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HRTS Panel Speaks Glowingly About the Rise of Documentary on TV

Liesl Copland

By Nathan Wildes

Beverly Hills, CA (The Hollywood Times) 03/25/2018 – The Hollywood Radio & Television Society (HRTS) hosted a great panel Wednesday morning entitled “Who’s Buying and Watching Documentary on TV”.

The panelists included Alex Gibney, Academy Award winner for Taxi to the Dark Side, Dawn Porter whose work has appeared on HBO, PBS, Discovery and more, Liesl Copland, a partner at Endeavor Content financier for documentary films, and Vinnie Malhotra, Senior VP Unscripted Programming for Showtime Networks.

Dawn Porter

The panelists shared a glowing picture of the modern resurgence of documentary filmmaking.

Their expertise and stories from the field, as it were, about how and why documentary films and series are working with American viewers reflects an interesting confluence of changes that the industry has brought upon itself.  There are now so many avenues to get your work seen, the big players are forced to seek out the great projects and buy them rather than wait for the filmmakers to come to them with their hands out.

Alex Gibney
Writers Guild Awards, Cocktails, The Edison Ballroom, New York, USA – 19 Feb 2017 (Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Variety/REX/Shutterstock)

The independent production companies and distributors have the power now. But that power is not in making the project, rather in being the champion for the directors and writers to get their project done and seen by a large audience.

Many of the panelists come from the journalism world. They each reported that as the focus and goals of news programming have changed, documentaries have become the new way to get the big stories told; the hard news reported.

Vinnie Malhotra

The “commoditization of journalism” (as coined by moderator Molly Thompson, Senior VP A&E Networks) is what has cost the networks their position of power. Ultimately, it all comes down to the viewers and their demand for truth and information. Documentaries are the new source of that news and information. The networks have learned this.  That is why, according to the panel, the networks and their corporate partners are beginning to monetize a hot topic through copyrighted, scripted programming on the subject.

Molly Thompson (Photo: Stephen Lovekin/Variety/REX/Shutterstock)

They are also upping the licensing rates for content in an effort to force up the budgets of these documentaries. This is where the necessity of “fair use” protections becomes vital. As the market for these documentaries grows, filmmakers need to research the growing pool of financial backers for the right partner that believes in their project and has the resources to help get the project completed to maximum effect.

As moderator, Molly Thompson, highlighted in her opening statements about the discussion, there are currently as many as 30 networks and platforms producing and airing documentary features, series, and other programming. With that scale of an opportunity in front of documentary filmmakers, there has never been a better time for the great storytellers out there to find their subject, get the story told, and find the audience to watch and listen.

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