Mandy Chang is leaving her post as legendary BBC-STORYVILLE‘s commissioning editor.
Last year she recapped her STORYVILLE strategy in detail for my panel at Taiwan’s virtual CCDF-CNEX Documentary Conference.
Our fellow expert panelists were:
- Hong Kong-based, Phoenix TV exec Haibo Huang
- And from Washington DC, all-knowing veteran programmer and senior consultant Dan Salerno.
Read on to understand Storyville’s recent strategy and priorities as new leadership comes on board.
- Mandy curates 20 films for the Storyville strand every year:
- BBC’s flagship international feature documentary strand
- The only international documentary strand on British TV networks
- Head of Documentary Acquisitions
- She buys “an enormous volume of content for BBC 1,2,3,4 and I-Player”
- Finds and develops content from across the globe
- Involved in every stage of the process, from Pre-production to Delivery
The Panel: Top: Peter (moderator) and Dan Salerno. Below: Haibo Huang and Mandy Chang
Rate the impact of COVID on your slice of the documentary economy, on a scale from 1-10:
- Between 6 and 7
- BBC was able to pivot very quickly and supplement content in all genres
- Storyville: a lot of films were already in the editing stage
- It has been a problem for projects shooting in North America
Development & Greenlighting
- COVID has impacted the development process
- We have never had more projects in development than right now
- Sizeable volume of proposals- sometimes fully-fledged films
- Greenlighting on developing has slowed down:
- Funding is an issue
- Modest amount of financing available for new projects: around $100,000
- Projects must be really worthwhile to secure funding
- Producers should use the BBC Online Submission Site
- If it’s not the right project for Storyville, then I reject immediately
- We try to give feedback when possible, not always the case because of the sheer volume
- I also receive submissions from other BBC commissioners
Developing New Talent
- Developing new talent is very important to Storyville
- Around one third of greenlit Storyville projects come from ‘newbies’
- Two thirds are from experienced filmmakers
- “We sometimes know ‘first time Storyville producers’ from the television world, but they’ve never made a feature doc”
- Half in the ‘experienced filmmakers’ category already have relationships with the BBC
- Some have never worked with Storyville before
COVID Challenges to Production
- Filmmakers have been quite creative in the pandemic
- Many filmmakers have found ways to get into the field in Europe and UK
- “We encourage filmmakers to find new ways of doing things, for example, by instructing participants to film themselves, recording virtual interviews, and so on.”
- Limitations bring forth creative innovation
- Two recent notable examples:
- Saudi Runaway was shot on Muna’s cellphone and acquired by Nat Geo at Sundance
- Mating is a Swedish film that uses cellphones and social media
- Totally Under Control, the new COVID doc from Alex Gibney, who has found ways to continue shooting in the U.S. (as many others have).
Storyville; “Nothing canceled”
- Some films have been delayed in the edit or in getting pickups, but nothing has been canceled
- Some projects have been pushed to next year
- The cancellation of so many scripted and reality programs has been an advantage for Storyville because the BBC is filling many of the gaps with documentaries
The Audience: What do the viewers want? What are they turning off?
- Storyville has a lot of dark films, particularly in the investigative and geo-political category
- Those films must have a social or political layer to fly at Storyville
- “We’re always looking for lighter films for balance”
- “We still have to reflect the world we live in!”
- “Make and Do” type content is popular right now in COVID.
- Examples are:
- Bob Ross’s series The Joy of Painting
- The Great British Sewing Bee
- Race Across the World
- Repair Shop
Are you looking for stories about COVID?
- There are a lot of COVID film submissions
- We’re trying to stay away from it for now because its thoroughly covered elsewhere
- Storyville wants the COVID story later when there will be deeper analysis and reflection
- The key Takeaway is that Storyville is not straying too far from our established brand during COVID
ENSLAVED: A Recent Initiative
- “We reversioned a wonderful 4-part series with Samuel L Jackson about slavery called Enslaved for BBC2. We hope it will bring a new and young audience to a subject that might not otherwise come to such a subject. Each film features a dive of a sunken wreck. Diving with a Purpose — “DWP” — features in these stories: Black divers whose mission is to bring ancestors forgotten stories to light… and of course Samuel L Jackson visits his roots, the stories and sites of enslavement. Its already screening on Epix in the US and went to air last Sunday.”
- Here is the Guardian review of Enslaved.
Changing BBC Eco-system
- The government is proposing to decriminalize non-payment of the license fee that funds the BBC
- This will have a huge financial impact on the BBC and on the budgets available for programs
- The new Director-General’s strategy for the BBC is:
- Fewer films but higher impact
- Maximise opportunities on iplayer
- Renewed commitment to impartiality
- Find more commercial opportunities for the BBC
- And diversity is critical!
- We have to find new ways of monetizing our programs: For example, BritBox is the streaming service partnership of ITV and BBC
- These changes won’t have a dramatic impact for Storyville as a strand, but the environment surrounding us is rapidly changing
More about Mandy Chang
- Read more about Mandy’s pre-Storyville career here
More recent UK posts
- BBC History Strategy: Sunny Side interview with commissioner Simon Young, buyer of 70+ hours / year
- UK Factual ratings in COVID: Land & Country is the winning theme
- UK Wildlife: Top 25 programs in the year of Covid. What next?
- UK History Programs: Top 25 in the Year of COVID
- Thanks to Mandy for her revealing presentation
- To Pat Ferns and the highly-organized CNEX team for such a well-produced panel.
- And to fellow panelists Haibo Huang and Dan Salerno
- Longtime Storyville curator Nick Fraser was always a gracious friend to my newsletter, and I’m sending Nick my very best wishes!
- I proudly co-EP’d with Stephanie Dangel A SHOT TO SAVE THE WORLD with Bill Gates for Smithsonian Networks and Storyville. Read more here and here.
- And Mandy, we wish you great success at Fremantle!
Don’t miss my Storyville / HBO Docs / Tribeca Case Study
- UNITED SKATES: A first documentary feature from Dyana Winkler & Tina Brown wins the Tribeca Audience Award, a HBO Deal and a Storyville slot. A case study with podcasts.