Skip to main content

Notes from the Reel World: The President's Column, April 2005

By Richard Propper

Dear IDA Members,

In the world of nonfiction filmmaking, January and February brought NATPE, the Sundance Film Festival and the RealScreen Summit, all within three weeks of each other, with IDA representation at all three events. I attended the RealScreen Summit in Washington, DC, which attracted nearly 1,100 people for three days of seminars and discussions about the creativity and business of the nonfiction form. While the seminars went on downstairs, the business of selling went on upstairs in the lobby. I saw a great number of buyers outlining their programming needs in 30-minute sessions and then dash to the lobby for three hours of listening to various pitches. I spoke with one producer who had an appointment with a broadcaster, but no projects tailored for this channel. He made up his pitch a few minutes before his meeting and gave it a shot. 

I moderated a panel entitled "Programming from the Inside Out," comprised of programmers from TRIO, National Geographic and A&E. I asked about the magic of composing a network schedule. Scheduling, as we believe it to be, is sterile. For the smaller, non-rated networks, it's easier to make changes and go with more unconventional documentaries. Larger networks engage and delete programming based on ratings, which drive advertising sales. Good programs attract more viewers, bad ones don't. Or do they? As we found out, average programs promoted well can also get high ratings. Great programs with no promotion achieve lackluster ratings. Do networks try programs at various times for better results? Yes, thankfully, but it's usually those programs in which they have an investment. 

The Writers Guild of America presented its first ever Documentary Screenplay Award for Outstanding Achievement in documentary writing for the big screen. About 300 people were in attendance, and Morgan Spurlock earned the honor for Super Size Me. This award is yet another brick laid in the foundation of the documentary form. The power of narrative structure manifests itself in almost all documentaries, but the most poignant present themselves in a simple, elegant structure.

For 2005, the IDA has an ongoing effort to bring events to the East Coast. We just presented DocuDay New York, sponsored by Sundance Channel. For our first major East Coast event of the year, it was truly successful; all of the Oscar-nominated features and short documentaries were showcased in one day at the Directors Guild of America Theater. We are planning to have more East Coast events this year.  Stay tuned!


Until next time,

Richard Propper
IDA President