Considering the Discovery Producers Workshop welcomed representatives from Discovery outlets as far flung as India, Asia and Latin America, Patrick Hoerl – head of programming for Discovery Channel’s German-speaking territories and one of the chief architects of the inaugural event – believes the gathering went far in strengthening the delicate relationship between broadcaster and producer. ‘Producers felt they were taken seriously, in part because of the representatives present,’ explains Hoerl. ‘That makes a big difference if you’re trying to build up trust between an independent scene and a commercial broadcaster.’ This, coupled with the decision to limit the workshop to 250 attendees, created an atmosphere ripe for open dialogue. Producers not only pitched to the editors present, but sat down to simply bounce ideas around. Recalls Hoerl, ‘The commissioning editors said afterwards how impressed they were with how open the producers were.’
According to Hoerl, the projects presented during the pitch session were also impressive, although he notes it was obvious the participating producers were aware of their audience. ‘You could see the producers present were trying to appeal to a Discovery style of filmmaking,’ he explains. ‘There were no pitches for typical auteur films that have their place in European tradition – in Germany in particular, but also in France.’
The three pitches that won development contracts worth US$9,500 each were awarded to producers from Russia, France and Germany. The outlet the projects ultimately air with will depend on what partnerships the producers have already secured, but each will consult with an editorial person from Discovery Europe throughout the development process to ensure the film fits Discovery’s market and style. Says Hoerl, ‘Basically, what we hope for is that the project is fit for every one of our territories.’
Ludmilla Nazaruk of Corona Films in St. Petersburg, Russia, recognized Discovery’s love of anything related to outer space and presented Tank on the Moon, which looks at the Russian-American race to land a man on the moon. ‘There’s a little Russian moon car on the surface of the moon that they successfully sent up and drove around,’ says Hoerl. ‘It looks really funny – everybody laughed when the producers showed a photo at the workshop. It looks like a kitchen pot, like what you would cook soup in, with a set of wheels.’ Hoerl explains that the project appealed because it takes a look at the space race from a different angle and with a humorous tone.
From Paris, France, Manuel Catteau of Zoo Ethnological Documentary won over the panel with Becoming a Man, an intriguing story about coming of age rituals faced by teenage boys around the world. Says Hoerl: ‘We have looked at [Catteau's] stuff for years and we never got as far as a coproduction, because the way of telling a story in France is so different from other places in the world. But, the quality of his pictures and the way he tells a story and the kind of stories he comes up with are so good that we just thought, we need to try and work with him.’
The third project to garner a contract was Looks Film’s A Hospital for the King of Skies, presented by Gunnar Dedio of Rostock, Germany. The doc looks at a hospital in Saudi Arabia that cares for $250,000 falcons owned by the country’s Sheiks. Explains Hoerl, ‘They spend a fortune on falcons down there and they need to keep them healthy, because they do all kinds of competitions and exercises with them. This is a story about these birds, about the people who treat them, and about the people who own them.’