Our Case Study: How an ABC Australia commission for a signature doc special engaged a set of funding sources to execute a $1.2 million international co-pro.
The project: Dino Stampede, Prospero Productions and the Australian International Co-production Model ($U.S.)
Dino Stampede premieres on ABC1 on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. And in the U.S. on the Smithsonian Channel on Wednesday, December 7 at 8P (ET).
The case study was published March 2011, while we attended the vibrant AIDC – the Australian International Documentary Conference – in Adelaide.
- Julia Redwood came to television from her English and particularly Shakespearean studies. She ‘brought a fundamental passion for story telling’
- Ed Punchard was a deep sea diver who left behind a career in the North Sea oil industry to study maritime archaeology in Perth
- They were determined to make documentaries, despite their lack of formal training. They established Prospero Productions
- According to Punchard “We don’t want to sound hoity toity, but classical dramatic structure lay at the heart of our work from the very beginning.
- “Viewers want to follow the zig zag of a strong narrative, and then, sitting on the edge of their seats, be surprised by the final payoff.”
- The pair broke in with No Survivors: The Mysterious Loss of HMAS Sydney (1993)
- The story came out of Ed’s maritime archaeology expertise.
- The partners teamed up with a very experienced director who was well-regarded by Australian commissioners
Prospero’s Scale & Pipeline Today
- Since No Survivors, they have completed 110 films
- They now deliver 5 +/- hours / year
- Nearly all have been with an Australian broadcast license: ABC, SBS, commercial channels
- $3 +/- million annual turnover
- Two principals
- Head of development
- Coordinator of development
- Head of production
- Office manager / Accounting
- IT / Post
- Corporate development
- 1 hour
- Budget: $1.2 million +/-
- Prospero completed Death of the Mega-beastsin 2009
- Budget: $2.3 million
- Licensed to NG Channel in U.S.
- The Special is rich in CGI
- Won awards and commercial success
- They looked for a new dinosaur story with three key elements
- Compelling science
- Their researcher came across the Lark Quarry site in Western Queensland where thousands of dinosaur footprints are preserved in stone. There are more footprints there than at any other site
- “We saw that the drama of the site hinges on a fascinating question: Why did they run?”
- “There is a compelling cast of characters” adds Ed Punchard
- “The footprints capture the split-second movements of dinosaurs, and these are of all species and ages
- “Next, the scientists are engaged in a heroic quest: they are trying to figure out what caused the stampede
- “And the science is wonderful. Footprints are far more revealing than bones. They retain dynamic information. They unlock the animal’s behavior in a single moment. They capture relationships, for example between mother and offspring, and between pursuers and pursued.”
- Created a 1-sheet on A4 glossy
- “We pitched to the usual copro partners worldwide”
- “We didn’t need a sizzle reel because the commissioners were aware of the high quality CGI in Mega-beasts”
- ABC Australia showed early traction. They were looking for a program that met the following criteria:
- A big Sunday night special
- Award contender
- Australian location
- “And dinosaurs are an evergreen topic for the ABC audience”
- BBC Scotland and Smithsonian Channel U.S. were also interested
- Nat Geo Channel passed: the commissioners had recently green lit other dinosaur projects
Funding the Treatment
- The interest from broadcasters triggered the release of development funding from Screen West
- $20,000 (recoupable)
- We completed the treatment and budget, and we went back to the interested channels
About our Data
- Prospero provided data on the overall budget, the various government contributions, and the deficit.
- The estimates for the license fees and advance are based on our interview-based research and not contributed by Prospero.
- Documentary Television.com surveys the market for license fee information. We publish findings for many Factual channels in our newsletter and in our Sweet Spot Guide.
Partners & Contributions
- ABC has recently funded signature documentary specials for $150,000 +/-
- Rights: Free-to-air, 4 screenings, 7 years
- $100,000 +/- is their typical contribution
- Contributes $125,000 – $200,000+ for high quality science coproductions
- $150,000 recoupable
- $380,000 recoupable
National Geographic Television International
- Distribution advance: “Well below $50,000”
- Australian DVD: $5,000
- Deficit Finance
- Prospero Productions: $45,000 +/-
- According to Prospero “Our producer receivables are well in excess of $45,000. The deficit gets the project over the line.”
Dino Stampede is a case study in a unique financing solution. It is based on a cascade of benefits that are available only to Australian producers and their partners.
- Two keystones:
- The Australian license fee
- A minimum of 10% of the budget from international partners
- Australian productions that satisfy the criteria trigger:
- 20-30% of the budget from Screen Australia (investment)
- Another 14% as a producer tax offset
- And for West Australian producers: 12% of budget (investment)
Prospero’s Golden Rules
Beyond the financial model, we asked Julia Redwood and Ed Punchard to share the practices that have keep Prospero viable and competitive:
- Be flexible
- Agree in advance on the versions that will be created for the partners
- Carefully choose reasonable and flexible partners
- Never under-deliver
- Always tell great stories!
- Canada / U.S. Co-pro’s Get Easier: The Secrets of ‘Twinning’
!!THE SWEET SPOTS!!
‘Sweet Spots’ Study: What Do U.S. Networks Pay for Programs?
Production Cost Benchmarks: Signature / High / Sweet Spot / Low
Pipelines. Target Demos.
Key Programming Contacts, and More!
25+ U.S. Cable Channels:
Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, ID, Velocity, Bravo,
Documentary Channel, A&E, History, HI, Bio, Nat Geo, NG Wild, Ovation,
truTV, SyFy and many more!
Docs & Reality
Proprietary, interview-based research
Don’t make a pitch – or attend a job interview – without it!
Learn More …
Yet another outstanding report (the two part series). Relevant, up to date info on deficit financing is almost non-existent (I’ve been looking!) This will be going out to everyone in my company as required reading.