In case you missed it! Behind the scenes of Netflix Documentaries

Since day one, documentaries have been part of the Netflix offering in order to provide the most powerful stories from around the world and open a window into other cultures and perspectives. This roundtable hosted at Sunny Side of the Doc 2021 provided a real opportunity to dive in Netflix's vision and ambitions in the documentary field from a French and European point of view. Make it happen and get in touch with Netflix representatives through our Guide to Decision Makers still available on MySunny Space.

About the session 

Kate Townsend, Netflix Director of Original Documentaries, based in London, specialised in global features and 2-part (documentary but not only);
Dolores Emile, Manager Unscripted and Docs Series – EMEA France Netflix, based in Paris;
Mark Edwards, Director, Original European Documentary Features, based in Paris
Philippe Levasseur, Head of International at Newen/CAPA Presse, who collaborated with Netflix on the documentary series « Room 2806 : The Accusation » ;
Paul Martin, Co-Owner Box to Box Films, a multi-platform media company specialised in sports contents behind the series « Formula 1 : drive to survive ».

Moderated by Melanie Goodfellow, Senior Correspondent, Europe & Middle East at Screen International.

All speakers joined at this year’s Sunny Side of the Doc for a revealing panel session, including key information every producer should know, as well as examples of successful collaborations with European documentary producers.

Find more info and contact them with our expanded and updated Sunny Side of the Doc Guide to Documentary Decision Makers now available for €90 Excl. Tax on MySunny Space.

​>> Watch the full video here << 

A new management team in Europe

KATE TOWNSEND: "In London, we’re doing global documentaries from pretty much anywhere in the world, English language or non-English language."

MARK EDWARDS (previously at Arte) joined Netflix last summer to run the European documentary slate, based in Paris. Kate follows up by going deeper in the Netflix organisation dedicated to documentary.

DOLORES EMILE added that the European team includes a Netflix office in Italy, Spain, Middle East… She explained that any local office can be directly contacted to submit a project but she is also the tipping point and can forward a local project to national offices.  

Access all contact details in our Guide to Decision Makers.

How to create a documentary pitch for Netflix  

For Netflix, "story is the main benchmark ; story AND character."
The streamer receives a lot of projects by e-mail, at any stage : concept ("even if we’re not keen on 4-pages pitch"), development and they are of course open to new voices, new talents.
Netflix needs to know the team behind the projects, who are the talents that drive the idea; plus a list of contributors and a direct access to them.
Execution is the key : between 2 teams proposing the same project, team details, list of contributors, access and execution capability will impact on the final choice.
Scouting in various events all around the world, such as Sunny Side of the Doc, is, of course, one way to meet these new voices and find good projects.
• DOLORES EMILE provided a more detailed insight into the French production of documentary series. "We need a lot of materials, great stories, character drive, a lot of twists and turns, cliffhangers. But the general approach is still the same : to show and entertain."

- Sending an e-mail to Kate, Dolores or the local offices…
- Check Sunny Side’s Guide to Documentary Decision Makers for Dolores’ contact information.
- Presenting a project in you mothertongue language is fine even if English is appreciated as well.
- Netflix does not do development. "So, you need to have a director and production company and you need to provided a full pitch deck, with number of episodes, synopsis, look/feel to start the conversation."    

About "Room 2806 : The Accusation"

The 4-parter presented at Sunny Side of the Doc 2020 is produced by France’s CAPA Productions follows the sexual assault case in New York involving French presidential candidate and IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
• PHILIPPE LEVASSEUR explained why Newen decided to revisit this story that had a huge impact in the French politics and beyond. It was really interesting, 10 years after, to let witnesses to talk about a case that, in some way, has been the starting point of "MeToo" movement. A lot of development went into securing access of these new people who never testified before.

• Why Netflix came on board? It’s a story that will speak to a French audience but also that will resonate globally. The case itself was very rich in themes and Philippe had strong access points to involve more testimonials.
"Having Netflix on board helped in a way that for the first time some voices could be heard in a global platform", explained Levasseur.    

About "Formula 1 : Drive to Survive" Season 3

• With the US-led series "Drive to Survive", Netflix wanted to find global sports property and Formula 1 met those kinds of expectations. At the same time, Formula 1 wanted - beyond the broadcasts of Grands Prix - to reach a global audience that only a platform can allow. 

• The strength of the production – and it was a important point for Netflix - was also in its execution. Formula 1 is a very closed world and we were able to open up, to be able to meet the teams, the drivers and their teams into the paddocks. In the same time, the entertain dimension is obvious : the show needs to be big, to be noisy, with conflicts, cliffhangers…

"With Netflix, it was a very collaborative process, from Day 1", stressed Martin. "The difference between a public broadcaster-backed production and a platform isn't just more money, although having more money is comfortable. This is, in my opinion, ambition. And that's what we found with Netflix."     

Formula 1 - Drive to Survive available on Netflix

Breaking Into New Territories with Local-Language Content

DOLORES : "We try to empower local production companies, local talents, local directors, new creatives to tell French stories which is the most important. My goal is to appeal the French audience but as great stories are great stories everywhere, they tend to travel, let say."
"We want to make sure we are doing it (the Netflix projects) for purists and for tourists."
The SMAD decree bringing into French law the EU’s 2018 Audiovisual Media Services Directive, requires streamers to to contribute at least 20% of their revenues in France to European audiovisual and theatrical film productions (including 85% of French language fare), and 25% if they want to run recent movies in a window of 12 months or less after theatrical release (as opposed to the current 36 months).      


Investing in Original Content That Travels  

Netflix is looking for non-English language documentary series (from Asia and more globally) with a first interest in the local territor and a potential for global audiences on a second level.

"We’re interested in every subject but, for France, for now, technology, environment and bigger scale subject are not the priority. It’s slightly different in the US", Dolores added.

• Cultural and musical documentaries are in the scope as well.

• With regards to natural history, Netflix is interested in more content, but "we’ve got several in production right now. You can pitch to us, but bear in mind that we don’t do development."       

documentary  |  Interview  |  #SSD21  |  Storytelling Matters  |  Sunny side of the Doc 2021



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