Netflix Europe commissions ROOM 2806: THE ACCUSATION, an original documentary series from France’s CAPA Productions. Case Study

Room 2806: The Accusation is a 4-parter from France’s CAPA Productions that follows the sexual assault case in New York involving French presidential candidate and IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

On May 14 2011, Nafissatou Diallo, a hotel maid reported that DSK had forced her to perform oral sex in his suite in the Sofitel Hotel on West 46th Street in Manhattan.

Strauss-Kahn was arrested hours later at JFK airport, just minutes before the doors closed for his flight to Paris.

The New York District Attorney’s office controversially withdrew its effort to prosecute DSK based on their lack of confidence in Diallo’s character and story.

The series is an important story that reveals themes of power, celebrity, gender, class, character and sexuality.

Netflix Official Trailer

For my detailed Case Study sponsored by Sunny Side of the Doc, I spoke with Philippe Levasseur, the co-producer of Room 2806 and head of CAPA factual & documentaries.

CONCEPT: ICARUS

  • We developed the DSK project internally at our production company as a True Crime story involving a very prominent person, and with many grey areas.
  • The story reminded us of the ancient Greek Icarus myth where the character flies close to the sun and then his wings melt and he collapses.

Nafissatou Diallo and her New York attorneys

DEVELOPMENT

First Steps

  • I prepared a 4-5 page pitch that included the subjects I wanted to interview: DSK’s accusers, the escorts, attorneys for both parties, the hotel staff, and so on.
  • Many of the key witnesses had not yet spoken out publicly. Notable among them were NYPD detective Michael Osgood, Deputy Chief Commanding Officer Special Victims who had just retired, and Robert Mooney, the DA’s chief investigator who cross-examined Nafissatou Diallo and pushed the DA to drop the case.
  • We also worked with an in-house archive producer to verify the availability of key archive material.

First Pitch: April 2018

I pitched to the Netflix documentary team.

  • My pitch emphasized that the DSK story went beyond just the True Crime bucket.
  • It was a “Glocal” story with worldwide appeal and intense regional appeal in France, New York and beyond.
  • In the pitch I referred to the OJ: Made in America series, that combines True Crime, a very prominent person, and lots of grey areas.
  • We discussed how most people in France knew the story, but that we would have to remind the U.S. and other international viewers about DSK’s power and importance.
  • The team was well aware of the story and interested in digging further, so we began to prep an in depth pitch

Second Pitch

  • This was the first time that CAPA had produced a nonfiction series for Netflix, and we spent six months developing the pitch.
  • We may have over-invested, but we didn’t want to risk failure through a lack of effort.
  • We hired a reporter and an archive researcher in New York, and a team of investigative journalists in France.
  • We also hired legal counsel in France and in New York, since we knew the story would expose us to strong legal cross examination by DSK’s team
  • We had to validate that the subjects, key documents and archive would be available.
  • We wanted to be fully informed of the story in advance of meeting with Netflix so as to not leave any doubt at all that we were confident about every element of the story.
  • The pitch deck included our own trailer (Netflix later produced one in house for the series’ release), which was created by a very talented editor.

Budget

  • ● Our in-house production finance person created a very detailed budget for Netflix.
  • The cost of our development effort was around $80,000. Netflix did not contribute to these costs.

Director

  • For an additional perspective, we engaged Jalil Lespert who had directed two episodes of Versailles as well as an Yves Saint Laurent biopic. We added his director’s credentials to the deck.

GREENLIGHT

  • Netflix greenlit the project in January 2019.

FIELD & POST-PRODUCTION: January 2019 – January 2020

  • Most field production was completed by January 2020.
  • The edit began in October 2019.
  • We were COVID safe, with editors working from home and yet coordinating seamlessly.
  • The aerial archive taken at the time of the trial did not feel contemporary enough. To create an impactful atmosphere in New York we used contemporary helicopter shots of midtown, the Bronx, and other shots of the New York cityscape.
  • We had two editing rooms until the last couple weeks.
  • We began by editing the interviews: It was the most efficient way to instruct the field producers to film the establishing shots that were needed.

Challenge: Episode 1

  • We needed to establish DSK for the audience outside France, and also for the younger audience demo’s in France, many of whom had never heard of DSK.
  • Before that, we had to start to establish the drama of the event in Room 2806, to immerse the viewer in the dramatic story so that they would be willing to learn about the character of this French politician.

Rough Cut: January 2020

  • In January 2020 we had a screening of a 1st rough cut in Paris.
  • As with the pitch, we tried to deliberately over-deliver. We intended to show a version closer to a second cut with music than a typical first rough cut.

Notes

  • All of the notes we received were professional and helpful and mainly addressed the best solutions for pacing, such as moving stories around within the episodes.
  • The input was strong regarding music.

DELIVERY

  • October 2020

RIGHTS

  • The series is a full commission, and Netflix owns all rights in perpetuity.

Timeline Recap

  • First Pitch: April 2018
  • Greenlight: January 2019
  • Field & Post Production: January 2019 – January 2020
  • Rough Cut: January 2020
  • Delivery: October 2020
  • Launch on Netflix: November 2020

CAPA TAKEAWAYS

I asked Philippe to share the secret of CAPA’s success with the project:

  • Its 50% story and creative impact, and 50% process.
  • We would not have succeeded if we weren’t committed and able to deliver a fully professional legal and business affairs team to provide detailed cost reporting according to their formats, and detailed budgets, legal expertise, etc.
  • We proved we were COVID safe. They were very satisfied that our delivery was only 2 weeks late, despite lockdown during editing.

KEY TEAM MEMBERS

  • Philippe Levasseur – Co-producer
  • Sophie Paliès – Co-producer
  • Jalil Lespert – Director

ABOUT CAPA

CAPA is one of the largest documentary production companies in France, with 100 hours of documentary and news programs per year.

Established 30 years ago, CAPA has a permanent staff of 90 directors and producers.

The high quality of its production has been praised in a number of international Film Festivals : Two international Emmy Awards for best documentary, one for best drama, two BANFF awards and three Albert Londres Prizes, the most prestigious award for journalism in France.

CAPA also produces series and fiction films via CAPA DRAMA, and communication tools – video, web, photo, graphic design and event – via the CAPA corporate pole. CAPA joined the NEWEN Group in 2010.


PETER’S TAKEAWAYS

CAPA’s success with Room 2806 is an inspiring story at three levels:

  • A production company that has never worked with Netflix must over-invest and over-deliver at every level: the pitch, budget detail, production, rough cut and technical deliverables. Even a well-credentialed prodco must be ready to add expertise to satisfy Netflix.
  • CAPA’s concept and pitch were timed with Netflix’s expansion worldwide, driving the streamer’s motivation to develop local partnerships in the major territories and language blocks. France is at or close to the top of this list. The DSK story has powerful global and intense local appeal, and these are important marketing factors for Netflix.
  • The story itself ticks multiple boxes that are longtime staples of Netflix’s stream of Originals. They include: True Crime, a celebrity, a theme that anticipates the #MeToo movement, class and race conflicts, and more.

MORE INFORMATION

Netflix: Highlights by Episode

CAPA Productions

The OCTOPUS / Netflix Podcast & Case Study

Netflix Presentation at Sunny Side of the Doc, 2019

Update: French Legislation Based on DSK Accuser


Selling Your Documentary to Netflix