When the British electorate voted for a Conservative government, to replace the previous Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition, there were a few predictions of doom for the funding of pubic services in the UK.
Yesterday I went for the day to Digital Shoreditch, a week long series of talks, meetings, panels about this ‘internet age’. TV seemed very out of place in this online world of apps, services, sites. Friday was the ‘Live’ day, about content and there was a huge range of talks – I think I went to about a dozen in all.
The BBC’s Will Saunders showed a great clip from a year ago about the new short-form video world we were entering, made for a BBC seminar.
If that short-form is too long for you, there’s always Vine – which isn’t meant for oldies like me, I know, but is still a real mystery. One of the top Viners on this US-dominated platform is Brent Rivera. He has good hair at least.
Will also talked about BBC Taster, a site for users to test and rate online content – a taste of things to come?
and also showed a quick run through of the first 90 years of the BBC in its Where Next? campaign from last year. Good question.
The BBC absolutely needs to think about its role as a public service media provider (rather than broadcaster) – and in truth is probably doing more of this thinking, experimenting and planning than other PSBs. And of course that future is online, with content open for viewers/users to interact with – and make themselves. I think if we called it Peoples Broadcasting rather than Public, it might seem less forbidding.
The evening finished with a few beers and music.
The BBC might think God only knows what we’d do without it – but in a world where everybody is making their own choices online, and the license fee is ‘under review’, it’s soon going to be easy enough to opt out. I reckon it’s in all our interests to think about what to do with it.
Comments, ideas, questions all welcome, you could even send me a video…
Long gap since my last post, apologies. But last week I went to the annual MIP-TV market in Cannes which gave me plenty to think (and write) about.
Four days of meetings equated a big batch of ideas – though the word product seems more appropriate in such a marketplace.
Fewer people were wandering the Palais this year – cuts are biting, and there’s less face to face in the business anyway these days. The cost of attending a market like this for producers and distributors is large, and the pressure is on from day one.
With four of us from SBS all doing separate meetings, we covered a lot of companies. Telling distributors and producers what we needed, running through their ‘slates’, working off this MIP 2015 SBS Acquisitions Needs brochure.
My main impressions?
You meet who you know already. There should be a ‘lucky dip’ function on the website to put you together with people you’ve never met before.
30 minutes is not long enough for most meetings, given that I usually got there late and kept getting lost in the Riviera part of the market.
There’s no time to digest all the news and industry insight that floods the market – here are just a few of the magazines I picked up before leaving. In there are lots of programmes that I should be watching.
Caffe Roma, the central cafe for meetings with those who haven’t registered for the market itself – serves terrible tea.
What were the Aussies up to?
The SBS stand was opposite the Screen Australia stand for the Aussie producers, who made merry at a drink on the Tuesday.
It was good to see so many producers making the long trip to Cannes. Here’s a Screen Australia showreel of Australian projects brought to the market
At 22 minutes long, it’s a great way to get a fix of Australian TV. Spoiler alert: Doesn’t include all the terrible reality shows on Australian TV though.
And Blown Away (at 2:21) – a very intriguing part-animated doc on Cyclone Tracy which happened 40 years ago. There’s more about the film, shown in late December on ABC1 and co-produced by Rachel Clements, here
The other clips on the reel:
Deadline Gallipoli (3:17)
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (4:22) – which I’d love to see bought in the UK
Pitch Battle (5:38) – about the Palestinian football team
Restaurant Australia (7:22)
Sammy J and Randy in Ricketts Lane (9:37)
Status: Vacant (11:15)
Struggle Street (13:05) – coming to SBS in May
Tattoo Tales (14:57)
That Sugar Film (16:36) – a kaleidoscopic look at a key health issue.
Heart and Soul (19:35) – this looks like a good tale of girls making music and growing up
Vice is a brilliantly focussed and sure-footed media company and its ideas demand attention. Some ideas at MIP though seem there to test us. The delegate bag was sponsored by DogTV (TV for dogs, in case you were wondering). The Telegraph in the UK has written about the formats on offer, and it’s not too impressed.
One of the other SBSs around the world, in Korea, has the slogan ‘See The Bright Tomorrow’. Which is a nice thought, even though it doesn’t exactly work as a slogan.
