Australia’s Stadium Documentary Project: An A$1.25 Mn Production Inspires a New Format for the Multi-Platform Video Era

The Nyoongar Stadium Documentary project is an inspiring story of how new digital screens, multi-platform distribution and an imaginative approach to outreach combined to create a well-funded documentary format.

The Challenge:

Perth’s state-of-the-art football stadium was being built on a traditionally significant meeting ground of the Aboriginal first nation Nyoongar people.

How could West Australia’s leaders recognize this important site?

  • They decided to acknowledge the contribution of the Nyoongar people to “Aussie Rules” football.
  • And in doing so tackle the outbursts of racism that regularly damage the sport.

Context

  • “Footy”, as we call it, is a unique code that is loved by millions of Australians, including myself.
  • The code originated in post-Gold Rush Melbourne in 1858, combining a version of Rugby with an Aboriginal game called Marngrook.
  • Aboriginal players continue to be celebrated as stars of the game.
  • In particular, Western Australia’s Nyoongar people have nurtured generations of Footy legends.
  • With nicknames like “The Big Cat” “The Wiz”, “Magic”, “Buddy”, “Roo” and “Horse,” their skills are considered by many as verging on supernatural.

The Pitch: Deliver the Programs Where the Fans Are!

  • Beyond Productions and veteran producer Harry Bardwell initially researched the Nyoongar football story as a feature doc.
  • But few of its target audience would watch a feature documentary.
  • Beyond and Bardwell elected instead to create a Multi-platform Package titled “Nyoongar Footy Magic” that:
    • Profiles 24 great players.
    • Breaks the big story into specific stories about the heroes.
    • Presents them on multiple digital media platforms where the fans are watching.
  • Their Editorial Goals:
    • Build cultural recognition and respect through acknowledging sporting achievement.
    • Tell football hero stories where the fans are… in the stadium!

Financing

  • The funding process took 12 months.
  • Production Budget: AUD1.25 for production plus extra for distribution.
  • Finance sources:
    • Football Leagues     25%
    • State Government     20%
    • Corporate / Philanthropy     20%
    • Production Tax Offset     20%
    • TV licence    15%

Taking the Multi- platform Approach

Bardwell and Beyond settled on creating 300 minutes of product delivered in three formats:

The Stadium Screen Mini-doc

  • 24 episodes
  • Each 2-minute duration
  • Action-packed hero stories
  • Told in documentary form
  • Designed for stadiums and mobile apps.

Documentary Shorts

  • 16 episodes
  • Each 10-minute duration
  • Interrogate issues
  • Useful as discussion starters
  • Designed for:
  • Streaming on club websites
  • Community workshops
  • Gala events

Long form Documentaries

  • 4 x 25-minute episodes
  • For conventional free-to-air TV screening and streaming platforms

Official Trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mHyB4pB3fBk

PRE-PRODUCTION PLANNING

Selecting Key Story Elements

  • Legendary champions
  • Big characters
  • Heroes to their people
  • A great sporting achievement
  • The human face behind the hero
  • High-stakes personal struggles
  • Win against great odds
  • Fight to overcome racism

Producer Shakara Walley, Director Kelli Cross, Lance ‘Buddy’ Franklin, Director Karla Hart

Implementation & Transformation

  • Involving Nyoongar community elders at a high editorial level
  • Employing Nyoongar key creative producers and directors to gather the stories
  • Appointing legendary coach Kevin Sheedy as executive producer with great football buy-in
  • Building community trust

PRODUCTION

Examples of Hero Mini-docs

The ‘Big 5’ Challenges

  1. Creating high impact versions of each story for different platforms: big screens, online streaming and conventional TV.
  2. Getting the balance right between sporting authenticity and an engrossing story addressing cultural issues, that makes sense for passionate fans and a general audience who may not know much about this sport.
  3. Compressing the stories. In the end we relied strongly on a conventional narration style, counterpoised with quick impact cutting to compress the sprawling narrative.
  4. Locating and booking 24 players and ex-players, some very high-profile current stars, others had not played for many years.
  5. Meeting the expectations of sporting bodies, TV commissioners and Indigenous cultural bodies. Our Nyoongar core creative team helped enormously here.

