Jane Leisner

Aug 2, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Planning a new business and planning a wedding are more similar than one might think. Just ask Jane Leisner, who was named head of the newly created boutique studio Fox 21 in May, just as she was knee-deep in planning her September wedding.

It’s all in the details, from location to development to execution and, yes, even to branding. “I had a logo for my wedding before I had a logo for my company,” Ms. Leisner said.

Ms. Leisner started at 20th Century Fox as an assistant and over the past seven years rose to head the studio’s TV drama department. When she was put in charge of Fox 21, she was given the mandate to create a new economic model to produce TV shows on a budget.

Of course, that doesn’t mean making cheap-looking shows. The trick, she said, is to contain costs from the very beginning, when a show is still in script stage-from limiting cast size to finding inexpensive locations to using different film techniques.

“Everyone who walks in this door knows they are going to be creating something on a budget,” she said. “You’d be surprised the number of people who are very, very successful in this business who have slipped in my door and said, `I’ve always wanted to write this show and nobody would let me. Is there any way I can do it here?’ To write what they really want to write, they’ll write it on a budget.”

20th co-President Dana Walden said Ms. Leisner was the first choice to run Fox 21 because she is such a great friend to the creative community. “She’s incredibly dedicated to [writers] and does all the work necessary to know the people she’s in business with,” Ms. Walden said. “If they’ve written a short story, she’s read it; if they’ve written a feature, she’s read it; if they’ve written letters home, she’s found them.”

Ms. Walden first met Ms. Leisner seven years ago, when Ms. Leisner arrived from a temp agency to be her assistant. “Within about a week, I think I recognized she was the most competent person I had ever met,” said Ms. Walden, who was head of drama at 20th at the time. “I had to beg her to stay and work with me.”

Now, Ms. Leisner said, she feels like a small business owner as she works to get Fox 21 off the ground. She has hired a five-person staff and is “unpacking boxes at the same time as hearing pitches.” The studio, which has script commitment deals from Fox and FX, is juggling four or five shows in active development-including a serial killer drama, “The Gentleman,” for FX this fall.

“I loved my job. I could have developed dramas for the rest of my life,” Ms. Leisner said. However, Fox 21 “was the opportunity to be entrepreneurial. I’ve always fancied myself being an executive who’s attracted to things that are more offbeat and unconventional. It was a little bit harder to get those things noticed [at 20th] only because we needed to make network television. Here, it’s like, as crazy as you can be. Come on in.”