Industry Report: Documentary
Olaf Grunert • Head of Unité THEMA, ARTE G.E.I.E., Strasbourg, France
- Could you tell us about ARTE’s editorial policy?
It is difficult because we are a bilingual broadcaster with different partners and requirements; there is a conference of programmes, where we meet up once a month to decide on our proposals from Germany and France. We have two main issues; one is Europe and the other is Culture. We have added much more over the years, (it began in 1992), but the more crucial ones, such as my slot THEMA have been there from the very beginning. Three years ago Culture was divided into Culture Documentary and Culture Debate, the number of programmes was not reduced.
We aim for channel audience, we don’t do sports or entertainment, except from movies, we do lots of feature films.
What criteria does a project has to meet in order for you to back it up?
It has to suit one of the outlines of a slot, such as History, Current Affairs, Expedition…We are unique in that we produce a 90 minutes documentary per week. There are documentaries on ARTE every night.
What is your annual production budget?
It is difficult to say since it’s divided between the broadcasters. I think in Salzburg we have €70 million, but that’s mainly for producing the new shows, which we do at HQ.
In terms of co-productions with other countries, how do you work?
We have co-production treaties with several European broadcasters; Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Greece, we have a certain amount of money dedicated to co-productions with each country. For example for Greece it is €50,000 a year, we also look for Greek co-productions to be produced with their own money, and also the Greek television is looking for French or German co-productions to invest their own money.
What countries do you coproduce the most with?
In the France side it would be France, also French speaking Canada, and in the German side it’s as well Canada and the UK, we do quite a lot of projects with the BBC and Solido.
What are the most important funding sources for documentaries in France?
If I work with a French producer he can apply for state funding, but if I work with a German producer he can’t, because there are different financing systems. In Germany usually the broadcaster is paying the major part of it and it will add much more than France would, because not all the money is coming from the broadcaster.
In what ways has the economic recession affected the way you work?
It has not affected us, since we are not buying ads. A lot of broadcasters are losing now because the activity in the ads market is going down, but we have a fixed budget until 2012 and I don’t think there will be major changes. Sure if our partners have less money it will also affect us, but I am not really pessimistic at the moment. In times of crisis people tend to stay more at home and watch television. They also want to get some solutions; therefore I think this moment is quite good for public television.
Don’t you think that television is somehow static at the moment?
I’m 53 years old. When I started in 1984, even the telefax was not invented and we had not mobile phones, it has changed so much within the last 25 years that you can’t really foresee what will happen.
Documentary Campus, 23 & 24 May 2009
Faster, Keener, Leaner, Meaner: Survival of the Fittest in Factual