MIP wouldn’t be MIP without a bit of socialising, and nothing beats a beachside party at Cannes. This one on Monday night was from distributor DRG.
If you were at MIP, let me know how you found it. At the Nordic party, I met a gentleman from Finland who reminded me that it’s only 170 shopping days left till MIPCOM…
Channel 4 got a very good audience for the original film – The King in the Car Park – three years ago.
But it’s been a great programming idea to make his reburial into a new TV event. Well done to John Hay, the commissioner of the live event, & Darlow Smithson Productions, who also produced the original doc. For making us realise that the identity of a 500 year old king matters.
History has significance – both for our understanding of what happened then, and for what might happen. And in an election year in the UK, that’s very important.
Channel 4 (them again) did a terrific season of programmes on immigration, including Love Productions’ Immigration Street – reduced to a single documentary after certain parts of the community decided they didn’t want it made – and other programmes. One of them was a doc made by Malcolm Brinkworth of Touch Films about an election in 1964 – which took place on the immigration faultline. Immigration will be one of the key issues of the UK General Election.
History is a big part of SBS programming, but making it relevant and watchable is what matters to the audience. I must say that I haven’t been watching many of the films about the First World War. And in Australia, the Gallipoli drama series on Channel 9 hasn’t been getting the audiences the programme merited. This extended trailer shows that it’s a really sensitive and moving piece of work – well worth 3 minutes of your time.
History, and the lessons of the past, are so crucial to understand today. I for one am really proud of the television that brings it to life for us.
Any comments, questions, responses, ideas – all really welcome
A couple of weeks ago at BBC Worldwide’s annual showcase in Liverpool that I attended for SBS, drama was to the fore. The big programme being promoted was Wolf Hall, the six-parter which became the biggest drama launch on BBC2 for years.
At Showcase, BBC Worldwide laid on a dinner in Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral. This is a dramatic setting in itself – the 5th biggest cathedral in the world, started in 1909 and only finished in 1978 but feeling hundreds of years old. Tables laid out for 500 guests, lit by candlelight – in honour of the candlelight by which much of the series is shot. Even the butter for the meal was presented in the form of lit candles. Peter Kosminsky, the writer, Claire Foy playing Anne Boleyn and Jonathan Pryce playing Cardinal Wolsey strode through backlighting from the back of the altar. As an entrance, it definitely had the wow factor. BBC Worldwide puts an amazing amount into promoting its big drama titles – they have built in repeat business. Mind you, there’s unlikely to be a Wolf Hall 2 as it’s based on a series of books by Hilary Mantel and they’ve now all been adapted into this series.
The other dramas in the BBC catalogue showed the range of British series. At the ‘real’ end was Cucumber & Banana, what Americans would probably call ‘Dramedies’, which have played on Channel 4 and which SBS launched this week around Mardi Gras. And from the same profilic production company Red Productions, Ordinary Lies, with Jason Manford & Max Beasley leading an ensemble cast in a used car showroom. Historical drama, beyond Wolf Hall, was also well represented: Da Vincis Demons, Musketeers, and the story of Botany Bay in Banished, written by Jimmy McGovern and commissioned by the new BBC channel in Australia BBC First.
This was how the BBC promoted all of its drama last autumn, looking back at a ‘lifetime of original British drama’ – especially for all you who can’t get enough of Benedict Cumberbatch. All of human life was there:
Channel 4 have also moved big time into the international drama market, with a head of international Simon Maxwell and a marquee drama Indian Summers
And as well as making it, people are talking about it too, so the genre now has its own raft of gatherings and conferences. Though in much of Europe, people don’t use the words drama or fiction or their equivalents – it’s just ‘series’. One at the end of January at the Institut Francais in London, called Totally Serialized brought together French and UK producers and writers. There’s an event open to the public at the beginning of July in Fontainebleau south of Paris called SeriesSeries, which is probably a French pun or reference to a retro pop song. And one of my very first blog posts here was about the Rome Fiction Festival in September last year – though I was there for the factual part of it.
