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"È complicato guadagnarsi da vivere solo con i documentari: è un po' un percorso a ostacoli"

Rapporto industria: Documentario

Hervé Rony • Direttore generale, Scam


Il direttore generale di Scam fa il punto sulla situazione attuale dell'industria del documentario dal punto di vista della difesa degli autori

Hervé Rony  • Direttore generale, Scam

Questo articolo è disponibile in inglese.

Present at the 34th edition of Sunny Side of the Doc (from 19 to 22 June at La Rochelle) to discuss the current situation of the sector, the Scam (civil society of multimedia authors) represents nearly 50,000 authors, many of them French documentary filmmakers. We met up with Hervé Rony, its director general.

Cineuropa: What is the current economic situation for documentary creation in France?
Hervé Rony:
We’re seeing a stabilisation in terms of exploitation and broadcasting for the documentary in France, where public services (France Télévisions, Arte and parliamentary channels) represent around 60% of broadcasted documentaries and in-depth investigative works. It is worth noting that last year, TF1 and M6 have committed for the first time, in a small but unprecedented way, to participate in documentary production. There is also the return of a documentary politics at Canal+. Regarding the platforms, we see a relative stability from Netflix, based on an agreement with the Arcom that did not make us happy and which producers are trying to re-negotiate and increase, since documentary represents only 0.6% of Netflix’s investment obligations, which is very little. 

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Regarding selective support from the CNC, the volume of support for documentary has decreased, but this is partly explained by a reform from a few years ago which aimed to progressively exclude from the support system certain types of programmes that embraced a rather industrial format, in order to tighten up the criteria and to make sure that the CNC was more focused on single-topic documentaries and in-depth investigative works.

Finally, on a wider scale, the documentary genre is going through a period of renewal: like in the field of fiction but with a slight delay, we’re starting to see more and more documentary series — sometimes with a few “cliffhangers” and a real sense of suspense — although they’re still far from being in the majority. And we shouldn’t forget the successes for documentary filmmaking in the cinema and in large festivals, such as Nicolas Philibert’s On the Adamant [+leggi anche:
intervista: Nicolas Philibert
scheda film
at the Berlinale and the presence of two documentaries in Competition last month in Cannes (including Kaouther Ben Hania’s Four Daughters [+leggi anche:
intervista: Kaouther Ben Hania
scheda film
, one of the two winners of the Oeil d’Or award, which is organised by the Scam). This shows that something is happening in the documentary world, even if it remains as difficult as always in economic terms, with the genre representing only 1.3% of ticket sales in French cinemas in 2022. 

We often hear talk about the fragility of the financing model for documentaries. What is the main cause behind it?
The support for documentary filmmaking is not in question. In France, there is a system in place that is protected by public authorities: the CNC has the means to pursue its politics to support documentaries. But there is always the question of the rapport between volume, and selective investment. The tendency for France Télévisions at the moment, which is different from that of Arte, is to support slightly fewer documentaries but to offer bigger sums. Globally, the public sector has coped for several years with a freezing of investments going towards creation: budgets haven’t decreased, but they haven’t progressed. If we add to this the effects of inflation, this will result in a slight decrease in the sums invested. 

What to do about these investment sums that do not budge? Do we support the same amount of documentaries, even if some of them — though not all — end up being under-financed? Or do we take the difficult decision to reduce the number of documentaries in order to finance them better? It is also important to take into consideration the fact that these decisions have knock-on effects elsewhere. France Télévisons, for example, wants to develop more documentaries to be broadcast in the primetime evening slot, no doubt to rival with the platforms, and therefore develops documentary series which cost more money to make. We therefore start seeing documentaries that are very well financed, but of course, if you work with the same envelope and you decide to give (these are not real numbers, just figures to suggest orders of magnitude) €300,000 rather than €100,000 to a primetime documentary, the additional €200,000 you’re giving will of course not be going to other creative documentaries. When we say that the financing of documentaries is fragile, it’s because we’re working with a closed envelope and we’re often seeing painful trade-offs: either you make as many documentaries but they’re not very well financed, or you make fewer of them, you decrease the volume and you make the authors work less. But documentary is a protean genre, which complicates things further, because it’s important to ensure the diversity of sub-genres: documentaries about politics, societal issues, animals, science, history, art and culture, etc.

But it isn’t only a question of financing strictly speaking, because producers go around financiers with their projects and eventually manage to find the means to make their films, just about. Globally, it’s a shortage economy because apart from a few documentary filmmakers who shoot a lot, revenues remain extremely limited. Thankfully, we have signed with producers’ unions a minimum compensation agreement for authors. But we believe that for a documentary filmmaker to be able to live comfortably, they should be making two documentaries and a half per year. However, a solid single-topic documentary requires at least six months of work. We shouldn’t paint too bleak a picture, because France’s support system for audiovisual creation is exceptional compared to what is happening abroad, but it remains difficult to live off making single-topic documentaries: it is kind of an obstacle course. 

What about the expected increase in financing from platforms for the production of documentaries in France?
It isn’t very high, and it will always remain this way because we are very far from the volumes guaranteed by public bodies. Netflix has produced maybe seven or eight documentaries last year, series included, and even if they made 20 tomorrow morning, or if Disney and Amazon made ten each, this wouldn’t revolutionise the sector. This would mean that 40 authors would be working with a good amount of money to make rather mainstream documentaries, while last year, the Scam saw 3,000 authors declare documentaries and investigative features. This is the paradox of documentaries: those who have a lot of money to invest make very few of them, while those who have very little money make many of them.

This is also why the Scam is fighting for the continuation of the means that public services currently have at their disposal. We were very worried by the disappearance of the TV licence fee; its compensation by a part of the yield generated from taxes seems to work, but it’s not enough. Since the freezing of investments going towards creation by France Télévisions a few years ago, there are €110M available for documentary and in-depth investigative pieces, but this sum should have been revised a long time ago already. However, not only do public authorities not want to increase the means of public services; on top of that, TV channels must continue to invest in traditional linear channels all the while generating original programmes for their own platforms. I’m not saying that they are lacking money, but rather that they do not have enough to do all of that. We cannot, like France Télévisions did, create a platform for young people like Slash — a good idea since young people no longer watch linear channels, where the medium age of viewers is 65 years old — without at the same time taking too much money away from linear channels. It’s a very complicate equation and this is why the freezing of investments towards creation is something negative. However, there is potential for decentralised documentaries targeting young audiences, but this requires a specific type of writing and costs money. It’s true that there are more general questions about politics, the budget of the State, French audiences’ connection to public services, etc., that cannot be ignored. But at the end of the day, unfortunately, the result is that people are given the same amount of money even though they need to be doing more things today. 

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(Tradotto dal francese)

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