Doc/Fest ’13: HBO Europe seeking “emotional” docs

HBO Europe's exec producer of documentaries Hanka Kastelicová told delegates at Sheffield Doc/Fest she wants pitches for emotional stories, deriding many docs that air in Central and Eastern Europe as being "too journalistic."
June 14, 2013

HBO Europe’s exec producer of documentaries Hanka Kastelicová told delegates at Sheffield Doc/Fest she wants pitches for emotional stories, deriding many docs that air in Central and Eastern Europe as being “too journalistic.”

Talking at the ‘ Working with an International Channel – A Global Perspective’ session at Doc/Fest yesterday (June 13), Budapest-based Kastelicová said that HBO Central Europe started original production in 2007 and has since then done 75 docs in five European countries.

The biggest success to date has been The World According to Ion B., which won an Emmy, and the network aims to produce up to 15 docs every year. “We are searching for stories that are untold, for exclusive stories,” she said. “Emotions are especially important for us.”

Clarifying the latter point, she said that in the CEE region, there was a problem with too many documentaries being “too journalistic” and cold. “Using a film language is very important to us,” she added.

HBO Europe has offices in Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest, Budapest, Sofia, Zagreb and Amsterdam, with each featuring two production staff, and in all does 170 hours of original fiction and non-fiction per year.

Also talking on the panel session were filmmakers Sam Lawlor and Lindsay Pollack, who produced the Holocaust-related doc The One That Got Away for HBO Central Europe.

They described their experiences of working with the network, explaining that after having their film rejected by UK broadcasters including the BBC and Channel 4, they were able to secure a commission relatively quickly from HBO.

“We’d been to the BBC, Channel 4, we’d spoken with Britdoc… but people seemed not to be interest in this sort of historical Holocaust doc,” Pollock said, adding that at the time the duo began shopping the doc, he “wasn’t aware that HBO Europe existed.”

Nevertheless, once the parties met, they were able to thrash out a deal “over the course of several emails and one meeting.”

Lawlor added: “The great thing about working with HBO is that they are committed to showing creative, authored documentaries – it’s very refreshing in the world of documentary television.”

The panel also featured Axel Stegmaier, exec producer for Discovery-owned DMAX Germany, and Elizabeth McIntyre, Discovery Networks International’s head of production and development (West).

Stegmaier said that while he was looking for local talent and local formats, they also had to be “smart formats that could be rolled out globally.” He offered Asphalt Cowboys, a trucker reality series which airs on DMAX, as an example.

McIntyre said: “When you see something like Asphalt Cowboys, it’s clear to see that the German producer has exactly the skills needed for that material.

“Key for Discovery Networks International is to ensure that it has international appeal and local touch points, so that wherever you are watching in the world, you feel it has some resonance for you. We transmit to over 200 countries in up to 45 languages.”

She added that the shows the broadcaster was looking for either tended to be character-led, citing Naked and Marooned as a good example; or process-driven, which she categorized as “science, engineering, ‘under-the-bonnet’-type stuff.”

She also said they commission one-off docs, although these tend to be quick turnaround efforts. “They tend to be news driven,” she said.


About The Author
Justin Anderson joined Realscreen as senior staff writer in 2021, reporting and writing stories for the newsletter and magazine. During his 20-year career he’s filled a variety of roles as a writer and editor at a number of media organizations, covering news and current affairs as well as business, tech, the film and music industries and plenty in between. He’s also spent time behind the scenes in television production, having written everything from voiceover scripts for documentaries to marketing copy. He has a degree in Journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University).