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  • Sunny Side Global Documentary Decision Makers Guide

Australian Co-pro: Dino Stampede – An ABC Commission Triggers a Cascade of Tax Benefits and International Licenses

2011 March 2
by Peter Hamilton

Our Case Study: How an ABC Australia commission for a signature doc special engaged a set of  funding sources to execute a $1.2 million international co-pro.

The project: Dino Stampede, Prospero Productions and the Australian International Co-production Model ($U.S.)

Dino Stampede premieres on ABC1 on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. And in the U.S. on the Smithsonian Channel on Wednesday, December 7 at 8P (ET).

The case study was published March 2011, while we attended the vibrant AIDC – the Australian International Documentary Conference – in Adelaide.

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PROSPERO PRODUCTIONS

Principals

  • Julia Redwood came to television from her English and particularly Shakespearean studies. She ‘brought a fundamental passion for story telling’
  • Ed Punchard was a deep sea diver who left behind a career in the North Sea oil industry to study maritime archaeology in Perth
  • They were determined to make documentaries, despite their lack of formal training. They established Prospero Productions

Core Values

  • According to Punchard “We don’t want to sound hoity toity, but classical dramatic structure lay at the heart of our work from the very beginning.
  • “Viewers want to follow the zig zag of a strong narrative, and then, sitting on the edge of their seats, be surprised by the final payoff.”

First Film

  • The pair broke in with No Survivors: The Mysterious Loss of HMAS Sydney (1993)
  • The story came out of Ed’s maritime archaeology expertise.
  • The partners teamed up with a very experienced director who was well-regarded by Australian commissioners

Prospero’s Scale & Pipeline Today

  • Since No Survivors, they have completed 110 films
  • They now deliver 5 +/- hours / year
  • Nearly all have been with an Australian broadcast license: ABC, SBS, commercial channels
  • $3 +/-  million annual turnover

Organization

  • Two principals
  • Head of development
  • Coordinator of development
  • Head of production
  • Office manager / Accounting
  • IT / Post
  • Corporate development

DINO STAMPEDE

  • 1 hour
  • Budget: $1.2 million +/-

Concept

  • Prospero completed Death of the Mega-beastsin 2009
    • Budget: $2.3 million
    • Licensed to NG Channel in U.S.
    • The Special is rich in CGI
    • Won awards and commercial success
    • They looked for a new dinosaur story with three key elements
      • Characters
      • Drama
      • Compelling science
  • Their researcher came across the Lark Quarry site in Western Queensland where thousands of dinosaur footprints are preserved in stone. There are more footprints there than at any other site

Why Stampede?

  • “We saw that the drama of the site hinges on a fascinating question: Why did they run?”
  •  “There is a compelling cast of characters” adds Ed Punchard
    • “The footprints capture the split-second movements of dinosaurs, and these are of all species and ages
    • “Next, the scientists are engaged in a heroic quest: they are trying to figure out what caused the stampede
    • “And the science is wonderful. Footprints are far more revealing than bones. They retain dynamic information. They unlock the animal’s behavior in a single moment. They capture relationships, for example between mother and offspring, and between pursuers and pursued.”

Initial Pitch

  • Created a 1-sheet on A4 glossy
  • “We pitched to the usual copro partners worldwide”
  • “We didn’t need a sizzle reel because the commissioners were aware of the high quality CGI in Mega-beasts”
  • ABC Australia showed early traction. They were looking for a program that met the following criteria:
    • A big Sunday night special
    • Award contender
    • Australian location
    • “And dinosaurs are an evergreen topic for the ABC audience”
    • BBC Scotland and Smithsonian Channel U.S. were also interested
    • Nat Geo Channel passed: the commissioners had recently green lit other dinosaur projects

Funding the Treatment

  • The interest from broadcasters triggered the release of development funding from Screen West
    • $20,000 (recoupable)
    • We completed the treatment and budget, and we went back to the interested channels

COMMITMENTS

About our Data

  • Prospero provided data on the overall budget, the various government contributions, and the deficit.
  • The estimates for the license fees and advance are based on our interview-based research and not contributed by Prospero.
  • Documentary Television.com surveys the market for license fee information. We publish findings for many Factual channels in our newsletter and in our Sweet Spot Guide.

Partners & Contributions

ABC Australia

  • ABC has recently funded signature documentary specials for $150,000 +/-
  • Rights: Free-to-air, 4 screenings, 7 years

BBC Scotland

  • $100,000 +/- is their typical contribution

Smithsonian Channel

  • Contributes $125,000 – $200,000+ for high quality science coproductions

Screen West

  • $150,000 recoupable

Screen Australia

  • $380,000 recoupable

Producer Tax Offset

  • $170,000

National Geographic Television International

  • Distribution advance: “Well below $50,000”
  • Australian DVD: $5,000
  • Deficit Finance
    • Prospero Productions: $45,000 +/-

Deficit Finance

  • According to Prospero “Our producer receivables are well in excess of $45,000. The deficit gets the project over the line.”

TAKEAWAYS

Dino Stampede is a case study in a unique financing solution. It is based on a cascade of benefits that are available only to Australian producers and their partners.

  • Two keystones:
    • The Australian license fee
    • A minimum of 10% of the budget from international partners
  • Australian productions that satisfy the criteria trigger:
    • 20-30% of the budget from Screen Australia (investment)
    • Another 14% as a producer tax offset
    • And for West Australian producers: 12% of budget (investment)

Prospero’s Golden Rules

Beyond the financial model, we asked Julia Redwood and Ed Punchard to share the practices that have keep Prospero viable and competitive:

  • Be flexible
  • Agree in advance on the versions that will be created for the partners
  • Carefully choose reasonable and flexible partners
  • Never under-deliver
  • Always tell great stories!

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More reading…

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!!THE SWEET SPOTS!!
‘Sweet Spots’ Study: What Do U.S. Networks Pay for Programs?

Production Cost Benchmarks: Signature / High / Sweet Spot / Low
Pipelines. Target Demos.
Key Programming Contacts, and More!

25+ U.S. Cable Channels:
Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, ID, Velocity, Bravo,
Documentary Channel, A&E, History, HI, Bio, Nat Geo, NG Wild, Ovation,
truTV, SyFy and many more
!
Docs & Reality
Proprietary, interview-based research
Don’t make a pitch – or attend a job interview – without it!
Learn More …

One Response Post a comment
  1. Dave permalink
    March 9, 2011

    Yet another outstanding report (the two part series). Relevant, up to date info on deficit financing is almost non-existent (I’ve been looking!) This will be going out to everyone in my company as required reading.
    Thanks Peter!

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