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WCSFP ’18: Danny Horan maps out his vision for Channel 4

BRISBANE – Channel 4′s Danny Horan took the stage Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 28) to participate in a keynote conversation during the 26th anniversary edition of the World Congress of Science and Factual ...
November 29, 2018

BRISBANE – Channel 4′s Danny Horan took the stage Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 28) to participate in a keynote conversation during the 26th anniversary edition of the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers held in the Queensland, Australia capital.

Moderated by 72 Films CEO David Glover, the candid, standing room only interview provided in-depth analysis into how the pubcaster’s newly appointed factual chief is attempting to make C4′s content more relevant to the wider world by looking for contemporary, visceral programming.

“I’ve got a lot of hours in my department which are huge juggernaut returnable series which are very good but are quite ‘slice of life’,” said Horan. “I’m trying to get newer titles and ideas that say more about the world around us in every area from documentary, history, science, arts – everything.”

As such, Horan plans on steering the English broadcaster away from pragmatic commissioning in specialist factual as there’s “nothing distinctly Channel 4″ about it. Instead, the former BBC documentary commissioning editor is searching for programming that not only attracts younger viewers, but also resonates with audiences in a contemporary way.

“It does feel like we’re at a different time at the channel and we’re trying out quite a lot of different things, and I don’t know if loads of it will work is the honest truth,” he said. “We can all go to hell in a handcart and I [could] be fired in a year’s time, but I personally think we’re a public service broadcaster and it’s our duty and obligation to do as much as we can in a way that challenges audiences.”

By hitting on fewer titles and investing more money to coproduce bigger series that are event driven or experimental, the hope is that younger and larger audiences will begin gravitating towards the network’s slate of science and history programming.

A prime example of that methodology is the upcoming, 72 Films-produced Moon Landing Live, a minute-by-minute retelling of the Apollo 11 mission, which saw humans walking across the lunar surface in July 1969.

Made up of two feature documentaries, several short films and a variety of online content, the project will look to commemorate the NASA mission’s 50th anniversary through archival news content from around the world and exclusive NASA footage, to offer the impression of experiencing the historic event in real time.

The pubcaster has also commissioned an as yet untitled, one-off special produced by London factual house Renegade Pictures that will detail the discovery of near-perfect remains of a variety of prehistoric mammals in a Siberian cave.

Commissioned prior to Horan’s C4 appointment, the coproduction with Discovery’s Science Channel will document a group of scientists that have unearthed the Ice Age era remains of woolly mammoths, lions, wolves, hares and rhinos.

“The science content that’s gone out the door in the last few years at C4 – there’s nothing that was really science about it,” Horan admitted. “In fact, the specialist factual department has lacked a bit of love and has not had enough focus in every bit of it, and I would love to get proper science in some of the formats we might do.

“What I love about this program is that it’s got a real world Ice Age, Jurassic Park [aspect] about it,” said Horan. “It will genuinely get a very broad, young audience, which is super important for us.”

The film will mark one of the first copro ventures between Channel 4 and Discovery in the U.S. since the two organizations partnered for the 2012 scientific experiment that crash-landed a Boeing 727 passenger jet into a remote part of Mexico’s Sonora Desert. The film, produced for Discovery Channel’s ‘Curiosity’ strand by UK indie Dragonfly, attempted to explore how aviation accidents could be more survivable and recorded the crash from a number of angles, including inside the aircraft, on the ground, in chase planes and on the ejecting pilot’s helmet.

The World Congress of Science and Factual Producers continues until November 30.

About The Author
Senior staff writer Frederick Blichert comes to realscreen with a background as a journalist and freelance film critic. He has previously written for VICE, Paste Magazine, Senses of Cinema, Xtra, Canadian Cinematographer and elsewhere. He holds a Master of Arts in film studies from Carleton University and a Master of Journalism from the University of British Columbia.

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