Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc


I always marvel at how co-producers get it done.

Particularly now!

The fickle, ever-changing market in the Netflix Era creates huge obstacle to success.

In my Case Study presentation for the MIPDOC Coproduction Summit, I moderated a conversation with two inspiring co-producers, Nikolas Hülbusch and Jia Zhao— who did get it done!

Their project is TIME: A JOURNEY THROUGH THOUSANDS OF YEARS, a ZDF co-production with CHINA MEDIA GROUP (formerly CCTV) in association with ZDF STUDIOS, and ARTE.

The budget: approximately €1.2 million.

Why did we pick this project?

  • TIME captures the type of fresh thinking about content and partners required to get coproduction deals done, and the program delivered.
  • The project is a reminder that European, particularly German public broadcasters are resilient funders of factual programs.
  • And CHINA has long been the “out-of-reach promised land” for hopeful co-producers. Is China back?

Nikolas and Jia joined me for this webinar to recap our conversation at MIPDOC 2024.

Watch here (26 min)


[1:15] Introductions: Meet Nikolas Hülbusch of ZDF Studios (Germany) and Jia Zhao of Off the Fence (Netherlands).

[2:30] How the pandemic helped shape the idea for TIME.

[3:45] TIME’s appeal: A global topic that unites cultures and audiences.

[5:35] The Timeline: From pitch to pre-production.

[7:00] Watch the trailer for TIME.

[11:30] The challenge of visually depicting time: CGI helped connect differences in perception.

[12:45] Were there any cultural differences in the approach to the story arc or format?

[16:45] Did the emerging global great power rivalry between China and the West influence the production?

[19:30] Lessons learned: How to approach co-productions with a giant market and culture like China’s.

[22:00]  Nikolas’s and Jia’s key takeaway: it takes the right person and the right project at the right time.

[23:35] Nikolas’s additional takeaway: creative and open-minded collaborators are key.

And more from ZDF Studios describing TIME: A JOURNEY THROUGH THOUSANDS OF YEARS.


Nikolas Hülbusch, Directed of Unscripted at ZDF STUDIOS

Nikolas joined ZDF STUDIOS (then ZDF Enterprises) in 1997. In 2001, he took over a new position as project manager for documentary co-production. Since then Nikolas has negotiated numerous wildlife, history and science documentary co-productions with partners including the BBC, Discovery, Nat Geo, History, France 5, as well as distribution mandate deals with numerous international factual production companies such as Impossible Pictures, NHNZ, Screen Glue, WMR, Wild Bear, Yap Films, etc. In 2013, he became director and deputy head of the ZDFE.factual and – since 2018 — of the enlarged Unscripted genre team.

Jia Zhao, Director Co-Production & Sales Asia at OFF THE FENCE
Jia is responsible for sales, co-financing & co-productions in Asia, along with the responsibility of distribution of the Waterbear Network in China. Jia studied life sciences in China, Japan, and the Netherlands, as well as visual arts at the Rietveld Art Academy, Amsterdam. Alongside her work with Off the Fence, Jia is also a critically acclaimed producer and the founder of MUYI FILM and SILK ROAD FILM SALON, where she works with European and Asian producers/directors and focuses on film productions with intercultural themes and international potential. Jia speaks fluently Chinese, Japanese, English, and Dutch. Here is Jia’s bio as a producer.

More Webinars from MIPDOC & MIPTV 2024


More Success Stories

My deeply-researched case studies reveal how ‘regular’ producers work with their buyers and funders to overcome great challenges and deliver their productions to grateful audiences worldwide:

How they did it! Read my Success Story anthology: