Industry Report: Documentary
Barbara Truyen • Commissioning Editor Documentaries, VPRO TV, Hilversum, The Netherlands
16/07/2009 - How many hours of documentary do you produce per year?
My slots are character-driven documentaries, which make a total of 16 hours per year (12 national / 4 international), although the average amount varies. Their lengths are 55’ and sometimes 75’ or 90’.
How do you distribute your budget?
75% of it goes to national co-productions and 25% to international co-productions.
What percentage of the documentaries broadcasted by your channel are European but not local to The Netherlands?
I’ve got 47 documentaries in different stages of production now, a third or two quarters are international co-productions, so that’s about 10-12. There are two American projects and the rest are European.
What countries do you coproduce the most with?
Sweden, lots with the UK, now in Germany, Russia, Belgium and France.
What are the most relevant funding sources for documentary in The Netherlands?
There are two big funds funded by the Government, the one called CoBo Fund, it’s a coproduction fund out of cable money for the retransmission of the three Dutch public channels paid by Belgian and German cable users. If we coproduce with a Belgium or German producer we can triple whatever we put in; or if it’s with a Film Fund and a distributor you have the distribution guaranteed. They can actually make your money grow by ten times.
Then there is the MEDIA Fund, also financed through the Government. Broadcasters can apply, we produce together. If, for example, I put in €60,000, they put €240,000, and my €60,000 becomes €300,000. It is a very important funding for us.
You don’t seem very affected by the economic recession…
In public broadcasting we are sort of a steady ship, only if the funding goes down it will be hard. I do think this will happen, but not because of the credit crunch, just because they want to spend their money in cross-media programs and will take the money from the TV budget.
There were talks of TV being static and multiplatform in the future. Do you really think this is how it is going to be?
I think multiplatform is the only way to reach your viewers, because they are not just sitting in front of the television anymore. So you need plenty of different ways to reach them. If it really makes sense for a project to go cross-media then you should, but if it’s only a specific group of people or the community is too small, then it doesn’t really make sense.
Not only do you have to research what kind of audience you are addressing to but also now the platforms you are going to use. Such is the case of making films for iPods, for example.
What we do with iPods is something called mini-movies, with Submarinechannel, a production company in Amsterdam, where we make web-based documentaries and shorts. And because you have to see them on your phone it means that there can’t be any subtitling, because you can’t read it on your phone, only with voice over. It implies a very fast editing and lots of close ups, because if it is distant, the landscape does not come across very well. So we have a very special way of making documentaries for phones.
What do you look for in a project?
I look for universal, inspiring contemporary experiences. ‘Universal’ because they have to really reach out my audience and understand what is about. It can be a Finnish film or a Russian film, as long as they can identify with it. ‘Contemporary’ because I like to be in “the here and now”. There is so much history, so much reflexion out there already. And ‘experiences’ because I really think that my films are to be experienced rather than watched. You need to really identify with the characters. I think it is essential to watch something that cheers you up or makes you think. This also means I don’t do political documentaries or current affairs; it is more about la condition humaine; how we live our lives, how we deal with them and how we treat each other. It also has to be quirky.
Documentary Campus, 23 & 24 May 2009
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