The Top 7: Darlow Smithson Productions

Darlow Smithson Productions
April 1, 2006

Darlow Smithson Productions
London, UK

Got a big idea? An even bigger budget? Bring it on, says John Smithson. As executive chairman and creative director of Darlow Smithson Productions in London – best known recently for the docudrama Touching the Void – Smithson has no fear of big-budget megaprojects. He says there’s always an appetite for docs that make a big splash, especially in the cable-crowded us market, where fickle viewers vote with the remote. ‘I think broadcasters know we’re not intimidated by big, ambitious shows,’ says Smithson. ‘We thrive on them.’

Even more important, he says, he and his crew are always looking at new ways to tell a story. ‘As a company, we are creatively restless. We’re always looking to push,’ he says. ‘The absolute core is storytelling, and the journalistic background we all have. Then we look at, what’s the next way to mix drama with documentary? Or use CGI?’

Not that he thinks his audience really cares about all that. ‘I think we filmmakers are all obsessed about whether something is documentary, docudrama, or hybrid. But all that matters to viewers is whether your way of telling the story enhanced or clouded their enjoyment of it.’

And while it might be nice telling that story with a big budget, there is some trepidation involved. ‘It’s got to work, because there’s no margin for failure,’ says Smithson. ‘There’s a high level of expectation.’ Shows like the upcoming Falling Man, slated for release at miptv, is a perfect example. It’s a feature lens documentary about the 9/11 jumpers. The subject matter is still difficult for many to even contemplate. ‘It was a very challenging film to get right,’ says Smithson. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that Darlow Smithson was up for it.

Recent titles: Touching the Void, Seconds from Disaster
Employees: 100 core staff, 100 freelancers
Hours this year: 70
Upcoming includes: Falling Man (Channel 4), I Shouldn’t Be Alive (Discovery, C4 and Granada International), Living the Quake (C4 and National Geographic)

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