On the right side

Asian Side of the Doc (ASD) kicks off this year on March 19 in Tokyo. Now in its third year, the event has become a fi rm fi xture for the region’s documentary fi lmmakers and broadcasters. Co-organizer and documentary maker Keiko Bang, talks exclusively to TV ASIA Plus about the craft of factual programming and where the genre is at in Asia.


asd

TVAPlus: You were a key part of last year’s ASD in Seoul. What was the response like from local and international documentary makers about the event?

We saw an amazing number of exchanges and a lot of new partnerships were developed. I think what differentiates ASD from a lot of markets that we’ve had is that we’re actually reaching out to producers who don’t speak English. It’s incredibly important because although to do business you do need to speak English, there’s a learning curve. And to get people – at the beginning of that learning curve – is a great thing to build from. ASD is not just about new talent but also for veterans of the industry who are beginners at doing business in the international marketplace. It provides an international perspective and platform to meet.

TVAPlus: Co-productions are defi nitely increasing and giving more fi lmmakers opportunities to work together, is it now standard practice to seek out such partnerships here?

We found that there are so many great producers and they’re really interested in doing co-productions but they don’t even know where to begin. This is especially so in Korea and Japan. Both these markets are very big, very successful television markets. Japan is the second largest advertising market and the domestic industry was thriving for decades, but now with the downturn of advertising on television, you’re seeing that broadcasters are having to change the way they do business and producers are having to change the way they do business.

And people who have huge companies worth hundreds of millions of dollars, they’re producing documentaries – some of them are seeing their documentary blocks fade away and wondering how they’re going to survive and one of the things they need to do is to get out of their own marketplace, but you’re dealing with these guys who are at the top of their markets. In many ways they are just starting at the very beginning for international business. I think it is these veteran producers who can easily slip into an international co-production once they understand how it all works. We really need to learn right from the very beginning.

TVAPlus: Of course, the numbers of hours for factual programming has increased as well as channels – more so in Southeast Asia – but the funding has stayed about the same. Do you think coproductions are a necessity now to make high-quality content?

I think there are two aspects to that. I think that co-productions are sometimes necessary because of the subject matter. You might have found a ship that’s in international waters that belong to three different countries and their history. Coproductions arise because of money; they can arise sometimes because of treaties that have been established by countries to encourage trade. I know that for example in Korea, they have a scheme that has helped produce programmes with certain countries signed with the WTO (World Trade Organization). Finland, Norway and Singapore were some of them. And if you could do a co-production with them, then they were going to give you a hundred thousand dollars, for example. So it’s interesting to see how governments are now also an incredibly important part of co-productions.

Another reason why we need to do co-productions is because of the emergence of new media. I think that documentary conferences have been entirely focused on television. But I think that we really need to move that focus to a broader sense of moving images, visual imagery. Producers need to be thinking about the future and that means actually working with advertisers to fi gure out how through documentaries, without compromising our editorial integrity, we can actually access more audiences. They don’t often use documentary as a medium to sponsor so we have to think of new creative ways to do this. Partnerships is key.

TVAPlus: You meet and work with many commissioning editors throughout the world, what is their take on what they’re seeing being made in the region?

I think that they’re really excited at what’s happening. I think that for a long time people have only been able, to work with Asian producers or broadcasters who have established international divisions with people who speak English. I think for the fi rst time ever, they’re actually meeting really interesting producers and hearing amazing pitches. We maximized these opportunities at ASD in Seoul with multi-lingual translation and we plan to again in Tokyo. It’s also important that governments, broadcasters and producers are able to see and understand what commissioning editors from the West want in regards to content and its presentation.

Overall international broadcasters are seeing a different side of Asia. They’re really saying “wow this is an emerging marketplace and there’s much to tap into”. However, although we really love our international buyers and the people who are really dedicated to co-producing with Asia, from a real commercial standpoint, there’s always going to be a limit to how much Asian programming there is available. Demand still exceeds supply in some markets here. So the remedy is that we in Asia coproduce with each other. Sadly it doesn’t happen enough. We’re very fragmented.



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