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WCSFP: the Kiwi take

Pacific Screen’s Amanda Evans trips across the Tasman to Melbourne and returns slightly overcome by the amount of information and opportunities on offer.

That lightheaded December feeling has set in – as the pressure to write Christmas cards mounts and the cumulative effects of serial imbibing start to kick in. This year it’s been exacerbated by attending the WCSFP in Melbourne last week. Four solid days of gripping sessions, negotiations and face to face time with broadcasters can leave a gal swooning, clutching her Berocca, and begging silently for mercy.

As a Wellington-based suitcase producer of factual series, I get little time in front of broadcasters in the best of weeks, but at the World Congress there were forty sessions to get up close and personal with broadcasters from around the world – including our own Phillipa Mossman from TVNZ 6 & 7.

It was an extraordinary opportunity to hear – from the mouths of the big players – what is being scheduled, what rated and what didn’t, which genres they’re shopping for, and importantly how much they’ll pay.

For Kiwis, it’s not your usual diet of TVNZ and TV3 – where a full commissioning conversation you could have in the lift on the way to breakfast. These are broadcasters including Nat Geo, Discovery, the Beeb, Channel 4, a plethora of European channels, and PBS in the States. As the conference was hosted in Melbourne this year, there was plenty of access to the Australian funders too.

Putting aside the opportunities to make contacts and get intelligence on global commissioning, there was a veritable smorgasbord of sessions to stimulate the mind. The standouts were “The Link – Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestors”, The Genographic Project, and a session on latest research on the workings on the human brain.

Okay, I’ll admit there’s not much application for those in my own slate – especially when the two main broadcasters here programme next to no science. However, to keep pumping out the proposals each year you do need to feed the imagination, to expose yourself to big ideas, and it’s exciting to meet fellow producers who are bringing these to the screen.

And if you started feeling guilty about attending too many sessions irrelevant to life in NZ, there were plenty for professional development – practical stuff like how to hand-rear a scientist, the nitty-gritty on co-financing and co-production deals, and how to reversion your next series to work for multiple broadcasters.

In tight economic times it’s easy, this side of the Tasman, to believe that we should be thinking smaller, not larger. However, if what I saw at World Congress is anything to go by, the most successful producers aren’t scaling back but are simply thinking smarter and more co-operatively.

The most profitable small production companies attending were making shows for a range of broadcasters, often across networks, in three languages, and co-producing in other territories with like-minded people. The age of making one show for one broadcaster and then hoping to flog it at Cannes the following year no longer seems to be a viable model.

Most Kiwi producers I know are resourceful, determined individuals and the only hindrance to working in this environment is our natural inclination to DIY, and a reluctance to share IP and budgets, although there’s the potential to make far more money from a smaller percentage of a greatly increased budget.

The other obvious hurdle to success is our attitude. A handful for smart Kiwi producers did attend but I struggled to get word out to Kiwi production companies about this Melbourne congress – just across the ditch.

Having attended the Florence WCSFP last year I’ve been blown away by its potential and very keen to share the love and spread the word about this incredible opportunity – just a three hour flight away.

Having briefed SPADA during the course of the year about the upcoming congress, I followed up with a request to get an email out to all members about the early bird rates for the registration in Melbourne.

I was shocked to be told that SPADA had taken a policy decision not to tell its members about WCSFP for fear that NZ producers would choose to attend Melbourne over its own conference in Wellington. It’s this sort of fearful thinking, and a lack of ability to look beyond our own shores for opportunities that continue to be our biggest barriers to success.

A dozen or so Kiwis did make the trip, including a contingent from NHNZ, who hosted a quiz night.

Surely NZ producers are old enough and smart enough to decide for themselves where best to spend their “stimulation” dollars? Are they being best served by the decision to withhold that industry intelligence? Go figure.

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