venture is led in the U.S. by global managing partner Kira Carstensen, formerly of Pulse Films. During her Pulse tenure she teamed with the husband-and-wife team of Horgan and Jeremy Rainbird, an advertising and production industry veteran, to explore branded opportunities via the Merman X Pulse partnership. One such opportunity was Glued, Comcast XFINITY’s first original online series, for which Horgan served as co-creator, writer and executive producer. The webisodes began running in June 2016, providing a humorous take on how people’s favorite television shows change the way they act and interact with each other. 

Droga5 New York partnered with Merman X Pulse on Glued. Starring John Ross Bowie (Big Bang Theory) and Jamie Denbo (Orange is the New Black), Glued takes viewers on a comedic journey in the life of a married couple who discover a new hit television show. From overcoming frustrating barriers to watch it, dealing with the guilt of “TV cheating” on your spouse and navigating the murky world of spoiler threats, Glued highlights different realities about how shows we enjoy impact our lives. Throughout the web series, the couple’s relationship grows and evolves just as their relationship with the show deepens. John Riggi, whose credits include 30 Rock, directed all six Glued webisodes.

Now as Merman embarks on a new chapter by breaking out on its own in branded entertainment, plans call for the division to work alongside and cross-pollinate with its established narrative film and TV operation run by Mountford, tapping the braintrust and talent of Horgan and such comedy creators, writers, directors and actor colleagues as Rob Delaney (actor/writer/exec producer/co-creator of Catastrophe), Chris O’Dowd (actor/writer/producer/director on Moone Boy for BBC, and actor in Bridesmaids and St. Vincent); Sara Pascoe (actor in IFC's The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, and actor/writer on the BBC comedy miniseries Funny Valentine), Jack McBrayer (actor, NBC’s 30 Rock), and David Cross (actor/producer on Arrested Development for Fox, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret , and creator/director of a new TV series for Sky in the U.K. called Bliss starring Heather Graham and Steven Mangan).

The aforementioned Rainbird continues with Merman, running the branded side on both sides of the Atlantic as a global managing partner alongside Carstensen. His ad industry pedigree includes having owned the U.K. agency Addiction which he sold in 2013.

Merman’s directorial talent includes Lucy Walker, nominated for two Oscars (Waste Land for Best Feature Documentary, and The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom for Best Short Subject Documentary), up-and-coming Brazilian filmmaker Mariana Youssef, and prolific UK TV comedy helmer Peter Lydon. Walker was formerly at Pulse. Youssef did not have prior U.S. or U.K. representation but has gained momentum as a rising star via Barry Company, her own production house in Brazil. Lydon is globally represented by Merman, having departed Minds Eye in London. Additionally, director MJ Delaney (the comedy feature Powder Room) is available in the U.K. via Merman, having previously been with Moxie in that market. (Delaney remains with Moxie in the U.S.)

In the U.K., Merman is under the aegis of managing director Dan Dickenson, formerly of Partizan, and business development director Siobhan Murphy, who came over from Moxie. 

In addition to its core roster, Merman will in the U.K. represent directors from Culver City-based Superprime Films, including Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, Terence Malick, David LaChapelle and Damien Chazelle.

Horgan and Delaney earned an Emmy nomination  last year for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series on the strength of Catastrophe. Horgan also created, wrote and exec produced Divorce, the series which marked the return of Sarah Jessica Parker to HBO.

Regarding the appeal of the ad biz to her, Horgan observed, “It’s not a romantic thing, like I watched Mad Men and thought I wanted to be them. It’s more about the people I’ve met in advertising, the directors and creatives, and the work they do. That you have 30 seconds worth of time to create something, and that something could make you laugh, was a surprise to me. That’s the problem with sketch comedy at times; it overstays its welcome. The best sketch comedy is short and succinct. And good ads are the same way--they focus the communication so you have a real story or laugh in 30 seconds. We are also in an environment where there is a lot of crossover in making content. It used to be a different world, but it doesn’t feel like a different world now. Good content is good content, no matter what form it’s in.”

Carstensen added, “In most advertising projects, companies are asked to primarily execute concepts, which is great and we do that. But we are also in a unique position to ideate and create interesting branded entertainment that lives somewhere between the world of commercials and TV/film. The whole point is to get people’s attention through smart, funny, real situations, whether they are funded by a brand or not.”