June 1, 1998

The First MIPDOC

MIPDOC, held in Cannes on April 1 and 2, 1998, was the first ever "Reed Midem Organization event" dedicated exclusively to nonfiction television. Reed Midem is the company that "organizes 12 other international trade shows dedicated to music, multimedia, television and property throughout the world," including the MIPs and MIDEMs. The organization for these events is monumental, involving thousands of companies, tens of thousands of individuals, and hundreds of thousands of product hours. The spirit is that of the marketplace fully embraced; one MIP ad reads, "Buy, sell, make contacts, co-produce & raise capital. Do deals." That slogan says it all, for these were the reasons people came to MIPDOC.

These were reasons enough if you were a television buyer. The first MIPDOC was set up as a buyer's dream. A pre-market 560 page tome (plus a 90 page addendum) listed every program that was entered, with full color photos, synopsis and credits, arranged in one of the following categories: Adventures & Travel (some 91 programs); Art, Music & Culture (205); Current Affairs (219): Discoveries [Nature] (214); History (208); Lifestyles (118); and Science & Knowledge (109). Just like its counterpart at the big MIP, this invaluable publication carried advertising along with company contact information and photographs of registrants. Upon—registering, each of the 800 "non­-fictional programming professionals" received the guides in their canvas bag (Saban Entertainment logo), along with various promotional items, and had their photo taken and inserted in a most ingenious ID badge (Discovery Communication logo) that was designed to hold two sets of business cards—yours and those you collected.

The market was housed entirely in one location, the sinuously swanky Hotel Martinez—picture $400 a night guest rooms with a leopard print motif. The Maitinez, a mile down the Croissette from the Palais where the major MIP action is centered, is known as a hub of night-time bar activity during other Cannes festivals. This was perfect for the documentary crowd, since the bar proved to be the place where the action was—morning, noon, and night. Fortunately, the bar was outside the official MIPDOC area, because gaining admission to the various inner sancta was almost impossible without the appropriate credentials. Squads of attractive young French people, the women wearing Barbie-pink bouclé knit Jackie O suits, guarded every door.

Within MIPDOC proper there were four screening rooms, which together housed 160 video booths; two seminar presentation rooms; a central mailbox area; a cafe/lounge in which some tables could be reserved for pre-arranged meetings; the video library and a coffee bar. Three of the screening rooms were open only to those wearing a buyer's badge. The third was available to sellers who wanted to show their product and could manage to get a buyer into see it. Most buyers had pre-arranged their viewing schedules based on the guide. They disappeared into the screening rooms with stacks of tapes, an ideal and efficient use of their time.

Twice a day, every registered seller could pick up a computer printout that identified which buyers had checked out their titles. This enabled sellers to know who had (ostensibly) seen the tape, and to track down the buyers, either during MIPDOC, or later during the big MIP. This saved an immense amount of time since meetings could be arranged in which both parties knew instantly if they had anything to talk about. More time for the deal, less time wasted on the sell. Non-buyers who wanted to watch tapes (such as I) were pretty much out of luck. I heard of film festival representatives who were able to trade in their paiticipant badge for a buyers' badge and thus see some work. I probably could have pressed the matter and done that, too, but the real reason to be at MIPDOC is not to see documentaries, but to take meetings, and so that's what I did, along with everyone else.

The only organized respite from countless alfresco lattes were three seminars. Unfortunately, 2 of the 3 were scheduled on Thursday at overlapping times, so I was forced to pass on "The Evolution of Documentaries on French-Language Channels" in favor of "Market Simulation-Documentaries." Expertly moderated by Pat Ferns, President and CEO of the Banff Television Festival, this model pitch session presented real projects to: Richard Price, Chairman of Primetime Pie, a company which includes Britain's—largest independent TV distributor; Catherine Lamour, Head of Documentaries at Canal+ since 1983; and Johanne Brunet, a Canadian who is writing a doctoral thesis on international television co-production (and who had to leave midway to paiticipate in the French language panel.) An audience of about 60 people watched as the panel heard four pitches, two from France, one from Italy, and the most viable from Cafe Productions/Fox Lorber. Everyone was enthusiastic about Flying into the Future, three 52-min. episodes exploring the rebirth of lighter-than-air transport, pitched by Cafe's Simon Nasht, and already a U.S./U.K. co-production.

On Wednesday, there was a two-hour presentation on "Documentary: A New Multi-Genre Product, Spin-offs for Scripting, Formats and Multimedia Products." Although Pat Ferns did another admirable job of guiding the panel, there were too many diverse points of view at work. The multi-platforming of a single documentary into various forms—i.e., children's, adult, European, American, linear, inter­active, audio, print , etc.—needs desperately to be discussed, but this presentation never got to the heart of the matter. The people most expert at this, Discovery Communications, were not represented, and overall had a low profile at MIPDOC. Discovery made up for this at the big MIP, where their multi-level ocean-view, state-of-the-ait suite, with complimentary refreshments, was a highlight of the market.

Reed Midem aims to carry on with MIPDOC for two years more before assessing its success or failure. Most of the people I surveyed at the market and in follow-up conversations were enthusiastic, with a few qualifications. Adding two more days to the six already devoted to big MJP is wearing, to say the least. Cannes has its attractions, but there is a reason why its sister city in the U.S. is Beverly Hills. Imagine a Rodeo Drive at the beach where everyone who isn't a television executive is either a tourist or a gigolo. The expense of participating was daunting with a registration fee of 12,500 French Francs, about $2,225. U.S., plus travel, hotel and over-priced (if delicious) food. Although almost all the major production entities and international distributors were present, there were understandably very few independent documentary producers. Those who were there made the most of it, blanketing the mail boxes with flyers and working the opening and closing night parties with zeal. MIPDOC organizers reportedly have plans to make the market more serviceable for smaller independents.

IDA members showed real inventive­ness in handling MIPDOC. Board member Richard Propper carried a tabletop standup card bearing the Solid Entertainment logo with him and set it up so people could find him amid the Martinez bar crunch. D Network's Daniel Cobb from Australia staked out the entrance table at the closing party. HBO's Nancy Abrahams, Katy McDonald from BNN and Kathy Teter from National Geographic were tireless in their meeting-making. Richard Lorber was overheard at the opening night party trying to convince listeners that Titanic was a documentary. Of course, the cleverest remain trustees Ron Devillier and Brian Donegan, who as custom has it, took meetings on their yacht, where—I was assured by their shoreside representative, Linda Ekizian —that they were working very hard. As were we all.

 

BETSY A. McLANE holds the Ph.D. in Cinema from the University of Southern California and is Executive Director of the International Documentary Association, a position she has held since 1991.

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