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Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Resilience Rules at World Congress of Science & Factual Producers, 2022. Impressions by Indie Producer Ruth Berry

By Ruth Berry.

Six hundred eighty-four producers, broadcasters and content makers filled the cavernous (but warm) hall of Glasgow’s Scottish Events Campus for the 30th anniversary of WCSFP hosted by BBC Studios Scotland.

Over 30% of the delegates were newcomers.

It was always going to be special. After a three-year hiatus, contact was craved, masks were off, and the joy was infectious (hopefully that was all).

There was an overwhelming feeling of “return,” but not a return to normal.


Takeaways

  • The pick of 2022’s productions show a marked shift towards diversity in subject and style. Attenborough walked with dinosaurs, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia came to life, and brutal reality hit via cell phone images from the frontlines of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
  • Genres are being blurred. History, humour, science, sexuality — 2022 was the year production surged, when content makers and decision makers took risks.
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, Hitler and WW2 are still pulling audiences.
  • Business seemed to be booming in one-on-one and hybrid Zoom meetings.
  • Decision makers were booked back-to-back. Most were from pubcasters.

 

In this post-pandemic world, producers are experimenting with new production and distribution models through SVOD, FAST and digital solutions with a focus on curating for the tastes of a diverse audience.

  • Filmmakers are inventing practical tech solutions to enhance storytelling, through personally tailored equipment designed to capture unique wildlife behaviour, and an ambitious mix of traditional and virtual tools that transport the viewer into dangerous locations and past worlds.
  • True crime is still big; the entry point is access. It has to be jaw-dropping and noisy. The genre is becoming more imaginative, with deeper explorations of society and circumstance and even crimes against nature.
  • The urgency of telling stories about the global climate catastrophe raised questions about how we communicate to impact and bring about change.
  • Change has also come for production. The pandemic meant fewer crews flying to remote locations across the planet, and more opportunities for local creatives, a trend that may well open the door for a more inclusive and equitable industry.

NHK Japan

  • Notable was NHK’s large contingent of young producers, a deliberate strategy designed to introduce them into the global business after one of the longest lockdowns in the world.
  • At every opportunity NHK called for more co-productions.

Biggest Buzz

  • The biggest session buzz was not about programme making — rather, it was a spark of inspiration. For 45 minutes, space scientist and science communicator Dr. Maggie Aderin Pocock held the room spellbound as she told the story of her achievements in astronomy, against the odds.
  • Her big takeaway: be a stubborn optimist!
  • And that describes the overwhelming mood at Congress.

Last Word: Inspiration!

  • WCSFP 2022 proved that the specialist factual industry is resilient, and filled with stubborn optimists dedicated to telling stories regardless of the circumstances. All this despite the pandemic and the uncertain demand for programs as the streaming industry undergoes a shakeout.
  • As colleagues and friends reconnected after three years, newcomers connected with like-minded storytellers for the first time, what did they take away? In the words of one of the 11 WCSFP bursary winners, “the inspiration to make the changes that will make this industry better.”

Ruth Berry and Terra Mater Studios’ Sabine Holzer at MIPCOM ’22

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