So from a creative point of view, all very healthy. There’s a recognition amongst government and funders that producing quality European drama is necessary to cement local audiences and the European production industry itself. The Observatoire de l’Audiovisuel’s recent trilingual report on Fiction on European TV channels notes that the proportion of TV schedules that are fiction of all sorts has remained at about 50%. And of that, non-European content in most of the fiction subgenres is over 50% – and most of that is from the US.
For most countries, the statistics on the origin of programmes show that little has changed over time. The differences between 2006 and 2013 with regard to the proportion of European works in programme schedules are generally less than 2.5%. If you want to buy the report, here’s a link
To attract these productions, countries dangle tax breaks and film funds to entice them to film in a particular area, and use local crew and facilities. Because drama brings the big bucks for a filmmaking economy of course – for US drama, the numbers of people involved, the producers and stars fees, the promotional costs, make the average cost several million an ep. Most of the time the funding doesn’t detract from the authenticity of the story, though sometimes the money might be seen to get in the way. The new series of The Bridge, for example, will be more Danish, because of the creation of the Copenhagen Film Fund which has invested heavily and therefore demands much more of the filming to take place in Denmark. (the first 2 series were more of a 50/50 split between Denmark and Sweden, literally in terms of the first storyline). Coming to Nordic and other screens in late 2015.
I’ve never been involved in drama production, and would probably find the idea of working to a script each day, with every shot and sequence pre-planned and costed, very unusual. I still think that nothing beats the drama of real life, but then is it promotable?
Because in the end, the titles, the stars, the fantasy is what will draw people to the subscription-based TV models that we’re moving into – Netflix et al. Bingeing on 20 hours of whatever. Not authored singles, let alone documentary or entertainment. Perhaps as long as drama can continue to be supported by public channels and move between dramedy, factual historical drama, psychological thrillers and state of the nation pieces – there’s hope. Or am I being too optimistic?
Comments, questions, links, shares are – as always – all very welcome.
Australia has been granted a wild card entry for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest, being held in Vienna at the end of May. It’s been a long held aim of the SBS MD Michael Ebeid, as the channels been the official broadcaster for the past thirty years. For the past few years the lobbying has got more intense and the pleas have got louder and more desperate. Finally, a few days ago came this announcement by the co-presenter of the show for SBS Julia Zemiro (who’s also rockin’ the dirndl look in the pic above)
It brings in some of the biggest audiences to SBS each year, and having an Australian act in the finals in the Austrian capital will send that audience into overdrive. I guess the Aussies were just waiting for it to take place in a country with a name a bit like theirs.
Eurovision very much belongs on SBS now, since it was first broadcast in 1983. Electric Pictures made a doc shown on SBS called The Secret History of Eurovision in 2011, with Mark Atkin and Phil Craig as producers.
But there’s been a fair bit of debate in a slow news week (since Tony Abbott survived his leadership challenge). Coming so soon after the budget cuts to SBS and ABC, how much is it going to cost for Australia to take part? What if Australia actually wins and has to pay for the following year’s competition? (which would have to be held in Europe in any case). Is it making a mockery of the European identity of the show? Here’s one writer who’s not in favour…
The links between Australia and Europe are strong of course, and it’s probably right to see Eurovision as an affectionate way of linking some very far away places. We’re pretty Euro on SBS. We do food programmes in which chefs travel to their home countries. Quite a few country house shows. And a lot of mostly Brit history with British presenters like Neil Oliver. Crime series from Denmark, Sweden, Italy, France. Plus we see people in Lycra pedalling over Europe in the Tour de France, the Vuelta, and the Giro d’Italia. Next to all that Euro content, America is much less visible (though the commercial channels more than make up for it).
Plenty of broadcasting challenges await – Should we be less tongue-in-cheek about it now that we’re actually in the show? how will Australians vote, given that it’ll be taking place live at 6am East Coast time? (SBS will be broadcasting as every year with a time delay on Sunday evening). What type of act will best represent Australia today? And, again, do we really want to win?
I’m looking forward to seeing how our coverage looks and sounds this year. I’ll be watching from Copenhagen, and feeling just that bit more Aussie…
I’ve just spent a few days at FIPA in Biarritz, France. That’s the Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels. A few thoughts from my time there.
There’s something about waves, beaches and lighthouses that is very inspiring. Even though I didn’t actually get to the beach.
