Delegates at the third annual RealScreen Summit (February 12 to 14) took full advantage of the opportunity to pick the brains of anyone and everyone in attendance – about 700 in total, nearly 10% of whom were presidents of their companies. Whether during the panel discussions or over a drink at the hotel bar, the talk never stopped, which is what many attendees were hoping for. ‘By being there and rubbing shoulders with all the major producing talent, as well as cablecasters and broadcasters, you pick up shifts in the programming landscape,’ observes Ron Devillier, president of D.C.’s Devillier Donegan Enterprises. ‘It helps to refocus your investments, and we’re big investors in original productions.’
Among the interesting tidbits Devillier recalls: History is hot, be good at dramatic recreations if you attempt ancient history, and fully dramatized non-fiction is on the horizon. Andy Thomson, Alliance Atlantis Communications’ executive VP of television production and head of AAC Fact, concurs with Devillier about history, and adds health to the list of au courant genres. At the Summit, AAC Fact and Welsh broadcaster S4C struck a deal to coproduce a 3 x 60-minute series about war surgeons.
While discussion of recreations caught the attention of many present, so too did the issue of computer generated graphics. Interface Media Group, based in D.C., offered a tour of their facilities and explained how they created 3D images for Treasures of the Royal Captain (which was produced by D.C.-based ThinkFilm and the Discovery Channel). With that project, the CG images were so effective that the producers opted to use a higher proportion than they anticipated (approximately 10 minutes). The original CG budget was US$70,000, but ultimately ended up being two-and-a-half times that figure.
Funding interactive content prompted more than one creased brow, though panelist Steve Rosenbaum, president of BNNtv.com and CameraPlanet.com, asserted that everyone is in a better position this year than last, because the playing field is more even. Anthony Geffen, CEO of London-based Atlantic Productions, advised producers that if they plan to include an interactive component in their programs, they need to work it into their strategy from the beginning and plan for it as carefully as the documentary element.
Producer Manuel Catteau of Paris-based Zoo Ethnological Documentary (ZED) said he sees lots of opportunities in the development of interactive web content. In fact, he recently sold a 26-part travel series called Our World to Quebec, Canada-based pixtv.net. Developed entirely for the internet, the US$120,000 series is presented on the website via video streaming. Catteau says the one-year license has covered the cost of production.
The rise of reality programming was, of course, a constant undercurrent in discussions about the future of documentary programming. At the final panel, moderator Thom Beers, president of California-based Original Productions, countered the reality detractors by pointing out that Survivor et al have reinvigorated the public’s taste for non-fiction, particularly among the younger set. Panelist and newbie doc-maker Richard Dreyfuss, president of Woodstock-based Dreyfuss James Productions, conversely sought to quell unrest, opining ‘reality is a fad, a reflexive spasm among programmers.’
As a final note, attendee Chuck Braverman learned at the Summit that his film Curtain Call has been nominated for an Oscar. Tod Lending, winner of last year’s RealScreen ID Award, has also been nominated for his feature-length doc Legacy.