POSTCARD FROM REALSCREEN SUMMIT
This editorial was written for NYWIFT and originally posted on April12, 2023. Thank you NYWIFT!
Realscreen Summit (RSS or Realscreen, for short) is an annual global market and conference dedicated to the business of unscripted and non-fiction entertainment in film and television. Three and a half days are filled with high-level keynotes, topical industry panels, networking events, pitch competitions, awards, and programming briefs from top buyers. This year’s summit ran from January 23 - 26, held at the JW Marriott in Austin, and featured 1,350 delegates from North America and some global territories such as South Korea, India, UK, and France, among others.
My experience attending Realscreen goes back many years and though it’s been a while (first time since before COVID—last time I will ever say this!), it certainly felt and looked different. Walking through the halls of the JW seeing new faces and meeting passionate producers with unique, diverse stories to tell was really inspiring. Because of this, the tone felt very positive and welcoming.
The conversations on stage were different as well, a reflection of the time we’re in now following a global pandemic, political unrest, and escalating police violence against communities of color.
One example of this was a panel titled “After George Floyd: The Power of Black Content in Unscripted” on progress in the industry after 2020’s racial reckoning here in the U.S. Conference organizers typically shy away from hard-hitting conversations, so this was a refreshing change of pace. Moderated by Angela Rye, the dialogue was frank while also offering very practical takeaways for executives in positions of power to take note and effect real change. The panel featured Aneka Hylton-Donelson (National Geographic Partners), Valerie Idehen (Hot Snakes Media), Donny Jackson (This Machine Filmworks), and Dane Joseph (Hulu). I encourage you to read Justin Anderson’s lengthy recap of the discussion on Realscreen’s website.
Something else I really appreciated was when RSS organizers acknowledged the event was taking place in Texas, a state that effectively banned abortion once Roe vs. Wade was overturned. There is a revolving conversation about whether companies should move productions and events from states with these draconian laws on the books. It’s a complicated topic better discussed in a different forum but I appreciated the effort made to recognize the issue.
Getting back to the content, kicking off the summit was a dynamic conversation between Kathleen Finch (Chairman & Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros. Discovery’s US Networks Group) and Peter White of Deadline. Acknowledging the tumultuous year, she brought the focus back to what’s coming up, including the recently announced TLC show “MILF Manor” (now don’t go confusing it with that other show). She also emphasized that producers/production companies should continue to pitch them projects as each of their brands “needs 700, 800 hours a year of fresh content.” More on this in a minute.
And finally, I was able to attend Realscreen’s Women in Leadership Luncheon where I had a chance to catch up withSunita Uchil (Chief Business Officer, International Co-Productions) from Zee Plus, a division of India's ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Ltd., one of the largest media & entertainment companies in the world. Although she is a seasoned executive (once named by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the Most Powerful Women in Global Television), this was her first time attending RSS and I wanted her take. Below is a brief transcript (edited for clarity):
On that note, it seems that despite the many changes in the industry, broadcasters of all forms and across the globe are looking for fresh stories. If you’re a producer or content creator, getting your ideas in front of the right people can be a huge roadblock (especially for us non-nepo babies). Events like Realscreen Summit put you in the same room with decision makers, a great opportunity to meet a ton of likeminded industry execs and learn a tremendous amount (a very underrated activity). Luckily, there are tons of conferences, markets, and festivals that take place year-round to choose from and maybe (I hope) I’ll see some of you there. For now, adios Austin.
Postcard from MIPCOM 2022
This editorial was written for NYWIFT and originally posted on November 21, 2022. Thank you NYWIFT!
Preparing to attend MIPCOM Cannes this year was really quite something (and not because I’d be back in Cannes). If you work in global television, this is really the crème de la crème of events and it was the first fully in-person MIPCOM market since 2019. Trade media was abuzz with news, pre-market announcements of sales slates and onsite deal closings.
MIPCOM (Marché International des Programmes de Communication) boasted an impressive 10,896 attendees, with the Palais des Festivals packed with exhibitors and the seaside prominently featuring the might of the studios. Everyone was riding high on being back in person and, of course, to talk everything television. And what an amazing time to be in TV. With non-English language content finally getting its due in the U.S. (better late than never), there has been some serious competition from countries like South Korea, Germany, India, Spain, Brazil, France, and Japan, among others.
With all this rich global content freshly available (thank you, streamers), it was great to see a MIPCOM conference program showcase this diversity which included a few personal highlights: Planet Sex, a panel featuring Cara Delevingne discussing her new series that explores gender and sexuality across cultures; and the 10th annual Women in Global Entertainment Power Lunch featuring actress and activist Alyssa Milano as this year’s keynote speaker.
Another major highlight for me was attending the sixth edition of MIPCOM’s Diversify TV Awards, hosted by British TV presenter and diversity advocate Femi Oke. The projects nominated are excellent shows and very deserving to be recognized on one of the most prestigious stages in the world. Categories included Representation of Race & Ethnicity, LGBTQIA+, Disability, Diversity in Kids Programing, and two new categories unveiled this year: Premio MIP Cancun (honoring programs originating in and for Latin America, the Caribbean, and/or U.S. Hispanic) and Behind the Scenes Impact Award (honoring a person or team whose influence, actions, and/or vision behind the scenes supports and champions diversity & inclusion).
