A MIP of its own: Golden Age or Fleeting Frenzy for Non-Fiction?
Like its kiddie cousin, non-fiction now has a market of its own in mipdoc. Dedicating two days of screenings, meetings and greetings prior to miptv, Reed Midem has officially bought into the idea that this is, indeed, a Golden Age for documentaries. Gaggles of sellers and buyers will be hitting the Hotel Martinez (in the daytime, even), hoping to cash in on this widely heralded boom. On the trail of the cable explosion, new global links for production and distribution, and an ever-changing, ever-expanding definition of what’s in the genre and what’s out, RealScreen goes tri-continental and quinti-national and asks five very different Cannes-bound production companies: ‘Is this golden, or what?’
THE WORLD, COURTESY THE U.S.
It’s an unlikely alliance, no doubt. In nearly everything – from food to fashion to film – the French and the Americans are unlikely to share sensibilities. Paris-based Gedeon Programmes, however, named producer of the year in 1995 by the French production and broadcast association Procirip, has become very cozy with the Yanks, particularly the folks at pbs’ nova. ‘We love coproducing with the Americans,’ says Leslie Wiener, head of coproductions. ‘We’ve gotten very skillful at it.’
Gedeon Group, a design and production company formed in 1985, encompasses divisions for broadcast design, strategy planning, commercial and video production, corporate communication and multimedia development in addition to the tv production component. Gedeon Programmes – directed by one of the Group’s founders, Stephane Millire – is widely-recognized for its prowess in the international television marketplace and TV France International rates the company as the fourth biggest doc producer in France.
Best known for its narrative Super 16 documentaries on science, adventure and history – like the nearly complete 52-minute Alexandria, the City of the Dead, coproduced with France 2, France 3 and Discovery, and repped at mipdoc by Europe Image – the company also produces successful magazine-style fare. Currently in production for France 2 is New Worlds Magazine/Les Nouveaux Mondes, a 10 x 90 minute primetime science/adventure magazine.
For Gedeon, American cable has made all the difference – to the point where Wiener expects at least 30% of the budget for any given production to be raised in the u.s. Gedeon has previously had a fairly exclusive relationship with Discovery, but having made a sale to National Geographic Channel, expects to work much more with the National Geographic/NBC joint venture once a u.s service is launched.
While the company may still produce projects from time to time which are specifically tailored for a French audience, immersion in the coproduction mind-set means such projects become less attractive. Says Wiener: ‘It becomes obvious to us now when a project is not going to work as a coproduction or for an international audience. We’re at the point now where we’re not going to do a project unless we can put together the budget to get the quality we want, and that usually means more partners.’
On the world scene, Gedeon’s coproduction success can be linked to the arrival of Wiener in 1988. Having worked previously in American tv, Wiener came to France originally as a production manager. Shortly after her arrival she was approached by the bbc to be the French partner in a pan-European magazine series involving six different broadcasters. ‘I spoke the best English, so I ended up as the go-between. So when Gedeon started, we already had relationships with other broadcasters.’ In 1997 alone, Gedeon coproduced with arte, bbc, Canal+, C4, France 2, France 3, Discovery, nhk, nrk, rtbf and wgbh/nova.
Germany is a market Gedeon has yet to crack, but Wiener is working towards forging production alliances there. ‘We’ve tried everything,’ she says. ‘The Germans have dabbled in coproduction when it comes to fiction, but documentary coproduction is still fairly foreign.’
As for Gedeon’s distribution strategy, Paris-based Europe Images has a first look at all Gedeon product, but Wiener is quick to point out that she takes responsibility for all presales. The familiarity between the two companies means Europe Image is often an investor in Gedeon projects and can be counted on for advances.
Next up for Gedeon: In addition to completion of City of the Dead is the development of Amazons of the Eurasian Steppes, a 52-minute Super 16 film following the excavation of an Amazon grave site in Mongolia.
Also in this report:
-Germany: Egoli Films
-Australia’s Emerald Films
-U.K.: Lamancha Productions