Questions to Elisabeth Hagstedt, Head of Acquisitions, Coproductions & Programming – Histoire

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The TF1 group pay channel is celebrating its 20 years’ anniversary at Sunny Side of the Doc and become the official “Historic” focus sponsor of the international documentary marketplace’s 28th edition, from June 19-22 2017 in La Rochelle France. In order to highlight this event, Histoire is offering for this year’s edition a networking lunch to talk with professionals on the channel’s projects, a presentation of an exclusive VR production, a public projection of The Hallow Crown’s first 2 episodes of the season 2 in CGR Dragon on Tuesday, 20 June.  This year at Sunny Side, Histoire will be giving an award in the form of a pre-buy for a project presented during the pitching sessions.

How many hours of documentary programs are aired on Histoire ? How did the channel’s editorial line changed in this particular film genre in the past 20 years ? 

Portrait Elisabeth Hagstedt 2017

Elisabeth Hagstedt, Head of Acquisitions, Coproductions & Programming – Histoire

Elisabeth Hagstedt:  We broadcast around 300 fresh hours/year, with repeats around 900 hours. Knowing the channel since its launch, I would say that Histoire has kept its fundamental values of credibility and quality and its editorial line, treating all periods of time, and a very large spectre of subjects (from ancient civilizations to geopolitics and arts) and formats (documentaries, films, shows…).

The media landscape has changed a lot in 20 years and the demands of the public have evolved, too. In the plethora of the media offer, the viewers need brands with a clear, distinguishing message and Histoire has profited from this development. The last years, we have also extended further our exposal of art-and idea history in all forms – fine art, music, theatre, photography, film, philosophy… – becoming even more a cultural channel than before. We have consistently increased the number of first runs, whether these are acquisitions or productions. We produce more French versions of international titles, have developed a prebuy strategy of foreign documentaries and, on the French side, invest more in our coproductions in order to be first broadcaster. The 1st run in France of “The Hollow Crown” this June is a further development of this strategy that we are very excited about.

The Histoire channel will award on June, 22 a pre-buy prize for a selected project pitched at Sunny Side of the Doc 2017. What should be pitched to get your attention at La Rochelle ? 

Elisabeth Hagstedt: What we would like to promote with this award are projects that contain the ingredients listed above – originality, pertinence, intelligence…- and in which the format is optimized to serve the story.

The quality of the writing also has a huge impact to make a film compelling. It is more about ideas and judicious conception than effects. The production organization should be convincing of course. Our investment is moderate – 6.000 euros for a 52’ and 9.000 euros for a 90’ -  so the producer needs to present a smart and realistic financing plan.

What is your view on pre-buy and co-production matters in order to inform the producers of history documentaries’ community before the market ?

We have different levels of prebuy investment. A documentary considered as particularly interesting or useful in a thematic programming could attain the above mentioned levels for a second run. But we also do a lot of international prebuys at a lower investment – about 30-35% above normal acquisition fee – which for us secure an attractive content (with a certain risk as for the end result) and of course permit the producers to secure financing at the production stage.

The relatively moderate prebuy levels are explained by our “first-run strategy” and thus the investment we need to put into the coproductions. We concentrate our means on the projects that have a special appeal to us, correspond to our programming priorities and are of the right budget in order for us to be first broadcaster in France with a contribution of 20-25.000 euros / hour. On these projects, we are often an active part in searching for other partners as archive contributors or other European broadcasters. We have a strong belief in the further development of these partnerships that are profitable for everyone.

There is, however, no absolute rule – in exceptional cases, our investments can be higher.

What kind of documentaries are you looking for in terms of acquisitions on the international market ? Do you order original programmes outside of France ?

As we always look for projects with an original angle or treatment, which will distinguish Histoire from other documentary channels, meeting producers from different horizons is essential.

The Sunny Side is for us the occasion to meet producers from outside of Paris – we talk about the many production companies installed in other regions of France, and also about the international producers that attend the market. This market has permitted us to move forward on many productions, French as well as European and even Asian. There is no rule concerning format or genre. Our grid contains all classic history subjects, from Prehistory and Antiquity to modern times (not current, though), but also an important volume of culture. And we do not mind when different genres interlace: politics and art history, societal evolution and cinema, literature and war…

The scope of subjects that could interest us is thus large, and I prefer to define our search in terms of quality: smart, relevant, well-documented projects that present something new – and that have a solid production behind them (whether the budget is small or important).

Aimé Césaire, a French writer and politics wrote :” People without memory has no future”. Is innovation a challenge in history documentaries storytelling in order to attract a younger audience to that film genre ? What is the Histoire channel putting in place to achieve this objective ?  

Our motto is “High transmission” which indeed is an adhesion and a response to the Aimé Césaire quotation. It means that we intend to transmit knowledge and comprehension of the past to all audiences, at a high engagement level. We want to spark “pleasure of sense” (as well as “pleasure of the senses”!).

As the profile of the young audiences has changed significantly these last years, captivating them is a true challenge which we however accost with a certain serenity. We already have a wide range of narrative formats, and always look for new ways to tell a story. Recent examples of this are the coproductions “The Librarian” (Films de l’Aqueduc) by Catherine Bernstein and “Alexandre Marius Jacob” (Les Films Grain de Sable) by Olivier Durie that use very original methods to enhance the narrative. They are examples of great innovation: surprising and captivating as well as highly documented and astute. Technical innovation is also important. Our 360 projects, introduced at the Sunny Side this year, are part of this effort – this kind of experience is one way to give history a future, which is a main objective for the channel.