HBO’s I May Destroy You is one of this summer’s most critically-acclaimed shows, though star/creator/writer/director Michaela Coel reveals how she turned down a lucrative $1 million deal to bring the show to Netflix.
The 32-year-old London native first made waves with her U.K. series Chewing Gum, which was picked up by Netflix and gave her a bigger following in the U.S.
When she started pitching I May Destroy You, Netflix offered $1 million, in the spring of 2017, but she revealed to Vulture that she turned it down because they wouldn’t let her retain any ownership rights to the series she created.
She even fired Creative Artists Agency (CAA), her representation in the United States, because she learned they pushed for her to take the Netflix deal because the agency would make an undisclosed amount on the back end of the show.
Coel recalled a moment speaking with a Netflix development executive on the phone, asking if she could retain just 5% of the copyright to her show.
‘There was just silence on the phone. And she said, ‘It’s not how we do things here. Nobody does that, it’s not a big deal,”‘ Coel recalled.
‘I said, “If it’s not a big deal, then I’d really like to have 5 percent of my rights,”‘ Coel added, stating that she even went down to 2%, 1% and even 0.5%.
Coel added that the woman said she would have to run it by her superiors, before adding, ‘Michaela? I just want you to know I’m really proud of you. You’re doing the right thing.’
‘I remember thinking, I’ve been going down rabbit holes in my head, like people thinking I’m paranoid, I’m acting sketchy, I’m killing off all my agents,” Coel says.
‘And then she said those words to me, and I finally realized — I’m not crazy. This is crazy,’ she added.
Coel then pitched the show to BBC in the fall of 2017, and they responded by giving her everything she wanted – full creative control, the rights to her work and input into the production side.
She received all of that in an email from Piers Wenger, the controller of BBC’s drama commisioning, and Coel didn’t believe it right away.
‘I’d been so untrustworthy of the industry that I looked at the email and I thought, I need a day. I wasn’t happy,’ she said, before taking a beat and adding, ‘It’s an amazing email.’
Coel not only stars in the show as Arabella, but she also wrote all 12 episodes, and co-directed the last eight episodes with Sam Miller, who directed the first four solo.
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