Over the 20 years that UK indie October Films has been in business the focus, at least in the early years, was on making blue chip single docs. Over the last five or six years the company has taken the skills its staff has developed from making these high quality docs and translated them into popular doc series. Realscreen spoke with Denman Rooke, MD of October Films, about the plans for the prodco and where it’s headed in the new year.
Talking about October Films’ raft of projects Rooke says the indie covers a broader range of genres than most companies. ‘I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad idea,’ he says. ‘That’s just how things have turned out.’
The most recent hit for October Films is Rude Tube, a series for Channel 4 which adds context to viral videos by interviewing their creators to find out the back story. The series is currently in its third season and has been renewed for another 10 episodes next year. The prodco is also currently in the editing stage with its renewed series Sun, Sea and A&E, a program for Virgin which follows vacationers in Spain who head out on holiday and end up in the emergency room. Rooke believes the first season, which has re-aired on Virgin, Bravo and Living, has caught the attention of its audience because there are engaging characters and the stories, while dramatic, usually end happily.
‘I think we’re going into this year with more stuff already being commissioned or on the cusp of being commissioned than we’ve ever had before,’ says Rooke. ‘We just feel to be on a bit of a roll.’ Aside from its recommissions, October also has some new series on the way, including the prodco’s first property show for UKTV’s Home Channel. My Flat Pack Home is a 20×30-minute series which will follow people who have decided to design and build their own prefabricated houses and will premiere in the second quarter of 2010. Rooke says the prodco is also beginning to have more success with the BBC recently, and hopes to have a new commission with BBC2 to announce shortly.
Though October is moving toward more factual series, it still dabbles in the world of one-off docs, with projects such as Pakistan’s Taliban Generation which was named one of the best current affairs documentaries at the recent Association for International Broadcasting Global Media Excellence Awards (tied with CBC Radio-Canada’s Baby Boomers Take on Mount Mera).
One of the keys to October’s success and survival, says Rooke, is that it knows how to treat its staff. ‘We’re quite good at looking after people here, making them feel valued, and most of all, trusting their instincts and giving them space to be creative,’ he says. One of the things that has allowed the prodco to continue to be what it is – a medium sized entirely independent indie that can play with the big fish – is this ethos, according to Rooke. ‘If we carry on thriving and growing as we are it’s probably because we have found a way of working with a lot of producers, directors, and development executives who sometimes fall out of large organizations because they feel they’re not loved enough.’
While October has been slowly changing its focus from high-end one-off docs to more popular entertainment series, Rooke doesn’t see any radical changes in the company’s future. ‘We’re not going to go into drama, [and] we’re not planning any radical departures from where we are now, but rather building on what we’ve got,’ he says. ‘It’s a fairly wide spectrum from the war in Afghanistan to Sun, Sea & A&E to Rude Tube, and that’s probably as wide as it needs to be.’