Non-fiction and unscripted content executives from around the world once again made the trip to what was an unseasonably balmy Washington, DC, for the 20th anniversary edition of the Realscreen Summit, held from Jan. 28-31 at the Marriott Marquis.
Over the course of the four-day event and conference, which is moving to New Orleans for the 2019 and 2020 editions after two decades in the U.S. capital, content producers, distributors, and network and streaming executives came together to discuss the challenges and opportunities of working in the non-fiction industry today.
Featured sessions at the 2018 event included the “Small Companies, Big Ideas” panel, which showcased individuals who co-founded their own indie shops. Sharing business tips and challenges they’ve faced along the way, the participants discussed how indies are capable of weathering weeks and months of straining broadcast budgets. The panelists also stressed that the need for principals of small companies to wear many hats to keep things moving won’t be going away anytime soon, and can result in stronger content.
“We’re seeing an exodus of folks that are just executives, not storytellers,” said panelist and Ugly Brother Studios co-founder Mike Duffy.
Monday afternoon’s “Acquisitions and Copros: Trends and Takeaways” session saw distribution executives offer an optimistic note about the changes impacting the industry.
Panelists agreed that content creators should, in the words of Blue Ant Media international EVP Solange Attwood, “feel encouraged and optimistic” about the state of the industry due to the influx of buyers across all platforms and channels.
“Now more than ever there’s certainly an appetite to explore new models and, in some cases, distributors are willing to take more risks and willing to invest in great creative provided by great producers,” she added. “If we can help steer great commercial deals that deliver great premium content, we will take those risks.”
A highlight of the Summit was the presentation of the Realscreen Legacy awards, given to three individuals for their remarkable impact on the unscripted and non-fiction content industry.
David Lyle, who passed away in September, was celebrated for his three-decade career in television. His daughters accepted the award, presented by Lyle’s friends and colleagues John Ford and Matt Gould, on his behalf, sharing some life wisdom they learned from their father: “If you’re not having fun, do something else.”
Later in the afternoon, Bunim/Murray Productions co-founder and unscripted television legend Jonathan Murray received a Legacy Award and participated in a one-on-one interview with Jimmy Fox, for a live taping of his podcast Unscripted and Unprepared. The pair delved into the history of Bunim/Murry, sharing stories behind some of the prodco’s greatest hits.
Sheila Nevins, president of HBO Documentary Films, took the stage for a wide-ranging keynote conversation with Washington Post TV critic Hank Stuever after being presented with her Legacy Award. The documentary veteran spoke candidly about her career and her plans following her upcoming exit from HBO.
“Don’t you worry about me,” she said to the audience as the interview came to a close. “I’m in the f***ing New York phone book and I’m available.”
Other Summit sessions featured influential industry veterans assessing the current state of the over-the-top business model; the evolution and potential future of the true crime genre, which has relished its time in the mainstream spotlight; and the ways that the non-fiction content community can use the #MeToo movement as a catalyst for change.
Finally, this year’s annual pitch competition, the Summit Showdown, saw American networks National Geographic and WE tv handing out US$20,000 development prizes to Michael Holstein of multimedia development shop & prodco The Content Farm and Amy Bolton Curley of Atlanta-based studio Bolton Media Productions, respectively.
Holstein’s 8 x 60-minute Shishmaref Is Melting, which looks to depoliticize climate change by focusing its lens on the 421-person village of Shishmaref, Alaska, threatened by rising sea levels, was Nat Geo’s winner.
Meanwhile, WE tv awarded Bolton Curley’s WOW (Women of the World) with the development money. The lifestyle docuseries follows three entrepreneurial African-American women traveling the globe and living between two very different cities – Atlanta and Lagos, Nigeria.
The 2019 Realscreen Summit will take place from Monday, January 28 to Thursday, January 31 in New Orleans. The host venue for the 2019 and 2020 Summits will be the Sheraton New Orleans.
The Summit’s move to the Big Easy after two decades in DC follows a period of consultation with past Realscreen Summit delegates, advisory board members and participants.
(All photos by Rahoul Ghose)