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CBC implements new strategy, brand for doc commissioning

The pubcaster is widening its commissioning remit to put a focus on high-impact, globally focused documentary series, with Michelle McCree's role expanding to lead the rebranded banner, The Passionate Eye.
April 30, 2021

Heading into Hot Docs 2021, CBC has made a number of changes to its documentary commissioning operations that it says will allow it to greenlight and acquire a broader range of projects, be more competitive in the international marketplace, and produce storytelling that is more accessible and relevant to audiences.

Going forward, the pubcaster will commission and acquire one-hour documentaries under its ‘The Passionate Eye’ banner, which has existed for almost 30 years but until now has solely been an acquisition label.

Under the new strategy, documentaries that were previously commissioned under the CBC Docs ‘POV’ brand will be commissioned for CBC TV and CBC Gem under the ‘Passionate Eye’ brand.

Spearheading the implementation of the new strategy is Michelle McCree (pictured left), who has been appointed as executive in charge of production for ‘The Passionate Eye’.

McCree was previously CBC’s executive in charge of production, unscripted, overseeing a broad range of the pubcaster’s unscripted output. In the new leadership role, McCree’s remit will shift to zero in on the new ‘Passionate Eye’ commissioning strand, with McCree overseeing the brand and being the primary exec taking pitches. Elsewhere within the organization, McCree is also part of the team leading CBC’s equity and inclusion strategies across all unscripted and documentary content.

The new strategy will allow CBC to commission docs under a brand known for “high-quality, entertaining films and with audience awareness and resonance in the international marketplace,” Jennifer Dettman (pictured right), executive director, unscripted, CBC, tells Playback Daily.

The other key part of the strategy is to allow CBC to move more forcefully into producing high-impact documentary series that will attract eyeballs on the international stage. CBC has dipped its toe into this space in recent years with Enslaved and The Oland Murder, but it now wants to put is foot to the floor on this strategy.

“As we’ve seen in recent years, documentaries and documentary series are no longer niche, they’re no longer exclusive – they are mainstream. That presents really exciting opportunities for us but it also means we have to be competitive, so we are looking for high-impact documentaries that can ignite or land in a cultural conversation,” says McCree.

Dettman adds that the changes are designed to meet the needs of Canadian documentary makers and producers who want to venture further into the global market. “Our doc film community has been asking us for more opportunities to partner internationally and to tap some of the financing we’re seeing internationally. Shifting over to the ‘Passionate Eye’ brand really allows for that.”

Both McCree and Dettman emphasize that the changes will not lead to any decline in overall documentary production. On average, the pubcaster commissions 80 documentaries annually for CBC, CBC Gem and documentary Channel, in addition to acquisitions.

That is not going to change, say the execs, and CBC will continue to support both emerging and established filmmakers under the ‘Passionate Eye’ banner. The organization also wants to commission more documentary projects from BIPOC filmmakers to reflect an even greater diversity of authentic perspectives and voices.

Elsewhere within its documentary remit, CBC said the strategy remains the same: it will continue to commission one-hour science and nature doc through ‘The Nature of Things’ and feature-length docs for documentary Channel. Meanwhile, shorter-form documentaries and digital shorts will continue to be greenlit under the CBC Short Docs strand.

And as for what McCree and the CBC team is looking for as they gear up for the 2021 edition of Hot Docs? McCree says she will be on the hunt for engaging projects that can help launch the new commissioning strand with a bang. “I’m looking for high-impact, riveting characters, unfolding narrative, cultural conversations. Ultimately, we want to spark curiosity, debate, conversation and potentially shift perspectives,” she says.

From Playback’s Jordan Pinto

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