Netflix Picks Up US Rights for Mark Duplass’ Indie TV Series ‘Penelope’

The actor and filmmaker independently self-financed the YA series, which he wrote during the pandemic

Mark Duplass as Chip Black in "The Morning Show" Season 3 (Apple TV+)

Actor and filmmaker Mark Duplass has found distribution for his independent TV series “Penelope,” with Netflix picking up U.S. distribution rights for the young-adult series. He made the announcement of the pickup for the self-financed series’ eight-episode first season on Sunday at SeriesFest. It previously debuted at the Sundance Film Festival.

The deal includes Mark and brother Jay’s production company retaining control of the property, including the decision over whether they will greenlight a second season. The brothers are also retaining VOD rental rights as they sell the indie series both domestically and internationally.

Duplass wrote the project over the pandemic and, in an unusual move, chose to self-finance and produce the show when he wasn’t able to find financing for its creation. He cocreated the series with director Mel Eslyn.

The actor and filmmaker described the industry as being in a “Reaganomic” period at this time, with intellectual property-driven material at the top while reality programming remains driving the industry at a lower budget level. However, he added that the medium-budget realm that leads to interesting TV shows like “Fleabag,” “I May Destroy You” and the recent Netflix hit “Baby Reindeer” is disappearing, but that he plans to fight to keep this kind of programming around.

“I’m willing to lose my shirt to do it,” Duplass said.

He also referenced that he’d used his money from being a cast member on Apple TV+’s “The Morning Show” to finance the project.

Explaining the process to the crowd, Duplass noted that there is a model for independent film to find financing before securing a distributor — but that a model like that has yet to be fully developed for TV, which makes this an experiment.

“We’ve basically absolved [Netflix] of the responsibility to make us their flagship show,” Duplass told the SeriesFest crowd. He described his pitch to Netflix as being, “Just put us on the service. We’re going to sign a very short deal with you guys, and we’re going to see how it does. That way at Netflix, you’re not taking an oversized, outsized risk on the show. You’re not going to be pissed off if it doesn’t work and turn around and say, ‘Independent television is never going to work. We’re not doing it again.’”

Duplass and his brother Jay have a separate four-movie deal with Netflix and a relationship with the streamer’s CEO, Ted Sarandos.

How it fares on the streamer will determine the approach taken in future seasons — expanding or contracting the series’ scope — as well as whether it gets another season at all.

Duplass had previously shared that, after writing the scripts for the series, he’d expected a bidding war. But, well, that didn’t happen.

“No one would give us the money to make it,” Duplass wrote on Instagram.

A release date for “Penelope” has yet to be announced.

This story includes additional reporting from TheWrap’s Jose Alejandro Bastidas.


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