Being in a beautiful venue with big windows, the Bellevue, made it a relaxing atmosphere – and easy to meet people (because you could spot them from a distance)
The audiences for the screenings are well dressed and – dare I say it – quite bourgeois
Fipa Industry was the conference/pitching side of the event. Good crowds for the France TV and Arte commissioning presentations, inevitably, but we had to work quite hard at the others. I gave one on SBS. It’s hard to get and keep peoples’ attention in a panel discussion or a presentation. My tips: stand up, walk around, smile, project, use pictures.
Ludovica Fonda from Mediaset Italy gave a really good presentation of Mediaset drama, which did all of the above. Inspired me to head to Milan to check what they might have that would work for SBS
Oh, and @FipaIndustry is a much better name than the previous name FipaTel, which sounds like a mobile phone company.
When you’re invited to ‘un cocktail’, don’t expect mixed drinks with little umbrellas and bits of fruit. It just means a drink. A couple of the ones at FIPA featured cider, which seems be a speciality of the Aquitaine region. Try the rosé one.
@smartfipa, the interactive section, was a real kaleidoscope of views, products, ideas. Paul Tyler of Handling Ideas did an excellent presentation. He said @smartfipa could have done with a bit more moderating to link and question the different elements – you have to treat these days like you would any sort of programming.
I was also intrigued to see the interactive ‘Planet Corps’ project which accompanies the doc ‘Life on Us’, which Simon Nasht is bringing to SBS through commissioning editor Joseph Maxwell @josmaxwell. Looked fun, with great ideas – like a travel website as the front page.
I was one of the seven commissioners/buyers being pitched to in the two pitch sessions. When we came to choose the best pitch, none of the three projects I’d picked was shared by any of the other judges, from France, Canada, Japan, Czech Republic & Poland. Maybe anglo-Australian tastes really are different…
It’s really tough to make films in and about Eastern Europe – buyers like me just don’t know enough about the countries there. HBO Europe is a very necessary commissioner of documentaries, and I hope it can continue the work its doing with filmmakers there. An HBO Europe project The Wellness Process was one of my favourite pitches (though I hope they think of a better title). Here’s the HBO Europe trailer from 2012
Debate is vital in events like these. Young journalists organised a ‘round table’ discussion of what the recent attacks in France meant for free speech, secularism, islamophobia, and whether there really was ‘national unity’ in France. Good initiative – the media obviously have a huge part to play in how France thinks about these issues.
Lauren, one of the organisers of Fipa Industry, travelled around Australia aged 20 in a VW combi on her own, not speaking any English – intrepid! (then she did Central America by bicycle…). Saw these Combis in a shop window. It made me realise how in TV as well as in life, you sometimes just need to take a chance and get out there
If you were at FIPA, I’d be very glad to hear your impressions, thoughts, gossip in the comments below
Last week’s Asia TV Forum was my first visit, and my first visit to Singapore.
Plenty of channels, distributors, funding organisations and producers in an airy exhibition floor in the huge Singapore Convention centre. The event was organised by Reed Midem, with support from the impressive Media Development Authority of Singapore.
It was good to be representing SBS at an Asian market – Australia’s nearest neighbours after all. I had to keep reminding myself that these companies represented a population of 4.4 billion people – in countries where media and television were developing fast.
So should more people have been there? The French were by far the biggest European presence, with 20 companies on two stands – thanks to the support of TVFI, very well run by Mathieu Béjot. Other than that, there were a few representatives from Europe and the US, but not as many as I would have thought. Beyond and Flame joined me in the Australian contingent, though there were also distributors selling to the Aussie market. Maybe the cost is simply beyond an independent producer, and it’s best left to the distributors.
The emphasis was on entertainment, lifestyle and drama – though melodrama or telenovela might be a better description for a lot of the fiction on offer. Acquisition rates may be relatively low in some countries, but there are a lot of territories and they’re hungry for content.
I had good conversations with a few channels, and with the MDA, about working together with SBS. I know it isn’t going to be easy, and the SBS audience isn’t particularly used to Asian programming. We show the Chinese dating show If You Are the One on SBS2, and it’s one of the top-rating shows on the channel. Well, the actual title is Fei Cheng Wu Rao), 非誠勿擾, literal translation: ‘If not sincere, then do not disturb.’
