Case Study: POMPEII RISING: A €1.6 Million Coproduction from France’s Gedeon Productions

POMPEII RISING is an ambitious €1.6 million budget Science / History project from France’s Gedeon Programmes.

Coproduction partners include French, German, Japanese and other international public broadcasters, and the online subscription platform CuriosityStream.

  • In this Case Study for Sunny Side of the Doc we capture the development, production, distribution and select deal highlights of POMPEII RISING.
  • The post is based on my conversations with Gedeon’s Group President Stephane Milliere.
  • And for the view from a coproduction partner, I talked with Steve Burns, CurosityStream’s head of programming & production.

Concept

  • Stephane learned that the Pompeii Archaeological Park was going to be opened to excavation as part of a process to secure the site from weather damage.
  • The project was funded by the EC and Italian government at a cost of €130 million.
  • The Pompeii site extends over 60 hectares of which 40 were excavated in the 18-19th centuries, and very crude archaeological techniques compared with today’s standards .
  • The most recent excavation at Pompeii was at the end of World War II.
  • The 1-hectare site to be excavated is comprised of streets and houses, and promised to be extremely revealing.

Access

  • Gedeon pitched the director of the Archaeological Park in July 2017, along with a colleague in Rai, the Italian public broadcaster.
  • The Park was working with another producer at the time:
    • It was the location for a celebrity-hosted, primetime formatted project titled “A Night in …”
    • The project didn’t cover the new excavation.
    • Production was completed in 2017 and the show was broadcast in 2018.
  • “We waited for access throughout 2017, visiting the site almost monthly to explore the potential agreement and to develop the editorial possibilities.”

Access Agreement

  • Gedeon formed a coproduction with the Pompeii Archaeological Park.
  • The agreement included a fixed payment / day for access during production.
  • The Park could use the completed film on site, and earned a 15% share of future sales.

Vision: Crime Scene

  • Gedeon planned for the filmmakers to be embedded for a year with the 100+ archaeologists, each with advanced specialties.
  • “We saw the site as a crime scene, for example, with 14 skeletons discovered in a bar: They are frozen in place as they press against a door attempting to hold back the lava and ash that is about to pour into the room and entomb them.”
  • “We ask: Who are the victims? Why were they in this site at that time? How did they die?”
  • The archaeologists characterize the victims, using clues that include their personal objects, nearby murals and graffiti, and so on.
  • “We are with the archaeologists as they work through 6 metres of ash to the floor level, sharing their passion when they make each discovery.”

Field Production

  • 3-4 person crew
  • DOP + line producer
  • Captured in 4K
  • 100 days in field

Reenactments

  • We ask experts to explain their hypotheses about what happened at the moment of discovery.
  • We then capture the story in dramatic reenactments which we alter as more details are uncovered and interpreted.
  • The film ends with a final reconstruction using facial reconstruction / CGI / photogrammetry and more.
  • We built a set in Sofia for part of the bar and street, using CGI to fill in the detail.

Budget

  • Planned production budget: €1.4 million
  • Final: €1.6 million
  • Additional cost (€200,000) because the excavation extended for 3 months longer than planned
  • Includes: CGI – €750,000; Reenactments – €450,000

Funding

Committed and expected sources, with estimated contributions are:

  • Belgium coproduction & tax shelter: €160,000
  • France Televisions: €200,000 – €300,000
  • CuriosityStream: “Typical U.S. coproduction contribution”
  • ZDF: “Typical copro contribution”
  • NHK: US$100,000
  • CNC (French fund): €200,000
  • EBU: €100,000
  • Scandinavian broadcasters: €20,000
  • Rai: More than €25,000

Post

  • 200+ hours of footage + CGI
  • Edit: March – November, 2019

Distribution

  • POMPEII RISING is distributed by Terranoa.

Visited by more than 3 million tourists every year, Pompeii is part of the collective imagination worldwide. It is a big asset for a successful distribution. The great mastering of ancient history story-telling developed by Gedeon combined with the high-end dramatization and stunning discoveries is the perfect combination for channels or platforms wishing to acquire archaeological films that can question what we thought we already knew and give a fresh look to a fascinating and familiar (hi)story. As soon as Gedeon announced that they were going to follow what would become the most important Pompeii excavation in the past 50 years, sister company Terranoa knew that it would appeal to many international buyers. Laetitia Doyle, Terranoa

Versions

  • 100 minutes (France)
  • 2 x 50 minutes (International)

Premiere Event

  • Planned for UNESCO HQ, Paris: December 2019.

Stephane Milliere


Steve Burns is CuriosityStream‘s head of programming & production.

Concept

  • Learned about Gedeon’s project in 2017.
  • It was the first excavation at Pompeii in 50 years.
  • “Pompeii is an iconic topic that has always appealed to factual audiences at PBS, Discovery and Nat Geo.”

Tentpole Copro’s

  • CuriosityStream commits to around five coproductions / year.
  • “These are tentpole projects that are the “best and biggest” on topics that are proven audience winners.”
  • “Gedeon’s project was perfect for CuriosityStream because it appeals to our core audience, and we can “Recommend” other Pompeii- and Volcano-related content that we already own.”

Appeal of Gedeon

  • Stephane had negotiated exclusive access to the Pompeii Archaeological Park with Rai.
  • Gedeon is an award-winning filmmaker with more than 50 ambitious projects over 20 years.
  • “Gedeon is of the very few producers who have the proven reputation to manage access to cultural locations that are overseen by highly-protective governments, site managers and custodians.”
  • “We had just completed “Versailles Rediscovered” with Gedeon. It was a model for their unique access and story-telling skills involving sophisticated CGI and dramatic reenactments.”
  • “Stephane Milliere is more than a producer: He is an exhibitor who presents ground-breaking Science and History to audiences on film, in museums, and at events that earn wide coverage.”

Coproduction Partnership

  • “We committed immediately when we heard Gedeon’s pitch!”
  • “The financial contribution is confidential, but it is very close to what a U.S. network would offer.”

CuriosityStream Rights

  • Exclusive: U.S.: All media.
  • Non-exclusive:
    • SVOD Worldwide.
    • France, Italy, Japan and other copro partners’ territories geo-blocked.
  • Holdbacks:
    • CuriosityStream defers its release in territories where there is a broadcast or Cab/Sat license.
    • The term of the holdback is flexible by market.
    • It depends mainly on the license fee paid by the channel.

Development

  • There was a productive collaboration between  the partners.
  • CuriosityStream read treatments / provided notes.

Podcast

Clint Stinchcomb

More Coproduction Case Studies

  • My collection of Case Studies on successful coproductions.
  • Each production reveals valuable information that will guide your copro strategy.
  • And I’m honored to be moderating the Sunny Side “Alliance Doc International Coproduction” panel with Stephane Milliere, France TV’s Caroline Behar and Little Big Story’s Sophie Parrault.