When the ‘global gang’ gets together at the markets, be it at natpe or any Reed Midem affair, the producers are there with bells on. International schmoozing is becoming as customary for independent producers as it’s always been for distributors, thanks to the coproduction climate. On the downside, old problems are getting nasty new spins now that production ideas fly across oceans as frequently as jet-liners. Intellectual property issues, a murky sector at the best of times, have a new urgency.
Producers are hesitant to talk too loudly or broadly when they think they have a great idea. Bad enough they’re forced to share it with a broadcaster who could turn it down, only to turn around and put a bug in the ear of an in-house department. Not only does global coproduction mean many more broadcasters seeing a single pitch, but the current co-mingling of ideas between production companies is unprecedented. The proprietorship of an original idea (and there are those who’ll argue there are no original ideas anymore) can easily become disputable when it’s born of two or more companies, producing two or more versions for any number of audiences.
Just as the popularization of sampling forced a new level of ownership awareness in the music business, driving artists on both sides (samplers and the sampled) to make concerted butt-covering efforts, all this collaboration will surely turn up the heat in the tv business. There’s an era of contention coming down, and the production community is predicting a barrage of debates about how ideas can be protected, and whether or not they can, or should be. As one documentary producer pointed out recently, there are no new ideas, but an evolved treatment goes a long way in proving that an approach, be it a point of view or a specific sequence, actually belongs to someone.
As an independent, it borders on folly to out-and-out accuse a broadcaster of thievery, unless you’re well on your way to retirement anyway. The irony in it all is that producers will be forced to band together to form a united front against inappropriate idea-recycling by broadcasters, but who’s going to protect them from each other? As broadcasters produce less and less in-house, looking to the greater community for the best, most compelling projects, the greatest threat to an indie producer’s idea is another producer.