MIPDOC reality check: Youth, China, financing


Grabbing younger viewers, a growing interest in all things to do with China and the ever-problematic issues of financing topped the agenda at this year's MIPDOC, the two-day market devoted to documentaries and factual fare that precedes the Riviera-side program sales market kicking off today.

"To pull in younger audiences you really need something that is going to be shocking, that is actually going to grab them," said Joe Houlihan of U.K. production company TwoFour, which is presenting its new factual format "Make My Body Younger."

The show features people who have subjected their bodies to physical excesses such as alcohol and drugs and uses virtual reality techniques to simulate an "autopsy" on their bodies to show the extent of the damage they have inflicted.

The need to reach the young viewers so beloved by advertisers is changing the tectonics of the documentary market, said Andrea Gorfolova, president of Canadian producer/distributor Tricon Films

"We watch television very differently than we used to. It has to attract a younger generation of viewers with short attention spans. Reality is not going away. It's what television is going to be about," she added.

Gorfolova predicts that character-driven documentaries, hybrid genres and docusoaps will become a bigger part of the documentary and factual mix.

Tricon is distributing "Rocker Moms" about a group of suburban housewives who are part of a rock band.

"Broadcasters are looking for a lot of that style of programming, real people in real settings and the casting is really crucial, can make or break a show."

The hot topic at this year's market was undoubtedly a fascination with China, with a raft of shows examining the impact of China's growing global strength and economic growth, as well as its culture, politics, peoples and history — timed to coincide with the Beijing Olympics.

"China in a Torrent" from Japan's Media International Corp, "China Double Games" from Paris-based Ampersand, "The Dark Side of Macao" from Java Films" and "China Circus," from Amsterdam-based Off the Fence, were just a few of the offerings.

Endemol International's "Forbidden City," takes viewers into the secretive world of emperors, eunuchs and concubines. It also has an online virtual world where viewers can create their own avatars and enter a re-creation of the dazzling royal palace.

"City," an advertising funded co-production with IBM, is just one example of innovative ways to secure cash.

And when it comes to the job of financing big-budget productions, the game has become more complex than simply getting a broadcaster to put up cash, according to Alessandro Pavone, assistant producer at Performance Films.

Performance is in Cannes selling worldwide rights to the BBC-aired documentary "Shroud of Turin," fronted by BBC journalist Rageh Omaar.

"In this case, because we had such exclusive content, we put our own money in to finance two thirds of the $1 million production budget," he said. "That way we hold onto the international distribution rights, rather than handing them over to a broadcaster and having them own and control the show."

High-end documentary financing has become an increasingly expensive game, and now that full HD is standard for major markets, the costs are even higher.

"When you want to have independent filmmakers it's very hard," Pavone said. "But if you have the kind of content that you couldn't get anywhere else, setting up and controlling your own distribution makes financial sense."