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Programming Profile

It’s a family affair for 3DD’s Dominic Saville


Dominic Saville of 3DD Productions outlines how the UK-based factual boutique prodco has managed to build its 1,000-title library on limited resources and explores his upcoming slate of documentaries.


3DD Group celebrates its 30th anniversary next year. A tightly knit team, the UK-based indie producer has carved out a reputation as a leading factual content creator with particular expertise in history, culture, royalty and true crime.


“We’ve evolved the business several times over the years,” says group CEO Dominic Saville, who runs the company with his wife, Lyndy Saville, who heads production. “There have definitely been painful and challenging times, but we’ve managed to build a company of like-minded individuals, retain our independence and created a catalogue of 1,000 evergreen factual programmes.”


Dominic Saville,
3DD Productions

3DD began life in 1994 as a sales company, representing talent like David Beckham, Robbie Williams and U2, as well as BMG, TCM and IFC. After time its sales and coproduction of the BBC’s Later With Jools helped change things. “We pivoted towards television production in and around 2006,” explains Saville, and then to financing The Album Show (with Channel 4 the UK home). This initiated the company’s move towards developing its own IP. “That brought more financial pressure and work, but the reward was that we immediately started to create a catalogue of our own.”


The company’s basic business model hasn’t changed much over the years. “We always look to kickstart a project through a combination of pre-sales,” says Saville. “We then complete the finance ourselves, through debt, and retain rights. In the early days, we sold our house to help finance the business and production and after that we would raise money through platforms like peer-to-peer debt funding. This was a key moment, as we recognised the tangible value of IP. More recently, it’s been clear to see the value of owning a library as the revenues from library sales can feed back into new productions.”


Critical to 3DD’s producer-distributor model is having a pool of trusted buyers on the broadcast and streaming side. As an illustration, recent primary financial partners have included Channel 4, US-based Sundance AMC, Netflix, HDNet, Ovation and Public Television, ZDF in Germany and many more. Today with Sky Arts, “we have a had a long relationship with them,” says Saville, “and right now we are coproducing two movie-themed series with them.”


Headlining the MipTV slate, the first of these is a six-part series called Classic Movies: The Story Of… “Series one goes behind the scenes of classic movies The Third Man, The Graduate, Brighton Rock, The Ladykillers, Ran and Terminator 2,” says Saville. “We talk to some of those involved and visit key locations including Vienna. It’s a lovingly produced series that explores the stories, the genre and process behind the magic of a classic film.”


Alongside this title, 3DD is also producing The Art of Film with Sky Arts. “Here we explore subjects like the British filmmaking duo Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and the magic of Ealing Studios, as well as broader themes including the depiction of war, biopics and parody, satire and comedy. Both series have been renewed already.”


Many of 3DD’s productions are rooted in the 20th century – an era that fascinates Saville: “I’ve always been interested in modern culture and history,” he says. “So there is a strong air of nostalgia and legacy to our slate. With our history content, we look 18 to 24 months ahead for stories that can be produced to tie in with key anniversaries.”


The current history slate underlines this point. For example, Hitler’s Putsch (1×60’), launched at Mipcom last year, is a documentary that reflects on the Nazis’ attempted coup in November 1923. So the 100th anniversary is later this year. That show was quickly presold to A+E Networks’ History in the UK, TF1 in France and Grupa WP in Poland.


Other productions included The Soviet Union (3×60’), which aligns with the 100th anniversary of the former communist block. A good illustration of 3DD’s internationally focused business model, this three-parter counted TF1, Telequebec, Sky NZ, PBS America UK, SVT and Finland’s YLE among its broadcast partners along with other platforms.


The Art of Film
The Art of Film

Currently, Saville reckons to be adding around 60 hours of new content to the 3DD catalogue every year. That’s a big volume for a small operation – so how does it work? “The core of the company is relatively lean – around 10 in total, including operations. We tend to multi-task a lot within this group, but the number obviously swells when we go into production. Over the years we have developed a large network of expertise in areas we focus on, academics, producers, journalists and so on.”


Before Covid-19, 3DD took the decision not to renew its central office lease. “We found that we could do what we needed through Zoom, occasional meetings and attendance at markets. Sometimes one misses the clear demarcation of going to work in the office, but it has saved us an overhead and has more importantly given people work flexibility,” says Saville.


In terms of business development, 3DD is not seeking to increase its volume of output. “Instead, we’re focused more on production value,” says Saville. “A key advantage we have is that our library content is still fresh and interesting enough to appeal to buyers. So, by putting more value on the screen we extend shelf-life.”


Saville is also keen to retain the company’s status as a factual specialist. “Over the years we have expanded into royal programming and true crime, and there is a strength in staying focused.” Among the key titles to have sold well are Princess Diana: Who Do You Think She Was? (1×60’) and long-running UKTV true crime/history hybrid Murder Maps (27×60’), currently five seasons in with ambitions for a sixth.


Hitler's Putsch. 1923 - The Birth of the Nazi Party
Hitler’s Putsch. 1923 – The Birth of the Nazi Party

On the distribution side, Saville says the explosion in outlets is clearly an opportunity for 3DD. “I don’t think we’re ready to launch our own FAST channel, but there’s clearly a lot of potential for us in the growth of digital/VoD platforms. We have the kind of content that can be edited for social platforms or grouped into thematic blocks. We’ve already partnered with the likes of Docubay, Little Dot, Acorn and Magnolia.”


Geographically, Saville is paying more attention to the opportunities in Latin America and Hispanic US. “We’ve recent appointed Zuly Baez as sales manager for Spanish-speaking territories because we see that as a growth opportunity,” he says.


To support 3DD’s interest in the region, the company recently attended the first Content Americas event in Miami in January. It has also dubbed 100 hours of content into Spanish, says Saville, “with plans to dub more to meet demand in the market.”


During his three decades at the helm of 3DD, Saville has seen wave after wave of consolidation in the media industry. Now that he has a 1,000-programme catalogue under his belt, is he tempted to sell up? “There have been enquiries, but we have no plans. Lyndy and I have both poured a lot into 3DD over the years and our son, Cal Saville, is creative director. Selling 3DD would be like selling a piece of my life,” he says.

More programming profiles

  • 14-03-2022

    Dominic Saville, founder and CEO of 3DD Group, discusses the company’s evolution through the past 30 years and reveals the slate of programmes he is showcasing on C21’s Digital Screenings and taking out on the physical events circuit this spring.


    There are two eras of 3DD. The London-based group made its name in music programming, representing third-party companies, artists and managers as a distributor.


    It then moved into co-financing the BBC’s long-running music series Later… With Jools Holland and, after the turn of the millennium, bringing it into the HD age and releasing specials on Warner’s DVD. The company’s first major foray into production was producing its own series, The Album Chart Show, with Channel 4 and a global group of buyers as the HD revolution was upon us.

  • 23-04-2021

    UK based 3DD Entertainment focuses on arts, history and true crime programming. Head of sales and co-production Patricia Hickey discusses the company’s C21 Digital Screenings playlist and ongoing industry trends.


    Not every company can make the leap from being a full-time distributor, to producing and funding a music series featuring iconic artists such as Kanye West and Amy Winehouse, to then move away from music to shooting period re-enactment shows. But it is one that London-based producer and distributor 3DD Entertainment took with a great deal of determination and commitment.


    Launching in 1994 as a music programme sales company working with musicians including U2 and The Spice Girls, 3DD went on to coproduce performance series Later… With Jools Holland for UK pubcaster BBC2. It subsequently launched live-music performance series The Album Chart Show (aka London Live) with UK commercial public broadcaster Channel 4.