In an exclusive interview for ADN, Nicolas Deschamps, head of documentaries at ITV Studio France speaks about “Land of the Panda”, its first experience of production in China.
Could you introduce yourself?
After studying film and getting a Masters in cultural politics, I walked into the great family of media through the door of television. First at TV5, then France 3 and finally I joined the cast Télé Images International Group for 5 years. After that I joined Arte France where I was in charge of programs within the unit knowledge and discovery and also responsible for acquisition. Later I joined France 2 where I was most recently commissioned as an editor for nature programs before working for the French wildlife producer Boreales.
I joined ITV Studios France one and a half year ago to take responsibility for the documentary unit. ITV Studios France is a newly created subsidiary where I am the Head of the Department of Documentaries. We produce French-initiated projects with an international dimension.
What are the ambitions of ITV in the doc field?
The objective for ITV is to build a documentary department within the next year that would allow the creation of ambitious projects which could be shared by the world. International co-production is a must for us in order to reach the international standards which are required by the broadcasters’s growing demand.
How did you get involved and why are you interested in documentary industry?
I produced a few films in the past, but during the last few years my main activity was to choose, fund and support documentary programs for their broadcasting and dissemination. Today at ITV Studios France, I am completely focused on the production side as we intend to produce 5 to 6 documentaries per year, and international projects would be of priority.
How and when did you have your first contact with Asia?
The time I spent in the group Télé Images (now Zodiak) has opened the gate of Asia. We were representing the NHK on French territory and since then I have been maintaining friendships and strong professional relationships with Japan. Again this year, I had the opportunity and the chance to attend the Japan Prize in Tokyo as a jury member.
How many documentaries did you personally produce in or about Asia?
“Land of the Panda” is my first experience in the production of a doc, mainly in and about Asia.
Many docs have already been made about panda. What is the original angle of your project?
Our film is on the border between two worlds, the panda breeding centers and the natural reserves – everyone shares a part to protect this endangered species. Our knowledge and responses are still limited to allow this giant of nature to be able to thrive in harmony in threatened areas. This film tells the story of these men and women, scientists and naturalists who are seeking ways to reverse the trend. It’s a film where emotion is driving awareness. Listening to a nature in which we have just arrived and we still know too little.
The entire film was shot in China, in the Sichuan province, close to Chengdu, at the border of Vietnam and in the Quinling mountains.
What is the budget of the film?
Our budget is a typical budget for a wild life focused special. Our first broadcasting partners are France 2 and RTBF (Belgium) but we are also discussing pre-acquisition with 2 global doc networks.
Do you have Chinese partners?
It would have been almost impossible to film wildlife in China without the support from the appropriate authorities as pandas and many other animals in China have protected status.
The involment of China Intercontinental Communication Center, our co-producer, was both financial and logistical. CICC enabled us to achieve what was, at the beginning of the project, really difficult to reach. The CICC immediately believed in our project. [According to some press reports, the total amount contributed by the Chinese partners to the project amounted to about €120,000 [US$149,750], mostly in cash]
It is also important to mention a strong financial and practical support from the city of Chengdu which was brought to us because CICC has that relationship with Chengdu. It seems that many cities and provincial government in China are keen to engage with producers including foreign producers, but for us, this cooperation with Chengdu would have been impossible without an intermediary like CICC.
Without our 2 Chinese partners, the movie would never have been possible.
How long will you shoot and when do you intend to finish the production?
The shooting took place in two sessions and last 30 days. We are currently editing and we should have finished the film this summer. The broadcast will take place on France 2 next Christmas.
The doc is only for TV?
For the moment we are not planning any cinema version.
Has it been difficult to produce such a project?
In wildlife documentary there is always an element of risk. When we are working on something as fragile as the pandas, it’s even more risky. It requires the collaboration of a team that has put all its know-how to the project.
Do you have new documentary projects about/in China?
Having visited China as part of the production of this film was a revelation to me. Useless to return to the incredible richness of this culture, there seems to be so little face of this history and knowledge that sometimes disappeared. My main difficulty is finding the story that is strong enough to tell it. Science, Nature, History, all the gateways of knowledge interest me. I’m looking here from an author’s point of view – the singularity of a story – this is more a work of an alchemist than a gold digger. If I find it, for sure I am ready to jump on a new doc project in or about China.
Interview made by mail on 24 June 2012
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