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Broadcasters flirt with naked factual

Clothes on or clothes off? It seems that boadcasters can’t make up their minds.

Listening to the factual commissioners speaking at Sheffield Doc/Fest this year, there’s a shift towards more aspirational programming. But there’s also a string of commissions coming through where there’s a theme of getting naked and back to basics.

Channel 5 director of programmes Ben Frow signalled a move from benefits to beautiful homes, citing Eamonn & Ruth: How the Other Half Lives. We saw a preview of The Garden’s new BBC series fronted by Anne Robinson looking at how people spend. “Moving out of the recession, Britain’s spending has never been so fascinating,” says the show’s press release.

Meanwhile, there are still a number of productions coming through that show the hand of The Island and the demand for going back to basics. Lucy Leveugle, Channel 4 factual entertainment commissioning editor showed a clip from Princess Productions’ Life Stripped Bare, where contributors are stripped of everything (including their clothes) and then allowed to redeem one item a day. Channel 5 has commissioned Naked Entertainment for four parts of Stripped and Stranded, taking fraught families to an island off Panama.

Channel 4 also showed a preview of its new naked dating show from Studio Lambert where contestants get to pick a date by looking at genitalia.

But the move towards exposure is more than on screen nudity and taking creature comforts away from contributors. The layers have been coming off every year. Whatever the show is about, it should speak for itself. It should be authentic, real, peeled back. Audiences want presenters to reveal something about themselves as part of their passion for a subject. Crews have been encouraged to lose the protection of the lens and get in front of the camera.

Channel Five declared its commitment to the straight-forward down-the-lens approach taken by Knickerbockerglory’s  I’m An Alcoholic: My Name Is. “These were great people with great stories,” says Ben Frow. “No reconstruction, no actuality, just straight down the lens, stripping away all the stuff around it and doing simple television.”

Of course, simplicity relies on contributors and producers getting amazing, no-holds-barred access and ‘casting’ compelling characters. Despite, and maybe because of, the media savvy public, producers are continuing to get the most extraordinary access. Sky announced its up-coming obdoc on the Freemasons, through Emporium Productions and Channel 5 and Maroon Productions have handed cameras to London gangs for Inside the Gang.

Whether the show is stripped-back survival or aspirational surfeit, the realistic, down-to-earth feel of documentary, once referred to as ‘gritty’ is now shot through all kinds of factual TV.

Posted 23 June 2016 by Pippa Considine

The key trends in factual TV

If you want a quick primer on the key trends in factual TV, look no further. Pippa Considine was at Sheffield Doc/Fest last week, and this is her round up of the key soundbites from all the top factual commissioners on stage.

- Channel 4 is making a big push on single docs, says head of docs at the channel Nick Mirsky. “Singles that feel properly authored or offer a particular view of the world.” Patrick Holland, head of documentary commissioning at the BBC agrees “there’s a real resurgence in singles…with a sense of authorship at their heart.”

- ITV, now under new management, is keen on entertainment/ factual mash-ups; Jo Clinton-Davis, director of factual at ITV, wants “mad, bad ideas” and is looking for the next I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. She talked about a new hybrid holiday/game show just commissioned.

- Warmth is still one of the key words when the commissioners are talking tone. “Warmth”, “heart”, “humour”, “honesty” and “relatable.” Not forgetting “drama.”

- With several shows on the theme of stripped-back-living already in the pipeline, Channel 4 says it has enough. Lucy Leveugle, factual commissioning editor at  C4 is looking for “play along TV” - ideas that pose the question “what would you do?”

- The smell of money is getting stronger. “We’re looking for returning series with aspirational tone,” says Ninder Billing, commissioning editor at Channel 5. Viewers are perhaps bored of watching people divest themselves of everything; the pendulum is swinging and we now want to see more of people accumulating. Think Anne Robinson on Britain’s Secret Spending Habits for the BBC, How the Other Half Live for Channel 5, or Channel 4’s more muted ob doc take on conspicuous consumption - Liberty of London.

- Channel 5 had its own session at DocFest to encourage indies to pitch and not to be put off by director of programmes Ben Frow’s legendary scariness. Cat Lewis, ceo of Nine Lives Media, (Holiday Love Rats, Age Gap Love), produced PACT Census figures showing that indies with a turnover of under £5m landed 1% of commissions from ITV, 4% from C4, 11% from the BBC and 15% from Channel 5. “I get a bigger strike rate of success with smaller companies,” says Frow. “Some of my biggest unsuccessful shows come from superindies.”