The show was based on Take Me Out, remade as Taken Out on Australian Network Ten in 2008 and axed after just a month, only to have its format re-imagined and successfully exported to 19 countries including China. Just goes to show that ideas can have new lives.
Although Aussies are frequent visitors as holiday makers to Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Myanmar and all the rest, it’s hard to find the right way to interest them in content from Asia when they return. I’m pretty convinced that we’ll need young Asian presenting talent to act as a guide to the myriad stories that are clearly waiting to be told. Once I’ve found that it’ll be a question of finding a mainstream audience for them. Anybody know if there’s a blockbuster Indian dating show we could buy?
I’ve now visited Malaysia, China, Singapore, Japan and Korea in the past few months, and know that there are talented and entrepreneurial people to work with. But I also know I’ve only scratched the surface. I think that a lot more ideas need to be generated, and working relationships formed. I’d like to give it a go though.
Back to Copenhagen after a week in London. I spent it catching up with production companies, distributors, and going to a day at the Televisual Factual Festival. Well moderated panels on Specialist Factual, Popular Factual, and how to make docs in danger zones, an interview with Ralph Lee of Channel 4, and a room full of remote cameras to demonstrate using a ‘rig’ set up. Quite a few people that I knew, but even more that I didn’t. Great to be reminded by everybody’s clip reels of what had been on, and working, in the past months. Peter Hamilton’s recently done a good overview of the UK non-fiction market, well worth a read (and I’d recommend subscribing, too).
While there was plenty of discussion of the difficulties of operating in the UK – particularly as a smaller company – the view from the stage was still that there was a big market for a range of UK produced content, particularly factual, that new ideas were sought and would get through, and that producers were well placed to take advantage. The BBC, Channel 4, ITV and Five all seemed to be in the same space for factual. Internationally, British content is doing well too – there were some big winners at the International Emmys last night. I know this is a rosy view and it’s really hard to get commissions – there are so many good ideas out there.
I met some new indies who’d set up in the great indie start-up craze as Televisual called it – amongst them Andrea Miller & Jerry Foulkes of Sunnyside productions, Fenia Vardanis of Melina Media. And companies from Bristol like Testimony, the ever-expanding Icon films, and Tigress who have all carved out a healthy part of the market without having to join the London shark-pool.
And they’re competing in a market with some big players. Discovery & Viacom have bought All3Media and Channel5, Endemol, Shine & Core Media have merged, and Warner has completed a rebrand of the production companies it bought through Shed. On the horizon is the move of BBC in-house production to be a standalone independent company, able to work for other broadcasters as well as the BBC. But if it has to carry BBC overheads and staffing arrangements, I can’t see how it’s going to compete.
All public broadcasters are having to change – mostly by downsizing – and my new colleagues at SBS are facing cuts announced last week – those for the ABC are much larger. But in truth the changes now imposed on the ABC have been happening for many years in the UK sector. It’s not just about saving money, it’s driven by changes in how the creative industry wants to work, and the ways audiences want to watch. The best result would be a more balanced ecosystem of independents and inhouse, and content that people want to watch and use.
Some of that public service ecosystem is on show this week at the IDFA Forum, Festival and DocLab – public service content in all directions, and all of it coming from independent producers working with or without broadcasters. I’m not saying it’s all made for the small screen, a lot of doc films see themselves in opposition to television and see their natural home as the cinema (and good luck to them).
The challenge for Australian broadcasters is to keep a focus on this public service content, rather than chasing ratings or focussing on the now not so new platforms. SBS itself has a real challenge to keep history, arts, social documentary, international themes on the channel. The opposition in Australia has so many battles to fight – about climate change, the environment, immigration policy, cuts to Science R&D funding, that broadcasting and the creative sector maybe don’t get enough attention. But as an outsider to Australia, it needs work.
My London week was rounded off by a Saturday night party for Anne Morrison, who’s left the BBC and is now Chair of BAFTA. She’s managed so much in her 33 years at the BBC, from 18 years running various factual departments, to driving the Nations and Regions strategy (how to move production and commissioning out of London and into the English regions and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which I worked for Anne on). And most recently the BBC Academy, the BBC’s training organisation. (You should check out the material that’s available for free on their website, particularly the Journalism section).
