Docs

CPH:DOX ’17: Powers talks tensions on doc series production

The popularity of serialized factual stories is on the rise following the success of projects such as HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and Netflix’s Making a Murderer. But, according to ...
March 22, 2017

The popularity of serialized factual stories is on the rise following the success of projects such as HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and Netflix’s Making a Murderer.

But, according to Thom Powers, the rise in demand comes with a risk of producing “bad serialized documentaries” as documentary filmmakers are increasingly pressed to pump up the drama, rather than let the action unfold in real-time.

Powers led a morning discussion on serialized content at the Copenhagen International Documentary Festival on March 22. He is the artistic director of DOC NYC and the documentary programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). He is also the curator for the SVOD platform Sundance Now, USA.

The problem he foresees stems from documentary filmmakers teaming up with large digital distributors and broadcasters on new serialized projects. Filmmakers are increasingly being told by executives they need to work with those who have previous experience with serialized content. This often translates into doc filmmakers pairing up with reality television producers.

And it’s in that pairing that the project can change because, said Powers, reality TV production has a tendency to pump up drama and to treat its subjects like scripted characters.

“Reality TV producers have most of their experience operating in a way that is fundamentally different to the way we think of traditional documentary filmmaking. So I think there is a little tension there,” he told realscreen in a follow-up interview.

In the rush to come out with serial programming, Powers is concerned that much of what is produced will not meet audience expectations. In particular, viewers will be confused as to why some of the content isn’t as satisfying as The Jinx or Making a Murderer — projects that took years to develop.

 

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for HMV.com. As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.

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