- “We’ve got to compete for a younger audience than might go to Netflix or watch on YouTube, but that doesn't mean everyone in screen has to be young,” says Channel 4’s Mirsky. ITV gets traction from 16-34s with Trevor McDonald, while Channel 4’s First Dates sees some of its biggest audience feedback when it features oldies.

- “There’s a lot of true crime being pitched” says the BBC’s Holland, unsurprising given Netflix high profile international hit Making a Murderer and HBO’s The Jinx.

- Channel 4 v Channel 5 war almost broke out between the two channel reps at the factual entertainment session when Channel 4’s Lucy Leveugle and Ninder Billing from C5 got into a spat over derivative programming. “What do you want me to do? Wrestle her?” Billing asked the session chair Neil Smith from Betty.

- “We can genuinely accelerate a format across the world” says TLC commissioning editor Mark Procter. Now is the time for the UK roll-out of the network’s format Say Yes to the Dress and dating show Undressed, being made by RDF’s Fizz Productions.

- The BBC’s head of specialist factual Tom McDonald and Channel 5 commissioning editor Lucy Willis both played clips from their twin shows on the wives of Henry VIII.  “We’re very pleased that we got ours out first,” says Willis.

- Discovery is going big. “It’s all about the scale and delivering programming that other broadcasters can’t deliver,” says Ed Sayer, vp production and development, Discovery Networks International.

- Talent needs to go on a personal journey. A+E UK director of programming Rachel Job was chuffed with the father-son relationship on its new show with Ozzy Osbourne and his son Jack  – both self-proclaimed history nerds. Hollywood A-lister Idris Elba is making a show for Discovery still under wraps (there was a clip of Elba’s painful attempt at the martial art of breaking a board). “We’ve got him on an extraordinary journey,” says Discovery’s Ed Sayer. “The challenge is to make him relatable…try to unpack him as a person.”

- Sky announced its new obdoc on the Freemasons at a DocFest session on access. Another bastion of society opening its doors. But why? Clearly there were the broadcaster and producer credentials. But also, “their membership was declining and so they let us in,” said Sky senior commissioning editor Siobhan Mulholland.

Pippa Considine is the producer of Televisual's Factual Festival


Posted 22 June 2016 by Pippa Considine

Michael Moore: a life in docs

Sheffield Doc/Fest kicks off today with Oscar-winning activist film-maker Michael Moore opening the festival with the UK premiere of his new film Where to Invade Next.

Michael Moore, now 61, has clocked up three decades of hard-hitting, funny and box office friendly feature documentaries.

Where to Invade Next sees Moore confronting some of the most pressing issues facing America today and finding solutions in the most unlikely places, including gourmet school lunches in France and Finland¹s homework free education system.

He has made seven doc features  - writing, directing, producing and narrating on the biggest issues in US life.

1989
GENERAL MOTORS & CORPORATE INJUSTICE
Roger & Me
His first feature doc chronicles his attempts to interview Roger Smith, the CEO of General Motors, at a time when the behemoth had closed car plants in Michigan impacting hugely on the local economy. In its time, it was the highest grossing documentary feature ever.

1998

THE POWER OF US CORPORATES
The Big One
The film follows Moore as he tours around the US to promote his book, Downsize This, a critical look at the power of US corporates and their negative effect on the country¹s economy. It shows Moore attempting to get answers from the chiefs of giant US companies and talking to people let down by the system.


2002
GUN CRIME AND VIOLENCE
Bowling for Columbine
Moore stirred a hornets¹ nest with his personal take on the causes of gun crime and the nature of violence in the US, with a focus on the Columbine High School Massacre that took place in 1999. He picked up an Oscar for best Documentary Feature.


2004
THE WAR ON TERROR
Fahrenheit 9/11
Probing the politics behind the war on terror, the Bin Laden family¹s links to the establishment and the leadership of George W Bush, Moore argues that the American corporate media were ‘cheerleaders’ for the 2003 invasion of Iraq and that there was insufficient rationale or analysis. The movie won the Palme D¹Or at Cannes in 2004 and is still the highest grossing feature doc of all time, having pulled in over US$200m at the box office.

