JAPAN FROM ABOVE at MIPDoc. Case Study of a Successful 4K Co-production

A 1.5 million Euros co-production between Japan’s public broadcaster NHK and France’s Gedeon Programmes was a highlight of MIPDoc 2018.

  • The series: JAPAN FROM ABOVE.
  • Executive Producers Shin Yasuda and Nicolas Deschamps shared their co-production process in my panel after the World-premiere screening.
  • We expanded the key points into an informative Case Study covering a rare Japan/Europe production partnership.

Trailer for MIPDoc

 

Concept

  • Nicolas shot a film in the Sendai region in 2011 after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
  • After three weeks’ “capturing heart-rending stories amidst the muddy chaos on the ground, we decided to take a helicopter to get an overview of the region. Its beauty was stunning. I decided to launch a new project to pay tribute to the beauty of the landscape and to the Japanese themselves, particularly their resiliency.”
  • “I was dreaming about a really positive series, far from the chaos, to be able to share a portrait of today’s Japan: inspiring, connected with long traditions, and enjoying a particular kind of humanity that the Japanese give to nature.”
  • “I wanted a beautiful series, using the latest technical cameras, and based on a fruitful coproduction with a Japanese partner.”
  • Nicolas soon moved to Gedeon, still pursuing this goal.
  • He pitched the project to NHK in 2014.

NHK’s Response to Nicolas’s Pitch

  • According to Shin Yasuda, the concept aligned with NHK’s plan to produce a variety of Japan-related programs in 4K leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
  • Gedeon and NHK have more than a decade of history in co-productions.
  • NHK had participated in the co-production of ON CITIES’ ROOFTOPS, working side-by-side with the French crew in filming the Tokyo episode.
  • This successful collaboration became the model for team building in JAPAN FROM ABOVE.
  • Also, Gedeon had a good track record of producing “from above” series in France.
  • NHK saw that Gedeon’s remarkable aesthetics in aerial photography, combined with NHK’s resources and expertise, could give birth to a beautiful documentary about Japan.
  • NHK provided researchers, directors, camera crew, and 4K aerial photography including drones and helicopters.

Budget:

  • 1.5 million Euros

The Series

  • Five episodes, each focusing on a Japanese region.
  • Covers the entire archipelago.
  • Shot over four seasons.
  • Unique 4K aerial footage.
  • Seeking a delicate balance between storytelling and high-level shooting.

Development

  • NHK and Gedeon collaborated with NHK’s local stations and bureaus across Japan.
  • Based on the information provided by local stations, the NHK team conducted recces all around Japan.
  • They compiled a 150-page report outlining potential scenic locations and characters.
  • The editorial choices were made through multiple meetings between NHK and Gedeon.

Key Copro Challenges Identified

  • “Build a real French-Japanese crew.”
  • “Keep the homogeneity of the series across 4 seasons of shooting.”

Broadcast Partners

  • ZDF / Arte came on board
  • Key decision-makers were Marita Hübinger, Commissioning Editor, Head of Knowledge department; Petra Boden, Commissioning Editor.
  • “JAPAN FROM ABOVE is an event production based on Gedeon’s know-how in coproduction, and with NHK who are recognized around the world for being at the forefront of shooting and broadcast technologies,” said Marita Hübinger.
  • Fox Networks Group France / Voyage followed, led by Marika Puiseux, Programming Director.

Non-broadcast Partner

  • The Japan Foundation acquired invaluable sequences and footage for future films, promotions and presentations.

Time-line 

  • Development: 5 years
  • Pre-production: 1 year
  • Production: 4 seasons
    • 80 days for French crew
    • 100 days for Japanese crew
  • Post-production: 5 months

Formats Delivered

  • 5 x 52 min: Aerial and Character Version, with ground shots and local characters
  • 3 x 52 min: Full Aerial Version
  • 1 x 90 min: Feature-length version

Distribution 

Committed Broadcasters

  • Major broadcasters: ZDF Arte, Voyage
  • Prebuys: RMC Decouverte, RTVS, TVP, Ceska TV, and LTV + RTVE

Credits (Selection)

Team Gedeon

  • Directed by Xavier Lefebvre
  • Written by Laurent Martein
  • Director photo: Jérôme Krumenacker, David Perrier
  • Line Producer: Nicolas Deschamps
  • Executive Producer: Stéphane Milliére

Team NHK

  • Director: Shinji Iwata, Maaserhit Honda
  • Camera: Hidekazu Takeuchi, Hirohisa Fujita, Yasuhiro Itokazu, Akiko Komagata, Seigo Saito, Hideo Harada, Isamu Osada
  • Technical Coordinator: Kazu Kurimoto
  • Data Manager: Tomohito Goshozono
  • Logistics Manager: Mayuko Akashi
  • Executive Producer: Shin Yasuda

Toolbox

  • F55
  • Sony a7sII + Atomos Shogun
  • GopPro Hero 4 Black Edition + Hero 5
  • SONY FDR-X3000
  • DJI Ozmo
  • Red Epic MX
  • Panasonic GH5
  • SONY a650
  • Canon 1DX
  • DJI Zenmuse X5R
  • DJI Inspire1 + Inspire2
  • DJI Mavic Pro
  • DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Peter’s Takeaways

  • Successful co-pros are typically based on very particular circumstances and drivers.
  • They arise from long-term relationships.
  • The project perfectly aligned the French and Japanese partners’ editorial vision to showcase Japan’s natural and cultural beauty from above in 4K.
  • Gedeon brought editorial and technical expertise that is relevant to the global market.
  • This matched NHK’s desire to ensure that the series involved skill transfers that broadened the national broadcaster’s often inward-facing look.

More on NHK’s Blue Chip Productions

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