Exclusive: Netflix eyes broader documentary offering to build on true crime success

Netflix in France wants to broaden its offering across documentaries while building on its true crime output, its execs have told delegates at Sunny Side of the Doc in La Rochelle.

The streamer pointed to the ambitious, recently launched documentary about the Tour de France as one example of what it is looking for, while also highlighting its historical show Eldorado: Everything The Nazis Hate, which was ordered by Netflix Germany.

It explores how a glittery nightclub in 1920s Berlin became a haven for the queer community, before exploring the freedoms lost amid Hitler’s rise to power.

Netflix’s unscripted desires

During a panel session called Keeping the Audience in Mind, Mark Edwards, one of the two directors of non-fiction in France, said that true crime remained key and added that it provided “an identifiable genre” through which “you can explore a lot of things.”

Dolores Emile, who works with Edwards to oversee Netflix France’s non-fiction output, said there were a few ‘musts’ for Netflix to commission a show, adding that its audience “is very picky, demanding, diverse and has a lot of choice.”

As a result, documentaries “need to stand out enough to be able to compete with such shows as Stranger things and Squid Game, and to spark conversation.”

“We are obsessed with getting audiences engaged,” added Edwards.

Dolores said the streamer also wants larger than life characters, giving the example of upcoming show Raël: The Last Prophet, which “challenges our own beliefs [around] religion [and] is a very conversational show.”

A good pitch with good characters is the first thing to focus on, Emile said. “It is about how you build a character and surprise the audience. Formula 1 is not about Formula 1 so much but as about the men, the risk they take.” Another example given was Lord Of Scams, about a small criminal who grew up in the Belleville area in Paris.

Formula 1 and Tour de France highlight the need to tell a story that will appeal to both the sport’s purist and to people who are less familiar with it, the streamer’s execs added.

With regards to documentary construction, the duo said they are sharing learnings but added that there is no guideline nor set formula. A must, though, is that in the first two minutes, you need to know what the show is all about.

Emile also stressed the importance of a cliffhanger, giving as a successful example the horrible true crime mini-séries Monique Olivier: Accessory To Evil, about the wife of famous French serial killer Michel Fourniret.

Asked about possible errors, Reynolds gave the exemple of a doc on Paris serial rapist and killer Guy George, for which the chosen angle was the one of the women who enabled his capture.

“It was an angle that we are very proud of, and it was a very accomplished show, but we decided not to put Guy George’s name in the tile.” instead naming it The Women And The Murderer. “And that was a mistake,” said Edwards, as the doc was missed by local audiences who knew the criminal

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