New technologies offer new possibilities for the film industry, for creation, distribution but also for commissioning. What if documentary makers would not have to suck up to decision makers, what if it didn’t matter what they made or didn’t make before, what if the quality of the programme they were pitching was all that mattered?
It is all possible; a new and open way to commission documentary programmes was last night put to the test by Current TV. Under the name Open Season the broadcaster called in the help of viewers to decide which of four pitching documentary series would be chosen to air in the next season.
The four productions, of which two were produced by Current’s in-house production unit, offered an initial introduction and a pilot episode online, which viewers could review and rate.
Based on the feedback given by the online community and the audience who attended the final phase of the project at BAFTA, the broadcaster then made a decision on which series to run in 2012.
Taking in feedback
It might sound a bit more idyllic than it is in reality; after all, the broadcaster still has to choose which four shows would be up for critique. But there is no denying that the concept does bring a new open process to the market in which especially new documentary makers would have a more equal chance to get their programme on air.
Another advantage is that programmes can be more easily adjusted to what the viewers do want. As we could see last night, some ideas were not necessarily dismissed completely; it was the format which was judged not suitable for the topic, or vice versa. Listening to the audience ensures that filmmakers and broadcasters get higher rated programming all round and add more value to their work.
The green-lit programme
Documentary filmmaker/executive producer Andy Glynne triumphantly made his way through Current’s commissioning process with Dekay’s Guide to Estates. “The viewer’s opinion is always great insight and it is what filmmakers normally seek. It’s also nice to get such a quick and effective decision,” he said.
The man behind award winning series Animated Minds is in the DFG (documentary filmmakers group), does lots of films for broadcasters and is currently working with emerging filmmakers who are making films for Channel 4. Glynn emphasized the fact that there is often a discrepancy between what the audience and commissioners want. “I think the audience’s yes or no idea is very efficient, it’s a genuine, quick system of being chosen.”
Glynne’s documentary won the viewers hearts, and his top scored pilot episode will allow his series to be running in 2012. The aim of the “docu-rap” is to tackle real, humane matters and overcome some stereotypes. Dekay was the perfect urban character to execute Glynne’s idea, thus the name of the documentary. She can express through art all the struggles and obstacles she’s been through between being homeless, unemployed, and avoiding crime. “I spotted Dekay at a pitching event for BBC 4 on poverty, where the filmmaker pitches his story on homeless people,” he said. “We both sat down and thought, why not do some music documentaries? And that is how we started working on Dekay’s Guide to Estates.”
The big question is if this model is in any way sustainable and we think it definitely is. Agreeing with us were the panel of commissioning editors last night who said: “Television should be open like tonight and we’d get a better insight and better programmes, audiences won’t be dumbed down then. We’re really excited about this new concept and invite the audience to keep giving us feedback. We feel that this is a new way of making television.”