Five takeaways from World Congress of Science and Factual Producers 2020

Gemma Greene, head of development at British factual indie Icon Films, shares with TBI what key lessons she learned at this year’s Science Congress. 

We should all have been enjoying the bonhomie and Christmas lights of Strasbourg this week – but instead this year’s World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) was another virtual conference in the reality of a very weird 2020.

Despite this, some things remained the same. As usual, this world leading factual TV conference kicked off with the popular ‘What’s the Buzz’ session which underlined what an extraordinary year it’s been. Worldwide lockdowns led to record viewing figures, a thirst for nature, travel and adventure programming and a glut of fantastic science content. Slow TV also gained new followers… well, we all had time to kill, didn’t we?

It was a fascinating week – and here were some of my lessons learned from some of the many excellent sessions WCSFP had to offer:

The show must go on

Production companies, including us here at Icon Films, had to find creative ways to keep shows running in 2020. From moving whole edit suites into people’s bedrooms, to presenters self-filming in their basements, this year turned our preconceptions about how to make a documentary on its head. Nutopia, we discovered, used ‘drop kits’ of camera and sound equipment to film high quality interviews remotely and PDs across the world directed remotely via real time monitors. Many companies are going to take these newly learnt lessons and apply them in the future, as they not only save money but reduce our carbon footprint.

The content we’re producing can live in many different places at different moments

Just producing for one channel can limit your reach. We should all be thinking of utilising multiple platforms and media as a way to reach different demographics, and integrating this early on in our development and storytelling approach.

‘Escapism’ is the buzz word

Audiences have been living vicariously through their TV screens this year, which saw natural history, travel and adventure shows as the big ratings winners. Science Congress highlighted that commissioners want more of this for 2021 and with travel windows slowly opening up, there are opportunities to win business in this area. But savvy companies will be combing this with…

Local Talent

Not only does this cut down on the amount of people we’re flying around the world and potentially cut costs, it also helps us bring more diverse faces into the production team. And whilst this could feel like a box ticking exercise, the knowledge of the people living on the ground is invaluable and can bring new elements to our storytelling. This was touched on in the ‘Woke World’ session. For too long (especially in natural history) we have assumed the best people for the job were the few trusted filmmakers we would fly out of the UK again and again rather than investing in a local talent pool who know their home turf better than anyone. This year has accelerated change in this area which can only be a good thing. 

Diversity, Diversity, Diversity

Not just on screen, but behind the camera, in the office and everywhere. We’ve all been talking about it for a long time, but it finally feels like change is coming and indeed many networks are insisting on it. Our audience reach will only become wider if we include more diverse talent and voices in every stage of production.

This year, festivals and conferences such as Wildscreen and Science Congress have done a fantastic job of bringing the community together online. The sessions were as good as always – if not better in some cases – as big names were attracted by not having to give up much time. The decreased cost of partaking, due to no travel or accommodation also opens Congress up to people that otherwise wouldn’t have been able to come and the on-demand facility means we’re not tied to strict timetables.

Whilst I personally miss the face-to-face networking and socialising these events bring, (and I hope that next year will see us all meeting up again) I believe continuing to have a virtual element to these events makes them much more accessible and combines the best of both worlds.                             

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