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SV Docs fund seeks to give factual filmmakers a global stage

New €1m fund SV Docs connects journalists with filmmakers to take factual projects to the global stage with the help of development financing.

Lot Carlier

Bridging the worlds of journalism and filmmaking is the ambition driving SV Docs, a new funding initiative to support documentaries made by investigative journalists.

The initiative is a collaboration between Banijay Benelux-backed prodco Scenery and V-Ventures, the investment arm of Netherlands-based Vereniging Veronica.

V-Ventures has allocated a total cash pot of €1m (US$1.09m) over a span of five years to help filmmakers share impactful stories with international audiences. Successful applicants will be able to benefit from up to €70,000 in development funding to help get their projects up and running.

In addition to financial assistance, SV Docs will also provide guidance, advice and expertise throughout the development and production process. This includes leveraging the networks of Amsterdam-based Scenery (Front Row) and Vereniging Veronica.

SV Docs will invest development financing twice a year in filmmakers and journalists from around the world, rewarding the most promising pitches for documentaries. The fund will continue to supplement its contribution with the potential returns from previous investments of SV Docs.

Lot Carlier, executive director at V-Ventures, explains: “We support companies that strengthen the journalistic ecosytem in Europe. Producing documentaries can create new revenue streams that help the involved journalists become more self-sustainable and have a healthy future in front of them, while maximising the impact of their stories.

“By connecting investigative journalists with high-quality filmmakers and providing substantial financial support for the development of journalistic documentaries, SV Docs aims to bring thoroughly researched stories to a broader audience while generating additional income for the involved journalists.”

Factual specialist Scenery bring a wealth of production expertise and its extensive global network of contacts to the table, Carlier says.

Ruud Gullit & the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt airs on Prime Video

Founded by Isidoor Roebers together with partner Lea Fels, Scenery has made numerous docs and factual series for clients such as Netflix, Universal, Apple TV+, Amazon Prime, Dutch pubcaster NPO and streamer Videoland.

Recent titles include the Idris Elba-narrated Netflix docuseries Human Playground, historical title Ruud Gullit & the Mysteries of Ancient Egypt for Prime Video, and property-focused Home for Apple TV+.

Roebers says: “Thanks to the SV Docs investment initiative, we are now able to fulfil our mission of telling impactful stories for an international audience in a journalistic manner. Collaborating with experienced journalists and talented filmmakers, we can highlight remarkable journalistic documentaries worldwide.

“Due to our partnership with the Banijay group and representation by [US talent agency] CAA, we have a very strong network here in the Netherlands but also abroad in countries such as the UK and the US. At Scenery we know exactly the distribution models needed to take a factual project straight to a major streamer or to make it in a more independent way.”

Isidoor Roebers

The SV Docs fund is open to investigative journalists who are interested in bringing their stories to the small screen. Filmmakers with journalistic ideas are also encouraged to apply, though they should have already released at least one feature-length doc on linear TV, a streaming platform or via theatrical release.

SV Docs says the kind of stories it is looking for should have universal resonance and be capable of engaging a global audience. The initiative seeks ideas with a unique or urgent angle, such as access to exceptional archive material or compelling characters in unusual or hard-to-reach locations.

“The investigative journalistic angle should provide the scoop,” says Roebers. “It doesn’t have to be the new Watergate, but there should always be a revealing new angle that we can build on from the original idea.

“From a business perspective, when Scenery eventually pitches the project to a streamer or distributor, we need an important story that can travel, entertain and reach a big audience. A good example of the kind of documentary we are really aiming for would be the 2022 film Navalny, about the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.”

Ideas can be submitted confidentially and safeguarded by a non-disclosure agreement. The twice-yearly selection process sees Scenery and V-Ventures curate a shortlist of the best applications submitted.

The investigative journalists and filmmakers chosen will then be offered the chance to pitch their ideas to a panel of industry professionals. These pitches will take place in private sessions of roughly 20-minutes duration before a winner is selected by the jury.

After the winner is announced, the ‘matchmaking’ phase gets underway, with meetings arranged to connect journalists and relevant filmmakers. A team is then formed to further develop the idea with Scenery, with the prodco also assisting in preparing budgets.

Netflix docuseries Human Playground is narrated by Idris Elba

Funding is disbursed in instalments, dependent upon meeting specific project milestones and content-related deadlines. The first phase involves refining the project’s direction, with a budget allocation of €10,000 for research and the creation of a pitch deck.

The team must deliver a documentary film plan to go to the next phase, which will see an allocation of between €30,000 to €60,000, depending on the project’s needs, length or number of episodes. Scenery then pitches the project to clients with the hope of securing further funding to help finance the project.

In the future, as productions originated through SV Docs make their way to TV screens, a percentage of revenue from sales will go back into the funding pot to benefit future applicants.

“We’re not just giving away money and saying: Good luck with it!” says Roebers. “In an ideal situation, a portion of the funding would come back so we can help other journalists and filmmakers.”

Conditions attached to the development funding include a caveat that projects should preferably be in the early to late development stage at the time of application. Additionally, if a selected journalist/filmmaker later chooses to adapt their documentary as a scripted project, Scenery retains the right of first refusal to produce it.

The first round of applications has been open since April 18, with a second-round deadline currently set for August 20. Shortlisted projects will digitally pitch to the board on September 24, with the winner announced shortly afterwards.

“We have been very impressed with the quality of applications so far,” says Carlier. “It’s been really difficult to pick shortlisted projects because there has been such a wide variety of investigative stories put forward, many of which we hadn’t been aware of before.”

Roebers says: “I really didn’t expect this level of excellence. We’ve received applications from Britain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and even Papua New Guinea.”