»The way the market is evolving ist brilliant.«

Emre Sahin, Executive Producer and Founding Partner Karga Seven

In 2015, Red Arrow acquired a majority stake in Karga Seven Pictures. The production company based in Los Angeles is a leading creator and producer of factual entertainment, producing both non-scripted and scripted programs. The company also has a Turkish office in Istanbul. In 2018, Karga Seven Pictures celebrated their 10th anniversary. We took the opportunity to talk to Karga’s joint partners Kelly McPherson, Emre Sahin and Sarah Wetherbee, to look back at some of their biggest successes, discuss exciting new developments – and learn what a bottle of whiskey had to do with all of it.
How did you each get started in TV, and what prompted you to launch Karga?

Emre Sahin: The three of us met at another company. We have similar tastes, and one late night –there was a bottle of whiskey involved – we were commiserating and drinking, and started joking that we should launch our own company. It quickly went from there to, why not?!

Sarah Wetherbee: We were all getting offers for our next shows to run but they were shows that just didn’t appeal to us. You spend a lot of time and energy on a production and if you’re going to put that much of your life into something, you might as well believe in what you’re doing. So, we said – probably again over whiskey – let’s just do shows that we believe in. The challenge is when volume does come, can you still maintain the bespoke nature of your business and grow? It was interesting a few years in, when we were like, ‘Holy shit! This is working! What do we do now?! How do we scale this?’, it morphed into something we didn’t necessarily expect.

"It’s about looking at areas that do well, but are maybe a little old, and reinventing them."
What types of shows do you have a passion for producing?

Sarah Wetherbee: It started as fact-based, factual entertainment. When we started ten years ago, the Honey Boo Boo’s of the world were the hits and that’s certainly not why I got into television. There was still a need for factual shows, but at that time factual had a bad name. Documentaries were dry and boring. But that’s the television we watch and grew up with, so we thought, ‘How do we make those shows, but evolve with the times and make them entertaining?’

There are certain topics that always work: Hitler is one that rates well on the History Channel, but how do you make that not feel something you’ve seen a million times before. Out of that challenge came our show “Hunting Hitler”. Essentially, it’s a documentary about the end of World War II but we framed it in an entertaining, treasure hunt way. We try and make shows that hit on many levels. “Booze Traveler” is a pretty straightforward travelogue but with sharper, edgier writing. It’s about looking at areas that do well, but are maybe a little old, and reinventing them. And now we are loving playing in the hybrid space – bringing fact-based and scripted together.

You spent the last summer shooting “Legends of the Lost with Megan Fox”. How did the collaboration come about?

Sarah Wetherbee: Megan came to us personally with this vision for the show and said she wanted to explore it together. It felt like a big challenge because why would the audience want to follow Megan, not an archaeologist on this journey? But she was aware that that might be a draw for the show: people might tune in because they think it’ll be a train wreck! But immediately they’ll see that she is really interested, she does know quite a bit about history and she’s really well read. 

Networks were interested in Megan, but worried about how it would fit into their brand. It was also important for us that it fit into the Karga brand: we’re not the Ancient Aliens company and we don’t   necessarily want to be, even though those shows have a huge audience. We needed to tap into that, but still make something that felt interesting to us and that we would watch. And we are delighted that Travel Channel also believed in the show and picked it up – the series premiered in December 2018.

In 2017, you have launched a new production venture in Istanbul. Why did you open the office and what are your plans for Turkey?

Emre Sahin: We’ve always worked out of Turkey in an unofficial capacity. We like working there and believe there’s a lot of talent. A lot of people don’t realize that Turkey is the second biggest exporter of scripted content after the US. A lot of Turkish shows go global, and a lot of them travel further than US content and are sold in all corners of the world. There’s a huge opportunity here to take advantage of our experience and positioning: we can work in Turkey both as locals and as an international company. It’s an interesting market, because despite having this huge outreach and huge financial size, it’s also a small market and extremely hard to break into from the outside.

The Turkish team has been creating a whole new slate of projects that we’ll be taking out soon. The one we’re most excited about is that we have the Turkish rights to “Suits”. What’s interesting about Turkish remakes is that when they work, the remake often ends up selling for more money internationally than the US original. We’re hoping to do that with “Suits”! We also recently signed the directors the Taylan brothers, which is another huge coup. They have a great track record with international sales and directed the most successful show in Turkish history in terms of sales overseas. We feel like we’re in a really strong position with the team that we have in Turkey and we’re excited to see what kinds of shows and sales come through in the next couple of months.

„We’ve always really believed in putting creativity first."
As you celebrate ten years in business, what do you see as your biggest achievements of the last decade?

Sarah Wetherbee: This might sound cheesy but just lasting! It’s not something people like to talk about but certainly is an achievement because this business can be so fickle. We’ve weathered the storms and are stronger for it. Building our team is also one of our greatest achievements. You always want to work with the best talent and I think we have that.

Kelly McPherson: I totally agree with Sarah, but we also have really good coffee now and desserts on Thursdays! Also, the fact that we’re still making the shows that we want to make and having fun doing them ten years on. It’s not just something to keep the lights on. I’m proud that we’ve stayed true to our original plan while being nimble enough to adapt to the changing marketplace and I don’t think many people can say that – it’s not an easy thing to do.

Emre Sahin: I think for me our biggest achievement is having a truly creative-led company. It’s because of that that we’re able to get the best talent out there. We’ve always really believed in putting creativity first.

And what are your ambitions for the next 10 years?

Sarah Wetherbee: I feel like we’ve just got started! I’m excited about the way that the market is going. Out of some of the challenges in our market, new and really interesting business models have emerged. Our new scripted-factual hybrid “Ottomans Rising”, produced in our Turkish operation, is a great example of that: it’s a co-pro between a major US and Asian distributor/producer, us and a streaming platform, and that would not have happened a few years back.

Emre Sahin: For me it would just be to push the Karga vision and the Karga approach across as many genres, markets and platforms as possible. I’m not sure what people will be watching it on in ten years, but content will still exist in whatever form it takes, and we’d like to be on the cutting edge of that.