Fraser Ayres on a TriForce to be reckoned with

From C21 Media, Niko Franks. 17th March, 2023.

TriForce Productions is taking a positive approach to projects made by diverse talent, tackling challenging subjects without turning them into clickbait, according to co-founder Fraser Ayres.

Triforce’s Handle With Care: Jimmy Akingbola for UK broadcaster ITV

UK-based TriForce worked across three productions spanning three different genres last year, namely documentary Handle With Care: Jimmy Akingbola for UK commercial broadcaster ITV; Dead Canny, a sitcom pilot for UKTV-owned Dave; and panel show Sorry, I Didn’t Know, also for ITV.

Renewals are a key pillar of any development slate, but as co-founder Fraser Ayres points out, programming fronted by black talent is often less likely to return compared to other kinds of programming.

That’s what made making a third season of Sorry, I Didn’t Know in 2022 so satisfying and Ayres is hopeful of a fourth run for the studio format, which celebrates black history and achievement.

While a new home is being sought for Dead Canny, which follows a questionable young psychic who has the ability to see dead people, Handle With Care is being developed as a returning format with ITV, reveals Ayres, who as well as being CEO and co-founder of TriForce is also an actor, writer and showrunner.

The show began with an episode focusing on Ayres’ fellow TriForce co-founder and actor Jimmy Akingbola, who as well as hosting Sorry, I Didn’t Know, can be seen playing Geoffrey Thompson in Bel-Air, Peacock’s gritty, modern-day reinterpretation of 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

The deeply personal film traces the journey of Akingbola, who, at the age of two, was uprooted from his Nigerian family and fostered by a white British family who raised him alongside their birth children.

As the title suggests, Handle With Care aims to approach subjects such as foster care – which in other hands might be framed in a ‘clickbait-y’ way to draw in viewers – with consideration and show them in a more positive light.

The result was a film that the press described as “raw” and “extremely moving,” with ITV now keen to develop the format into a strand of films that focus on the different lived experiences of well-known, diverse figures in a warm and positive way.

“What our content shows is a shift from broadcasters in terms of the kind of content they’re commissioning, which is really positive. Previously, when those kinds of experiences are shown, it’s through the lens of oppression and often not made by the people from those demographics.

“Actually, black people don’t really want to see those stories. They’re important, like Black History Month is important, but I’m tired of seeing people being whipped. I want to see our kings and queens and pioneers. Our success speaks to that shift,” says Ayres.

Crucial to Ayres was that TriForce was allowed to produce these projects on its own, rather than being asked to coproduce with or have its hand held by a prodco with a longer credit list but an inevitably less diverse workforce.

TriForce focuses on developing diversity and inclusivity (D&l) on- and off-camera and, via its not-for-profit arm TriForce Creative Network, is behind Dandi, described as the one-stop D&l support service for the entertainment industry that represents a database of more than 25,000 people.

This means that as well as ensuring its productions are crewed by a diverse and inclusive workforce (“Our crew photos are quite different to other people’s crew photos,” says Ayres), the organisation is helping others – more than 70 production companies, broadcasters and global streamers – commit to the pledges made in recent years to make the UK media industry more representative.

Shows Dandi has supported include Bridgerton, Gangs of London, I Hate Suzie, Killing Eve, Stath Lets Flats, Taskmaster and Trigger Point.

Meanwhile, TriForce’s development slate was given a financial boost in late 2022 after TriForce was chosen as one of the prodcos to receive backing from UK commercially funded public service broadcaster Channel 4’s Emerging Indie Fund, which will see it receive a range of support and guidance to help supercharge its business.

Programming that appeals internationally is a priority and Ayres says TriForce is in conversation with a US studio about factual and factual entertainment projects, as well as scripted.

“I guess everything we do is quite worthy, in one way or another,” laughs Ayres. “That is our ethos and at our core. But we are unique in the way we find those interesting ways of presenting issues and stories.”