2007
THE US HEALTHCARE SYSTEM
Sicko
This time healthcare comes under the spotlight as Moore examines America¹s health-care crisis, asking why millions are without coverage. He visits Canada, France and the UK to compare their systems of delivering a free-to-all health service.

2008
VOTER APATHY/ GEORGE BUSH
Slacker Uprising
Focused on the 2004 US elections, Moore tours swing states in an attempt to galvanize young voters to get behind John Kerry and the Democratic party as an alternative to George W Bush as president. It was one of the first feature docs to be released as a free download in the US and Canada.

2009
WALL STREET CORRUPTION
Capitalism: A Love Story
Centred on the economic crash of 2007 - 2010, the documentary is also an indictment of the current economic order. It contrasts 50s archive images about free enterprise with the economic disaster of the new century.





Posted 10 June 2016 by Pippa Considine

How to make a doc for binge viewing

Making A Murderer film-makers Moira Demos and Laura Ricciardi recently gave a masterclass at BAFTA on the run-away international documentary hit that Netflix launched in December of 2015.

Ricciardi, a former lawyer and Demos, a documentary editor, were graduate students on Columbia University’s film programme in 2005; they had also been dating for two years.



They read a story in the New York Times and decided to follow the story of Stephen Avery, who spent 18 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. In October 2005 two years after his exoneration and as he was filing a lawsuit against county officials for $36 million, a woman disappeared and Steven Avery was once again accused of murder.

The story gradually gathered momentum and the show morphed into a 10-parter across 10 years of on-off filming and editing. It was picked up by Netflix in its later stages and Netflix scheduled the series launch during the holiday period, so that audiences had time to watch in one go. Part one was put up on YouTube as a teaser campaign to drive Netflix subscriptions.

Here’s a list of the 10 critical elements of Demos and Ricciardi’s epic series.

1. Give the story structure.
Demos and Ricciardi agree that screen-writing is ingrained in them. Whilst the series is strictly documentary, they thought of the structure in terms of having written it and they understood how each of the main characters went on a journey. The over-arching journey was to give the viewers an experience akin to the one that they had experienced as they followed the story. The decision not to have a narrator was taken early on.

2. Pick a story and stay with it
The documentary was inspired by a newspaper cutting in 2005, which prompted Demos and Ricciardi to travel to Wisconsin with a camera. But the film was put together across 10 years. There were many dramatic, even surreal moments caught on camera, but there were also long periods of waiting. There were plenty of challenges, including the central fact that Avery was in prison throughout the shoot and there was minimal outside financing for the project for many years.

3. Make sure the stakes are big
As well as the personal jeopardy for Steven Avery and his co-accused, the series takes some massive themes, including how history gets written, the power of accusation and where accountability comes from.

4. Find a subject with plenty of conflict
The documentary is based on the history of two murders and centres on the inherently dramatic trial process. It also takes on the stories of family tensions, class tensions and the combative nature of the justice system.

5. Collaborate
Demos and Ricciardi knew that they were outsiders: two New Yorkers arriving in rural Wisconsin. They relied on collaboration with local media, family, lawyers and many others.

6. Use every source available
The series uses a wide variety of sources, including plenty of archive. It helped that there was an expansive law in Wisconsin allowing use of public footage, including interrogations by police.

7. Ask about perspectives not facts
The documentary relied on family and lawyers to speak for the accused. The many interviews that the pair recorded were focused on finding points of view, drawing out different perspectives. This also made sense when speaking with Avery as the ‘facts’ of the case were a legal no-go area.

8. Have the patience of a saint
The editorial process was one of the biggest challenges. There was over 1000 hours of footage and over 1000 hours of phone calls, as well as thousands of scanned documents.

9. Keep up the inspiration
The list of film makers who inspired Making a Murderer includes James Marsh, Joe Berlinger, Errol Morris, Barbara Gordon and Frederick Wiseman.

10. Find a broadcaster who will take it to the people
Initial talks with distributors framed the story in terms of a two-hour one-off or a four-parter. But Demos and Ricciardi wanted to avoid too much slick cutting and to take a deeper dive. The first meeting with Netflix was in the spring of 2013 when they already had an outline for an eight parter and rough cuts of the first three episodes. Netflix loved it, but the ink dried on a contract only in August 2014.  Although Netflix allowed for a few weeks’ extension to the 52-week agreed final schedule, they wanted it to air in the Christmas holidays.

Here is the first episode of Making a Murderer



Posted 08 June 2016 by Pippa Considine
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