Nominations were announced in September and I was delighted to find I had already seen three of the projects included: Sort of premiered last year on HBO Max and is a funny and poignant series that follows gender-fluid protagonist Sabi Mehboob (Bilal Baig); L.A.: A Queer History aired this past summer on PBS, an excellent docuseries depicting the start of the Gay Rights movement in Los Angeles; and Audrey’s Back, a series I had a chance to see because—full disclosure—I consult for the show’s Quebec-based production company, Pixcom, and was there to support them. The series follows Audrey (Florence Longpré) who wakes up after a 16-year coma to a radically different world she must re-learn. It’s full of humor and heart and will be available in the US soon.
Aside from these three, there were so many nominated shows that I can’t wait to watch. And I hope you do too. These stories deserve to be told, to be promoted, to be seen, and to push more diverse stories out in the world. It’s encouraging to see a market like MIPCOM give a tremendous international platform to content that doesn’t always get the recognition and marketing push that they should (and to the production companies and distributors that champion these projects, bring them to Cannes, and make a big splash—kudos to you and please do more like this, thanks). Especially as some countries push back on LGBTQ+ content, it’s important to double down since it clearly makes an impact and people get to see themselves represented onscreen.
This MIPCOM was full of hope, full of excitement for content and content creators alike. This is a trend I hope continues despite the consolidation and industry disruption, but that’s for a different post. Till then, see you at the next one.
Postcard from cannes
This editorial was written for NYWIFT and originally posted on June 28, 2022. Thank you NYWIFT!
After two years of living in a state of pandemic anxiety and isolation, attending in-person events again feels both extraordinarily radical and likewise so utterly ordinary. With barely a mask in sight anymore, it was as if you could almost forget what the last two years have been like. Almost. For most people it seemed life had returned to normal a while ago, but that was not the case for me. It was my first time on a plane since October 2019 and it was a Super Big Deal.
My first trip to the south of France was for MIPTV in April, one of the key annual events for the global TV content industry. Aside from the immense joy of interacting with colleagues and clients in person again, it was a huge reminder of what you don’t get when you’re solely relying on video conferencing: serendipitous introductions that lead to LinkedIn connections and maybe the start of a professional relationship. You just don’t get those opportunities if you’re not there to create them.
My second trip to Cannes was for the Marché du Film, the business market that takes place in tandem with the Cannes Film Festival. This felt like my first time to Cannes ever, because I’ve never experienced an event like this. The energy hummed throughout the small city whether you were anywhere near the red carpet or not. And in between meetings and my own professional obligations, I wanted to take full advantage of being at this incredible festival surrounded by all this talent.
The first stop I made was to meet with Osnat Bukofzer, President of WIFT Israel over at the Israeli Film Pavilion. All the country pavilions function to promote the films/filmmakers from their region, as well as shooting incentives, and to foster coproduction cooperations with other nations, among other activities. With the high number of producers and film buyers present from all over the world, it is a lucrative opportunity to have a presence at Cannes. But I really wanted to know what it was like to be part of WIFTI and to be at Cannes (which doesn’t exactly have the best reputation for supporting women filmmakers but you don’t need me to tell you that).
During our chat, she said: “The community from all over, it’s a such a strong power, really. Much more than a strong power. I can feel it inside when I’m sitting with WIFT members from all over the world and the fact that I can call WIFT Italy [or some other country], it makes the world a really global place. And I really feel that I belong, to be part of something that is bigger than I. It’s a big community and I feel it in this sisterhood, I really feel it. And the minute I felt it, I knew this is the answer. Maybe not all the answers, but the answer for us moving to the next level.”
Bukofzer also organizes WIFTI panels and networking events at Cannes which continue to grow, pandemic disruptions aside. I wasn’t able to attend but I kept hearing about what a rousing success it was throughout the rest of the week.
My next stop was to meet with Petrina D’Rozario, Founder & former President of WIFT India, now in New Zealand representing Screen CanterburyNZ which is the local film commission for the Canterbury region. We talked about her vast industry career that took her between India and New Zealand, as well as the importance of being part of a global community like WIFTI.
D’Rozario said: “Once you’re a WIFT member, you’re a WIFT member globally. That connectivity, that acceptance, I think is something that holds [versus] other organizations that are more regional. This is more global. For instance, New Zealand and New York [chapters of WIFT] are collaborating with each other for online programming, which encourages us to share the knowledge across borders. It’s great being back in Cannes representing Screen CanterburyNZ. It’s hard work and this is where the work is being done, meeting with producers and promoting the region.”
D’Rozario also participated as a speaker on the WIFTI panel with other Heads/Board members of global WIFT chapters, including NYWIFT’s own Board Member Joyce Pierpoline.
My final stop took me to the Greek pavilion which is hosted by the Greek Film Center and EKOME, the National Centre of Audiovisual Media and Communication. I met with Vasiliki Diagouma, Head of Communications & International Relations at EKOME, who filled me in on all their various initiatives. As a child of Greek immigrants, I was especially curious to learn more about their industry, and it turns out, there’s a lot happening in the world of Greek cinema. Our conversation also led to me attending a works-in-progress screeninghosted by the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. It was really inspiring to see these daring projects brought to life on the big screen.
Overall, it was such an incredible experience being at the Marché du Film (and very busy). If there’s one thing I took away from being at Cannes, it is how important community and support is now more than ever. So if you find yourself at an international market or film festival—whether it’s the first or the fiftieth time—look for your people. Whether a business partnership comes out of it or not, staying connected, sharing your experiences, and hopefully learning a thing or two, that’s the pulse that will help keep you going in this tough-as-nails industry.
Till then, à tout à l’heure.
Special occasion thoughts.