It was great to see old colleagues, both from the BBC and the independent sector. The quality television programmes produced in that room really captured a lot of my past, and I felt pretty proud to be a part of it. But I couldn’t help feeling we were the lucky ones to have been able to work in such a well-supported organisation.
Thanks for reading till the end, feel free to share, comments welcome below.
There’s a national drive in Korea to make documentaries the next Korean international content success. Korea made a national project out of becoming the world’s biggest music producer through K-Pop. Pretty ambitious project for a country of 50 million people. But they’re now the fastest growing music industry in Asia, with a massive presence in Japan and inroads into China too. Psy’s Gangnam Style with its retro and knowing dance routine (2 billion views and counting for the video) was K-Pop’s breakthrough moment, though not really typical of what Korea generally makes – choreographed pop hits, auto tuned to within an inch of their lives.
Now the government has looked at Documentaries and decided that they are another form of international content that can be given a government boost and conquer the international market. So Docs Port Incheon, which ran at the beginning of November, benefited not only from healthy government funding, but also the industry focus that this provides. I was an advisor, with the lovely Karolina Lidin of Sheffield Doc/fest and Nordisk Film and TV Fund fame, and this was the first proper year of the event after a try-out last year. At the public pitching were representatives of investment funds that normally do movies, alongside public agencies, Korean broadcasters, and international commissioners, distributors and funds – all promising cash to some challenging documentaries. Catherine Olsen from CBC, John Lee from Tribeca, Esther van Messel from First Hand Films, Catherine Le Clef from Cat and Docs, Rudy Buttignol from Knowledge Network, Fiona Lawson-Baker from Al Jazeera English, Claire Aguilar from ITVS and Nihotpal Majumdar from DocEdge all attended.
The event was held in the Paradise hotel in the gritty port city of Incheon – enormous cargo ships full of the cars, TVs, microwaves and all manner of stuff that comes from Korea. The hotel TV showed Japanese baseball every morning (another sort of pitching).
There were many winners amongst the 22 Korean and other Asian projects pitched. The money that companies got in cash prizes, as well as post-production support – $500,000 USD – is a very large sum by any standards. It wouldn’t pay for entire productions but would go a long way. Several of the projects were then going to be pitched at a Korean pitching event at IDFA in Amsterdam next week – all paid for by one of the content promotion agencies.
The challenge for content producers and funders though is that the Asian market is pretty fragmented for factual. There’s China, which is huge but somewhat unfathomable for other Asian countries. Japan, which can be quite introverted and dominated by NHK. And then the rest, where independently produced content is something of an unknown quantity.
I’m hoping to do some consultancy in Korea to help the indie production sector. I was on a panel about independent production and international coproduction, (thanks to Wonjung Bae for organising it and IJ for moderating with aplomb. He made us all have a proper stretch after the first hour and a half).
I also gave a lecture to the pitching teams called Changing the Narrative about why documentaries matter to a country like Korea (download the Changing the Narrative presentation if you like). The UK’s indie story is a good one, and the big numbers that UK indies have generated make sense in government circles. Factual and entertainment formats are the driver in Britain, and could be in Korea – feature length docs don’t have the cash-generating potential they’re looking for.
And I’m sure they can come up with the right ideas to make use of all that lovely public development support – as a country they seem to be able to do a lot when they put their mind to it. UK indies as ever have spotted an opportunity in the country. There are already good links between some companies like OSF – their new BBC/Terra Mater series Wild Weather with Richard Hammond is coproduced with Paan Media Holdings of Korea, and goes out in ten days time in the UK. Amanda Groom of The Bridge, part of Argonon, runs a consultancy which specialises in setting up projects with Korea, and is very active there.
The companies I met at Docs Port are quite filmmaker-led – they could all do with spending more time and money on ideas development I’d say. The money is being spent developing a project, rather than helping them come up with ideas in the first place. The mixed ecology of docs and fact ent of many UK companies would be a good model for them – if they can get the scale in factual. For that, they need broadcasters to invest in indie production rather than their own in-house production, and that looks like a long way away. But with a determined government behind them, who knows?
Plus, there’s a channel called SBS in Korea – there’s got to be an SBS-SBS Korean-Australian coproduction, surely?
