Baltic Sea Docs 2020
Industry Report: Series
Baltic Sea Docs and Creative Europe MEDIA host a seminar on producing docuseries
The seminar was led by Finnish producer Elina Pojhola, who delved into two case studies revolving around her docuseries Maiden of the Lake and Eva
On 2 September, Baltic Sea Docs (29 August-4 September), the leading documentary training and pitching forum in the Baltics, hosted a two-hour seminar on producing docuseries, organised in collaboration with Creative Europe MEDIA.
After the opening remarks, Creative Europe MEDIA Desk Latvia representative Lelde Ozola introduced Elina Pohjola, a Finnish producer and the owner of Helsinki-based independent outfit Citizen Jane Productions, who discussed two case studies revolving around two of her docuseries.
The first was about Maiden of the Lake, a project consisting of three parts – namely, a website featuring some short documentaries, a feature-length film and a 4x15 television series. The subject of Maiden of the Lake focuses on two cousins, Emika and Antti, who spend time on the islands in Lake Saimaa, camping and spotting different animals in the hope of finally seeing the elusive Saimaa ringed seal.
The first part of the project, which was initiated in 2016 and was commissioned by YLE Children & Youth, was a website displaying several shorts about the two cousins spending the summer in the surroundings of Lake Saimaa. “When the web documentary part was ready in 2017, we wanted to make the project bigger and realised there was huge demand for such content, so we made the decision to produce a feature and a TV series,” continued Pohjola.
However, some of the potential financiers wanted to back only one of the two productions – either the TV series or the feature. Therefore, the decision to present the project as a “whole package, part of a story universe” came in handy at the later stages. Maiden of the Lake was pitched at Real Young in March 2017, Nordisk Panorama Forum in September 2017 and IDFA in December 2017. The participation in the first pitching forum in particular generated great interest around the project, and many film funds wanted to step in, encouraging Pohjola to find potential international co-producers. However, the main obstacle that she encountered was the reluctance of broadcasters to produce children's content, especially in terms of exporting potential, as not all children can read subtitles. For this reason, the project finally remained within Finnish borders, with support coming from the Finnish Film Foundation, YLE, AVEK and For Film, for a total of €198,000.
In terms of its distribution, the feature achieved good box-office results for a documentary project of that size, and the TV series was generally well received. Furthermore, the episodes of the series were released as standalone stories, and its strongest part, Winter Lake, is still garnering interest and festival selections today. Later, Pohjola highlighted the importance of having a strong core message, essential in guiding the whole creative process and predicting its possible impact. In this case, it was an invitation for children to “spend more time outside, see the animals and have fun”.
In the second part of the seminar, Pohjola introduced her second case study, Eva, a 21x24 creative documentary series and the first Finnish Viaplay Original. Initially conceived as a feature in 2016, Eva follows the inspiring and touching story of Eva Wahlström, a Finnish professional boxer and former world champion.
The producer was not interested in making a film about boxing, but the director, Mikko Peltonen, invited her to read the two autobiographical books written by the sportswoman, and that broadened her perspectives on Eva as a character, who is also a mother, an artist and a role model for many women. The development process prompted the two to transform it into a series, deemed the best format to tell the story of Wahlström's life. Pohjola explained that Viaplay is a huge player in the Nordics, and despite its strong commitment, the negotiation process was rather lengthy but eventually productive. In conclusion, the producer talked about the importance of getting close to the subjects and how the director gained Eva's trust while filming. In this respect, she said that the woman imposed no restrictions as they were documenting her life, but she added: “We eventually had to set the boundaries. There was some material that we felt was too much, even though this was a very intimate TV series, so we were the ones responsible for protecting her.”
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