Windfall finds new approaches to factual

For UK-based prodco Windfall Films, finding unique takes on science, engineering and history programming has resulted in returnable and format-worthy series. And the company is also dabbling in feature docs for good measure.
November 18, 2009

Windfall Films has had a busy year. Known for its science, engineering and history output, the main focus for the company over the past couple of years has been to develop high quality, returning series in these areas, and it has landed a number of successes as a result. For instance, Monster Moves (Mega Moves in North America), which documents the relocations of giant structures such as mansions, a Cold War submarine and an entire town, returned for a fourth season on Discovery Canada, five and National Geographic Channels International (NGCI). Also, Big, Bigger, Biggest, which originally got four episodes on five, National Geographic Channel U.S. and NGCI, has another 10 episodes in production.

Carlo Massarella, staff producer and director for Windfall Films, sees the success of these series as the result of being innovative with and making events out of tried and true subjects. ‘What we’re trying to do is come up with new ways of tackling popular content,’ says Massarella. With Big, Bigger, Biggest Windfall knew engineering programs worked, but programs about the Empire State Building or the Sears Tower were well-worn. ‘We looked for other ways of making programs about the biggest structures around the world that actually show them from an evolutionary point of view, in terms of showing the inventions that enabled them to grow from big to bigger into the biggest,’ says Massarella. ‘In that program, 50% of the program is CGI so that has a broad appeal in markets around the world.’

Massarella adds that the company has also tried to find a unique spin on wildlife programming, through its new program Inside Nature’s Giants. Made for Channel 4, National Geographic Channel U.S. and NGCI, the show dissects some of the world’s largest animals to study their anatomies and reveal how they function. The next step for the company is to do the same with history programming. ‘Science has been stunt and event driven for some time now and there’s plenty of returning science and engineering shows that we’ve made,’ says Massarella. ‘We’re trying at the moment to look at history in a more stunt or format driven way to again come up with some new returning formats that will take history in a new direction.’

Most recently, Windfall has also ventured into feature doc making. The company’s first feature, Sons of Cuba, has garnered a number of awards since its completion this past April. In addition to getting a nomination for Best Documentary from the British Independent Film Awards this month, it also won best doc awards at the International Rome Film Festival and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and, most recently, the Youth Jury Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest.

Director Andrew Lang brought the project about a boarding school in Havana that turns 9-year-old boys into boxing champions to Windfall, and then the film got a television commission for PBS in 2006. From there it evolved into a feature because there was enough additional footage and stories to be told to warrant a longer look.

‘Hopefully, we’ll be doing more of these over the coming years,’ says Massarella. ‘But the material has to be right, they have to sustain and they have to come with a unique angle on events as well.’

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.