Sharon Horgan Discusses Amazon Deal, Merman, Mermade
Sharon Horgan
Co-creator of "Catastrophe" covers the gamut from feature film to TV, branded and digital content

Besides being the creator of notable shows including Catastrophe (Amazon and U.K.’s Channel 4, co-created with Rob Delaney), Divorce (HBO), and Pulling (BBC, co-created with Dennis Kelly), Sharon Horgan has also brought life to creative business environments that nurture the development and realization of such content as well as other entertainment fare.

First, she and partner/producer Clelia Mountford formed what’s now the well established narrative film and TV company Merman. Then in 2017 that shop branched out with the launch of a branded entertainment division with offices in London, L.A. and New York. (The branded content venture is led in the U.S. by global managing partner Kira Carstensen.) At the beginning of this year, Merman entered into a first-look deal with Amazon Studios. Per this arrangement, Amazon will get first-look rights to Merman concepts to which Horgan is attached and remake rights to Merman-produced TV series. 

And last month came the news that Merman had diversified further with the opening of Mermade, a digital arm specializing in the creation of non-broadcast content of all shapes and sizes, funded by and for social and streaming platforms, brands and publishers, with a particular focus on short-form episodic.

Horgan, who also has her own exclusive two-year overall deal with Amazon Studios, earned a primetime Emmy nomination in 2016 for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (shared with Delaney) for Catastrophe, a series which also garnered her multiple BAFTA Award nominations, including for Best Scripted Comedy, and a pair of nods for Best Female Performance in a Comedy Program. Additionally, Horgan and Delaney won a BAFTA TV Craft Award for their writing on Catastrophe.

An accomplished creator, writer, producer, actress and director, Horgan is also breaking new ground as a filmmaker. She is set to make her feature directorial debut with a big screen adaptation of Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz’s novel “The New World.” The Focus Features film has a screenplay by Tony-nominated playwright Sarah Ruhl, with Olivia Wilde and Alicia Van Couvering producing.

In the ad/branding arena, Horgan served as co-creator, writer and executive producer on Glued, Comcast XFINITY’s first original online series, produced in partnership with Droga5 New York. (The series was produced back when Merman was partnered with Pulse Films in the Merman X Pulse venture; Merman has since broken out on its own in branded entertainment.) 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 their favorite show deepens. 

SHOOT connected with Horgan to discuss the varied irons she has in the content creation fire.

SHOOT: What’s the thinking behind Mermade, the latest diversification for Merman?

Horgan: It’s getting into a space where we can develop new and original voices. The budgets may be smaller in the digital space but you have freedom for newer talent to experiment and create. It can be with one project or one brand in mind. It can result in stepping off the platform, leading to something in a more traditional format. High Maintenance started on Vimeo before making its way to HBO. Insecure started on YouTube as Awkward Black Girl. Series content can begin on a less traditional platform. We have our TV, branded work and commercials all in the same building at Merman. It’s a very organic, fluid environment where directors meet each other, writers meet directors. We can do great work in the digital space and that can have implications for what we do in TV and so on.

SHOOT: How has Merman’s work in the branded space contributed to the creative culture at the company?

Horgan: In TV and film there’s a long process of development and incubation. It can be quite isolating, sitting at desks and waiting for a greenlight. When you add commercials and short form, stuff is getting made. I love being involved in that or just being around it. I love writing but it’s a long process that takes months and months. I like to have several projects on the go—no matter if it’s a one-day shoot for a commercial, three days for a short. 

SHOOT: It’s said that one discipline informs another. How has your work in short-form content informed your longer form endeavors? And has your TV work informed your work in the advertising/branded space?

Horgan: We approached Glued as if we were making a TV show. We put together a writers’ room—writers, stand-up comics, joke writers came together in a room and created. We got John Riggi who directed 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. We did it like a TV show but at the same time worked closely with the creative team at Droga5. I hadn’t worked with ad creatives on that level before and I found it to be a great experience. At the end of the day, everyone wanted to make the best show possible. Two different camps became one camp. A lot of what I learned in TV went into making Glued. It shows how experiences can blend successfully. 

We’ve also seen this in how we deploy talent. For example, the casting directors we’ve used in film and TV have been brought into our commercials. They give a project a new and fresh kind of feel. It opens things up.

And short form has helped me take on longer form. I directed the first short I ever made. That kind of work prepared me for directing longer form. It’s prepared me for directing my first feature. It all kind of feeds into other avenues, giving you the confidence to take something on.

SHOOT: What can you share with us in terms of details on your first feature as a director?

Horgan: I’ve been working on it for the past six months or so. It’s such an unusual and original piece of work that I find it hard to describe. At the end of the day, it’s a love story, really, with a low key sci-fi feel to it. It’s one of the best feature scripts I’ve ever read. Sarah (Ruhl) knows dialogue and humor.

SHOOT: What’s the appeal of the deals you and Merman have with Amazon?

Horgan: They’ve been incredibly supportive of me. Starting with Catastrophe, I’ve been working with them for years. It was a natural step to continue working with them, to collaborate on other things. It felt like a good move for Merman as well. I like the people, the creatives there. They’re really smart. We have this home where we take our projects to for a first look—everything Merman is developing and creating, we bring to them. It it feels like the right home, that’s great. If not, we have the freedom to take our projects elsewhere. It’s good to have a home. It’s also good to know we have the freedom if that home isn’t right for a particular project.

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