Tag Archives: funding

on indie production and public service media

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.

Chasing content and dodging cloudbursts in Cannes

Three and a bit days in Cannes for MIPCOM have just come to an end. The Indian summer gave way to dramatic cloudbursts, making the Croisette  look like somebody had gone overboard on the CGI budget.

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Shine International party, Majestic Hotel

Drama subplots were everywhere. Warner International’s semi-open stand on the beach got flooded out; All3Media laid on Tuk-Tuks to their lunch for Lion TV’s 17th birthday, only for their drivers to get arrested. Companies that were big were becoming even bigger.   Shine International had fine Sunday evening weather for their opening drinks by the pool – likely one of their last markets as a standalone outfit before the Endemol-Core merger. Your correspondent can report that Shine’s Espresso Martinis were excellent. May such creativity not get lost in the merger.

The frequent downpours in elegant if overpriced Cannes seemed to echo the rapid changes in the industry. A global industry crammed together in a small space, sent scurrying for cover by unpredictable events.  Digital distribution was once again the talk of the market. Ted Sarandos of Netflix gave a keynote – comin’ atcha, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. HBO announced a streaming service. The stands and posters though were all still about the content – in that sense, little changes at MIPCOM from year to year.

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The market at 0815 on Monday morning

The days were full with half-hour meetings – ‘speed-dating’, as my boss at SBS Peter Andrews called it – and my notebook quickly filled with titles, delivery dates, and conversations to follow up. Being with my new colleagues Peter, Ben Nguyen, Tony Iffland & Andrew Golding  as we were pitched by distributors and producers was a great way to learn about SBS, and my version of the SBS editorial pitch is now flowing a bit more naturally. Our acquisitions wishlist and programme catalogue got held up in French customs for a day, but eventually it became a useful prop to head off the ‘what are you looking for?’ question. Let me know if you’d like a pdf emailed to you  – though it’ll also be online soon.

Wednesday ended with BBC Worldwide Australia & New Zealand’s drinks and dinner on the roof of a chi-chi hotel. Plenty of new contacts to follow up on when I get to Australia in December.

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BBC WW ANZ drinks, V Hotel

It was good to be back in the swim of broadcasting,  and I’m really looking forward to my new role.  Next time I come to Nice airport though, I’m going to remember to pack my helicopter.

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Keeping it in the Nordic documentary family

A few days at the Nordisk Forum in Malmo have given me time to reflect on the documentary business in the Nordic countries. I live part of the time in Copenhagen, and I’m half-German, so I’m part-Nordic I guess. I was there for most (not all) of the doc pitches over the two days, pitched our own YARN project with the team, and observed the ‘Nordic family’ at work – as one of the moderators Mikael Opstrup called it.

The comments around the table are really one-liners giving general interest (or not) – you don’t hear much in 8 minutes, particularly when there’s 25 people round the table. Very few projects elicited a negative reaction (except perhaps the one I was pitching!) – the aim seemed to be to keep a positive supportive spirit around the table. The one-to-one meetings we got afterwards for YARN with Nordic funds and channels felt very good, and a bit different to what I’m used to in the UK. There was a focus on the filmmaking, the craft, and what the director wanted to do. Far less buyer/seller talk about the different TV slots, sometimes highly specific, or the impossibility of getting single docs on TV (language I used all the time as a commissioning editor at the BBC).

The assumption of most of the producers was that festival and cinema audiences would see the films first (in their ‘proper’ long version) and then a few months or a year later they’d go to TV in a ‘TV version’. The gap in Denmark between public TV and the film institute  (DFI) was pretty clear – Mette Hoffman from DR pointedly talked about whether filmmakers really should just focus on theatrical releases to tiny cinema audiences which prevented films – often topical ones – being shown on television to far bigger audiences for up to a year after completion.

The  public funding and significant development budgets available to some filmmakers maybe also means that they don’t try too hard to sell beyond their regional market.  I also don’t recall many projects with mixed teams to make genuine coproductions between countries. Maybe it’s just too complicated, particularly if it might change the film – what’s the point making your film international if you  annoy your principal domestic funder?  Also, if there are three or more Nordic countries onboard, then the Nordisk Film and TV Fund can pitch in with a further 15%-20% of the budget. There’s something of a mutual self-help pact amongst the Scandinavian family – if you take mine, I’ll take yours. 

The elephant in the room of this Forum (same goes for other pitching Forums too) was that the amounts to be had from presales from public channels for these documentaries were becoming less relevant in a financing plan, except to unlock other lumps of money from the EU MEDIA fund or the Nordisk Film & TV Fund. 

But the public money won’t last forever, and once it’s run out it’s an intensely competitive world out there (as the makers know). These films – and Nordic  creativity – really need to be tested on the wider market beyond the prestige film festivals and late-night doc slots. I’m very aware that, as someone who pitched a single arts documentary at the Forum, this very much applies to me too. But working together to create ambitious films and grab new audiences internationally is what we’re all doing this for, isn’t it?