A MIP of its own: Golden Age or Fleeting Frenzy for Non-Fiction?
Like its kiddie cousin, non-fiction now has a market of its own in mipdoc. Dedicating two days of screenings, meetings and greetings prior to miptv, Reed Midem has officially bought into the idea that this is, indeed, a Golden Age for documentaries. Gaggles of sellers and buyers will be hitting the Hotel Martinez (in the daytime, even), hoping to cash in on this widely heralded boom. On the trail of the cable explosion, new global links for production and distribution, and an ever-changing, ever-expanding definition of what’s in the genre and what’s out, RealScreen goes tri-continental and quinti-national and asks five very different Cannes-bound production companies: ‘Is this golden, or what?’
MARKETING IS KEY, AND THE RIGHT DEMOGRAPHIC DOESN’T HURT
During a recent trip to natpe, Ken Maliphant, president of Lamancha Productions in London, found himself in a cab, heading towards a lamp post. All because he disclosed that he had seen the original telegram Josef Stalin sent to Marshal Zukoff during the battle of Kursk. The cabbie, in excitement, momentarily lost his driving skills.
Chalk this up to the perils of New Orleans, but for Maliphant, it’s an occupational hazard. Lamancha produces Battlefield, a one-hour series detailing warfare from ww2 and Vietnam, including minutiae such as the wording of a telegram or the size of a bullet – pure seduction for its largely male audience, age 16-60. The series, airing on pbs in North America, has become a hit. Coproducers PolyGram Television International will be presenting the us$2 million Battlefield 3: Vietnam at mipdoc this year.
From hit records to hit programs, Maliphant started off as marketing director of PolyGram Records in the 70s, signing Def Leppard and Dire Straits to the u.k. label – a move that landed him the position of managing director of Phonogram. Later, as head of Thames Video, Maliphant found himself entertaining a proposition from graphic designer and TV commercial director David McWhinnie to form their own video-acquisition and licensing company. In 1985, Maliphant left Thames and formed Lamancha in partnership with McWhinnie.
The company began marketing ‘militaria’ through direct sales, placing advertisements for its 46-hour video library, The Visions of War, in Soldier magazine and other military publications. Package sales were also handled through Time-Life (u.k.). With increasing profits, the partners discovered that long after the dust of battles has settled, there is money to be made from war.
In 1994, the company entered the world of broadcast with a sale of the War File package to pbs. The production phase began in 1994 after PolyGram International came on board to coproduce Battlefield, offering full-budget costs in exchange for worldwide rights and sales. Lamancha receives a percentage of back-end profit .
In Battlefield, 3-d animated graphics are layered on top of archival footage, resulting in an informationally dense, but accessible product that ‘unlike most of documentary tv,’ avoids using talking heads. Each program is constructed in chapters so that ‘the audience never has to concentrate on any subject for more than eight minutes,’ says Maliphant. This user-friendly template has earned high ratings on u.s. television, peaking in 1995, when ‘The Battle of Midway’ episode earned a 4.4 rating with an 8 share. The average rating for a show in its time slot was 3.6. On Battlefield’s pbs web-page, several thousand hits a day is common.
Letters from zealous fans pour into the Lamancha offices regularly, offering praise as well as advice on details of weaponry. Particularly with ww2, the partners at Lamancha find themselves answering to ‘those who were there,’ and points such as a gun on the series’ soundtrack did not make the actual noise it should. Maliphant also cites an emphasis on well-written and well-read narration as a source for the series’ popularity (Platoon actor Tom Berenger narrates Battlefield 3: Vietnam).
Lamancha’s latest production, Battle Science, is a move towards independent financing through presales. In a deal struck at natpe, Discovery will put up approximately 70% of the budget in exchange for worldwide first-window rights. Home-video sales will be handled by Discovery’s new partner bmg, with Lamancha sharing in ‘an ongoing division of profits’ from the back-end. Presenting the ‘science of warfare and weaponry,’ the first one-hour installment begins with Gerald Bull, the Canadian who developed the ‘super gun’ for the Iraqis.
Lamancha hopes to continue this structure of financing with the The Sword and The Crescent, 12 x 1 hours detailing the Crusades (no presales have been arranged at press time). In a new step for the company, original re-enactment footage shot in-house at Lamancha will be added to the mix. The audience response from those who claim to have been there this time will be interesting indeed.
Also in this report:
-Germany: Egoli Films
-Australia’s Emerald Films
-France: Gedeon Programmes