Cannes: Persistence, persistence, persistence is required to sell a documentary was the message expressed at MIPDOC’s conference session How To Make The Deal by panellists Celine Payot, ZED (France); Marian Williams, Discovery Networks Europe (UK); Ellen Windemuth, Off The Fence (The Netherlands) and Gary Lico, Cable Ready Corporation (US) who chaired the discussion.
Windemuth, who is well known in South Africa to documentary-makers whose films she distributes internationally, said that the two key elements in making a deal are faith and timing. “You have to have faith in your partners. You have to make sure they speak as you do and they deliver.’ You need to be aware of the right timing and to pitch a 13-part series when you’ve never worked with the company will not get you the deal.
There are advantages in working in different parts of the world, said Windemuth who explained she had recently opened an office in Cape Town and Singapore. The advantage of Cape Town was the reasonable cost of post production and that one was at the doorstep of Africa’s wildlife. “About 60% of what we do is wildlife.’
A deal could be facilitated if one worked with a broadcaster or editorial partner with similar concepts and ideas to yourself, said Williams. “But don’t bankrupt yourself,’ she warned. Sometimes producers think their project will work for other broadcasters and they will spend weeks afterwards arguing how to edit it. “Put that in the budget. It’s a mistake to discuss that afterwards.’
Persistence paid off for Payot from France-based ZED who after four years of trying to persuade broadcasters to buy Take On The Moon featuring never seen footage of Russia’s technological developments to get to the moon. Finally a break came when the Science Channel in the US and the BBC in the UK expressed interest. “With these two broadcasters involved, we managed to get Discovery on board.’ She then went back to France 5 who then came up with 65% of the financing. “Don’t give up, be persistent and don’t hesitate to go and see people again. Once you have a broadcaster in, it will be easier to get others on board.’