International Broadcasters Unite for Global Doc Initiative at Sunny Side of the Doc

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Seven international broadcast majors have teamed to launch a call for documentary proposals at the ongoing Sunny Side of the Doc market.

The international documentary coproduction unit of France Televisions is uniting with partners ZDF (Germany), Channel 4 (U.K.), CBC (Canada), SVT (Sweden), ORF (Austria) and ABC Australia, seeking proposals for high-end documentaries dealing with subjects in two categories. The first category focuses on ancient civilisations, archaeology, paleontology, geology and space exploration and the second on the subject ‘How cutting-edge science can provide solutions to save the planet.’

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Proposals should ideally be “an epic scientific adventure with international scope, following groups of international scientists in their fieldwork,” with “wide and international audience appeal” and “factual clarity combined with an engaging and emotional approach, creating a sense of awe” and are “visually spectacular, using the best of modern image-making techniques,” according to the broadcasters. They should have potential for a 90-minute feature, which can be edited to 52, 45 minutes or 2×52’ and the broadcasters say that they “will be attentive to equal representation, promoting women’s voices in the directing and writing, technical crew or front of camera.”

Subjects on health, social issues; an approach which is too dry and academic, difficult for a general public to grasp; and projects that are presenter-led are not encouraged.

An international jury composed of representatives from each broadcaster will select three projects, two in the first category and one in the second. Budgets will be up to €350,000 ($370,000) per documentary. The deadline for proposals is Oct. 14 and the winners will be revealed at the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers that takes place in Glasgow Nov. 28-Dec. 1.

“The aim is co-creating, and share financial and editorial forces to produce ambitious projects, because we all have faced difficulties to get the biggest projects because they are not easy to finance, and there’s a lot of competition,” Caroline Behar, director of international co-productions and acquisitions at France Televisions, told Variety. “We feel that if we gather and unite our forces as broadcasters, it will make things much more easier for everyone.”

“Projects of science are always fascinating, but they are not easy to finance. They require a lot of research, investigation, and scientific investigation on the field. So we really wanted to finance them well,” added Behar. “Also, we all need projects that are bringing something new to our audience. So we need to have projects that give us exclusivity. And it’s better to secure them when we are a group of broadcasters – we have a common common DNA.”

The initiative comes at a time when deep-pocketed global streamers are bankrolling documentaries, which found a new wave of popularity during the pandemic and several lockdowns.

“Producers spend a lot of time trying to raise funding and sometimes it delays the project. They go and see every broadcaster – it takes a lot of time. If we are a common entity, with one door for a project, producers will be able to come and see us and get an answer quite quickly. And it will also help them to get the big budgets they need,” said Behar.

“They are going to see the streamers because it is one door, and they are well financed, but the producers also appreciate working with broadcasters around the world and they like the creative discussions we can add around projects,” Behar said. “I think there’s room for everyone, but we really want to have big ambitious projects in the market.”

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