When I was recruited in 1994 to be part of the start-up team at the new French public television channel now called France 5 (the factual channel which has been part of France Télévisions Groupe since 2000), my title was head of acquisitions and international coproductions. That’s still my title today, but I can sincerely say that the job is more challenging and compelling than ever.
The documentary world is in constant mutation. I remember being interviewed at the end of one of my first MIPs, and when asked if I was under pressure because of competition for docs from other French broadcasters, I instantly said ‘no.’ At the time there simply weren’t many people after what I was after. There was only one cable channel in France devoted to documentaries. Now there are four or five. So, if I still want to buy, pre-buy, or coproduce the best documentaries, I have to keep on my toes and make sure I know who and where the best producers are. Luckily for me, doc-makers are constantly finding imaginative ways to bring new methods of telling stories with fresh appeal.
Over the past decade the factual world has witnessed the rise of pretty bad (but now much better) docudrama; the dramatic evolution of cgi; hd that changed everything; half-hour series being more or less phased out (and now making a comeback); reality becoming all the rage; the spectacular success of feature-length docs; the current multimedia revolution… the list goes on. The really good genres don’t ever go away – regardless of the most recent fads – they just get better. I truly believe that. I’ve been buying and coproducing wildlife films since the very beginning of the channel and they are still immensely popular with our viewers. I’m in the lucky position of working in lots of other genres, too: science, history, biography, the environment and sustainable development. (Well, they have become buzzwords recently, but the genre has always been there. It all just used to fall into natural history or science.)
The last 10 years have also been noteworthy on the coproduction front. Broadcasters and producers have come to better understand the pitfalls and difficulties inherent in putting together deals that actually work. It’s still complex, but we’re just better informed. The Realscreen Summit was born 10 years ago and has become a must for all of us in the ‘real’ world, just as the magazine has. I don’t know what I would do without my realscreen fix!