When Catherine Lamour was searching for someone to help run DocStar, Canal+’s rights-acquisition company, set up in 1990, she was looking for a tv professional who knew the production process inside out.
Step forward Andrew Solomon, formerly a London-based freelance producer who had worked for, among others, leading British documentary independent Brian Lapping Associates. Solomon joined the outfit last summer, the only male in a hitherto all-female department.
‘When we formed DocStar, the strategy was to foster and nurture relationships with broadcasters and producers around the world, with a view to building up a catalogue of story-telling documentaries aimed at the widest possible audience,’ says Lamour. ‘Andrew is an Anglo-Saxon with a production background who understands what we’re looking for.’
Lamour adds: ‘The aim of our chairman, Pierre Lescure, was to create a catalogue of programs selected from among the world’s finest documentaries. In this way, we could get a lead on our competitors, who were just preparing to enter the market very aggressively. Today, for example, every channel, big and small, is looking for wildlife programmes and there are simply not enough to go round.’
Solomon, whose title is documentary program executive, says that DocStar, which now has the rights to around 250 hours, is best described as an ‘investment fund.’ Ideally, he adds, when the company buys into a project, it aims to secure rights for as long a period as possible, with a minimum of 15 years. ‘We have a longer perspective than some other companies,’ he explains.
Last year, DocStar announced it was doubling its investment budget to us$25 million over the next three years. This new strategy involved expanding the types of programming backed beyond its core natural history catalogue.
Says Solomon: ‘We want to continue doing natural history, especially blue-chip natural history and programs that take natural history a step further like Game Park [a joint-venture with u.k. independent Double Exposure, makers of The House, and sabc]. But we’re also looking at popular science, popular history, biography and people and places.’
Moreover, DocStar is not constrained by topics that are exclusively French, although it has worked with leading French producers such as Frederic Fougea, maker of the prestigious series, Les Seigneurs des Animaux. The outfit also has ties with National Geographic via Explore International, a joint distribution venture, and as an investor in National Geographic products.
When DocStar decides to finance a film, it is not always essential that Canal+ air it, although it makes better business sense when it does.
In practice, nothing stops DocStar from investing in a finished program; however, ideally, the company prefers to come in as early as possible to keep watch as it develops from a script into a fully-fledged production. This is where Solomon’s expertise is particularly useful. ‘We like to maintain close contacts with the productions that we’ve invested in. It can be useful to have an outside eye.’
One of the company’s latest investments is Spaceship Earth, a 13-part epic that claims to be the first international series on global ecology. The program, to be unveiled at mipdoc, is a partnership between Japan’s TV Asahi, wgbh, cnn, u.k.’s bm and Silverback Productions, Canada’s Associated Producers, Australia’s Becker Group and Austria’s Langbein & Skalnik.
- Canal+, created in 1984, is the European leader in pay-tv and the most profitable in the world
- In France, Canal+ has more than 3.6-million subscribers
- Sister stations operate in Belgium, Spain, Germany and Africa, with a total of 1.4-million subscribers
DocStar Sales (with indie prodcos)
- Abyssinian Wolf, Leo Productions
- Great Adventures, CineNova
- Marine Mammals, Saint Thomas
- Dugong and Manatee, Eolis
- Kumari, the God Child, Dune
- Tooth Walker, Great North
- My Bikini Baby, Compagnie des Phares et Balises
- Forces of the Wild, Partridge
- Pompeii, Sodaperaga
- The Tree and the Ant, Leo Productions
-Tribute to Catherine Lamour: Woman of Influence