Korean producers have been active in factual events like Sheffield Doc Fest, IDFA, and will no doubt be present at the Asian Side of the Doc in Xiamen, China, next March. A couple like Ha Sinhae of Boda Media – who’s just brought back a prize from a festival in Sao Paolo for Here Comes Uncle Joe
– and Gary Kam who produced with Min-Jul Kim and director Seungjun Yi the multi-award winning Planet of Snail, are well travelled on the doc circuit. What they might need to do now is to build scale with something more TV-focussed like a factual series, perhaps for the Asian market in the first instance
Thanks to Seokpil Kang, Wooyoung Choi and Gary Kam for bringing me to Docs Port and introducing me to Korea. They were excellent organisers, so friendly and welcoming, and know how to have a good party without spending a fortune. I’ll be back.
There was a packed auditorium for the main debate at Wildscreen on Wednesday. It covered themes familiar to previous festivals, but no less important for that, according to Wildscreen veterans. How television wildlife films misrepresented the world and its environmental problems. How cute and fluffy animals don’t tell the whole story. How the word ‘Environment’ is a turn-off for commissioners. Questions from the audience came from people identifying themselves as from the ‘‘Save the Rhino’ or ‘Ocean Conservation’ campaigns. They were impassioned about the need to raise public awareness of habitat and species loss, including of the dreadful trade in shark fin soup which kills between 75 and 100 million sharks a year. The reality of climate change and our role in destroying our planet hung over everything.
On the panel, Channel 4 factual boss Ralph Lee presented a clip of the series Fish Fight, sitting alongside Will Anderson of producer Keo Films. The impact of Fish Fight on the policy of supermarkets, and European Union policy, including through social media is thoroughly documented and well worth a read.
But Channel 4 has had to set aside some of its campaigning work to keep its ratings up. I heard Ralph Lee say as he was leaving the venue that he’d been dining out on Fish Fight for three years. Alongside him on the panel, the BBC’s Science and Nature commissioner Tom McDonald squirmed a bit when asked if as a public service broadcaster they could do something like Fish Fight. He used the familiar BBC defence ‘we’re not allowed to do campaigns or be political’ – which seems quite weak to me. There’s nothing party political that I can see about a programme dealing with the food on our plates, or how the supermarkets behave. And Fish Fight wasn’t promoting a campaign group, it was an independently produced examination of the subject which got its message out. If there was a problem with dealing with such issues, shouldn’t the BBC be looking at Watchdog and other consumer journalism? Feel free to browse the BBC’s editorial guidelines to see how you interpret them, and how they apply to series such as Fish Fight.
Ralph Lee had cleverly assembled a reel of C4 clips – from a live show from the Space Race, the drama Utopia, and a Kevin McLoud design series – to demonstrate how environmental questions could be covered in other programme forms, not just documentaries about the natural world. The BBC’s science and natural history commissioner Tom McDonald also reeled out plenty of examples.
But this didn’t satisfy the audience, or me. The state of the planet is too grim, and climate change too grave an issue, for it to be just ‘smuggled into’ programmes. It really needs creative thinking and leadership from the top. Tony Hall of the BBC has brought about a change in the BBC to be an Arts broadcaster, and a Diverse broadcaster. And backed it up with money and resources. How about allocating similar funds and managerial will to making the BBC actively cover climate change and its effects? This BBC Trust report from 2011 on BBC’s Science coverage still seems to stymie debate in the BBC about the coverage of climate change issues – but it can’t be allowed to. TV has a bigger responsibility than that.
Joe Smith and Kim from the Open University, with the filmmaker Jeremy Bristow behind the camera, interviewed me for a research project about the coverage of environmental issues in broadcast media. A great subject, and it made me think hard about the responsibility of people with such powerful tools as cameras, TV channels and other platforms at their disposal – and often with money from the public.
The channel I’m now working for, SBS, has done a series looking at the origin of the seafood Australians eat, called What’s the Catch? – starting on Thursday 30th October. I’d like to see more campaigns and awareness-raising on the channel, and know I’m going to be asking myself with the same questions on the best way to get people to engage. It can’t be beyond us to work it out, can it?
Please comment on this, or email me. Thanks for reading!