Llinos Griffin-Williams, executive producer of factual & international co-productions at Welsh indie Wildflame, discusses what it takes for international co-productions to succeed, ahead of the launch of Yellowstone Supervolcano: American Doomsday, which is headed to US streamer Discovery+ on 24 June and the UK’s Channel 5 later this year.
Pitching international projects takes commitment, investment and dedication. It’s not just about money – it’s about investment in and a commitment to people and relationships. Wildflame committed to focusing on international broadcasters and co-productions over 18 months ago. Those much sought-after global commissions don’t come overnight, but from an unwavering dedication and belief in your projects and an investment in relationships with broadcasters and distributors who are willing to empower our ideas and the talent making them.
As a proud Welsh indie, our biggest challenge has always been visibility on the global platform as award-winning factual content-makers. Being from the Nations, we’ve traditionally had to shout louder to be heard. But the last year has levelled the playing field as none of us could get on a plane or train to pitch in person.
The best piece of advice I’ve been given when pitching shows is that the good ones are sold on a tagline. I’m told Ridley Scott walked into 20th Century Studios with “Jaws… in space” as a top line pitch for Alien. Genius! So when we had an explosive tagline like “the biggest natural threat to life on Earth, with the power to cause global chaos…” it seemed ironic that it was commissioned just before global chaos actually erupted across our world.
Our doomsday documentary was actually about the supervolcano hidden seven miles below America’s Yellowstone National Park. It was our first co-production commission for SVOD Discovery+ and Channel 5 and came off the back of fostering those important relationships and always listening and responding to each of the broadcaster’s needs. With such exciting but broad subject matter, this was a perfect theme to unpack for the UK and US audience as a co-production.
Co-operation, communication and compromise
Co-productions are a complicated beast which rely on the willingness on all sides to co-operate, communicate and compromise. Although we are very experienced in delivering shows for international broadcasters, Yellowstone Supervolcano was the first time we’ve delivered to a streaming platform. Navigating the editorial expectations and technical deliverables for two international broadcasters has had its challenges, as we strive to create bespoke versions for the different territories. Both channels have been excellent partners in helping us shape the creative narratives to best serve their audience without compromising the other. Discovery+ executive producer Lindsey Foster-Bloomberg and Channel 5 commissioning editor Adrian Padmore were very collaborative in approach with a clear vision of what the US and UK audiences were expecting and how to push the storytelling in the right direction to exceed expectations.
We’ve been fortunate to be welcomed into the world of volcanology with the very best in the world allowing us to film with them or taking part behind the camera in shaping the show. But with a multi-country, multi-unit remote shoot with various camera units across the US, Iceland and the UK the shoots themselves proved challenging and certainly pushed the problem-solving skills of our team. Having a supportive broadcaster that understood our schedules and editorial vision needed to respond to changing circumstances was hugely helpful. Both broadcasters worked with us to create the very best show possible without compromising on ambition.
Completing the circle
Discovery+ were very hands-on in approach, which means we’ve had a really positive working relationship with them throughout. The guidance and support offered to our various creative, business and production management teams at every stage of the process made delivering to the SVOD a very positive experience.
Originally commissioned for Discovery Science with Ben Dwertman, the original was shifted onto the Discovery+ platform in the first wave of docs going out this summer, with Channel 5 taking exclusive UK rights and Discovery+ taking unlimited transmissions on all media streaming in the US and English-speaking Canada. The circle was completed with the support of Flame Distribution taking all other territories.
Our longstanding relationship with Channel 5 and our ambition to create content for the US and international markets mean we will always try and offer the broadcaster exciting opportunities for ambitious high-end content with noisy partnerships. This is a strategy we have successfully pursued with other broadcasters, having recently delivered our second co-production to Discovery with another UK broadcaster.
Our dedicated creatives at Wildflame and experienced in-house business and production management team means big ambitious international productions are in safe hands whatever challenges the world might throw at us.