Managing the Project

According to Bardwell, “To contain costs and manage our schedule we set clear editorial parameters:

  • Research – Identify how each player’s individual story fitted into the broader chequerboard narrative.
  • Create a consistent production format and story structure across the stories.
  • Minimize travel by bringing on-screen talent to the greenscreen studio.
  • Very small traveling crew.
  • Very best editors with a brief to cut for impact.
  • Work closely with archivists to target search outcomes.”

Archival Rights: “Sorting out sports footage rights is not easy. We eventually got enthusiastic buy-in from all the suppliers, notably broadcasters, league libraries, state archives and private collectors, who provided sporting, gameday and social history material for generously discounted rates.” Harry Bardwell

MULTI-PLATFORM DISTRIBUTION

Launch: June 2, 2018.

  • Stadium Giant Screens during games, plus:
  • Public broadcasters and streaming platforms
  • Big screens in CBD city square locations
  • League & club websites
  • Phone apps
  • Print media
  • Sponsor campaigns
  • Workshops & training camps
  • School curriculum packs
  • iTunes and social media
  • Workshops & training camps
    The shorter/mid length short docs seem to work incredibly well for groups, especially when screened in the presence of the player and other community experts.  Our philanthropic partners are delighted with the outcome.

HARRY BARDWELL’S TAKEAWAYS

  • A feature documentary may receive a more prestigious release.
  • However, if an audience has little interesst in watching feature length documentaries, a multi-platform approach can have a much wider reach, a longer shelf life’ and greater impact overall.
  • Our new digital viewing environment provides documentary makers with great “pop up” opportunities to present their stories in the most surprising places.
  • This works better with socially-engaging issues like confronting racism.
  • Funders such as corporate brands can find this model attractive.
  • Carefully crafted narrative documentaries, even really short ones, can carry a dramatic punch and lasting message.
  • The process of making this style is deceptively time consuming and process rich.

PETER’S TAKEAWAYS

  • Funding for the traditional documentary category is shrinking as channels slowly lose viewers and therefore the revenues that fund new commissions.
  • The reduced pipeline from the channels is not balanced by expanded funding for Originals by Netflix and the SVOD’s.
  • The Stadium Mini-doc Format developed for the Nyoongar Project is a wonderful example how creative producers can tap the potential of digitization and diversifying screen sizes to secure new funding sources.

A Format that Addresses Racism in Sports

  • The Stadium Mini-doc format has great potential to be applied worldwide because racism in sport is a universal problem.
  • The format delivers an inspirational counter-message right to where the fans are.
  • I’m supporting Harry’s effort to advise leagues, clubs and commercial sponsors on how to plan and execute a project for stadiums.
  • With the Nyoongar project as the impressive proof-of-concept, we are in conversations to adapt the model in South Africa, UK and France.
  • Write to me or Harry if you’d like to explore the opportunity. We can share our PPT.

Racism in Sport: Recent Press / Links

Nikki Winmar famously responds to racist taunts, 1993 (Photo Wayne Ludbey)

The Team

Harry Bardwell says:

“Making Nyoongar Footy Magic ended up involving hundreds of people. The producers would like to acknowledge the Nyoongar land on which the film was shot and pay their respects to the Nyoongar Elders and everyone involved.

“We would also like to particularly thank our core team of Dr Richard Walley, Kevin Sheedy, Ernie Dingo, producers Shakara Walley and Josh Gilbert, directors Karla Hart and Kelli Cross, tireless fonts of football knowledge Paul Roberts, Sean ‘Gman’ Gorman and all our archivists and production team.

“And our backers: the Australian Football League, the Western Australian Government and Football Council, Screenwest and Lotterywest, NITV, and our corporate supporters Woodside, Fortescue Metals, the Westcoast Eagles, the Fremantle Dockers, Spinifex Arts Foundation and Cox Howlett. You all helped make this a great project.”