EXCLUSIVE: London-based doc specialist Dogwoof, which has a pipeline deal with Nat Geo, is expanding further into production and financing as it eyes bigger plays in an increasingly crowded and lucrative factual market.
The film and TV distribution company, a regular at major European film and TV markets, has had a banner year with Oscar-winner Free Solo and Apollo 11 returning strong grosses at the UK box office, taking $2.7m and $1.8m, respectively.
The firm’s sales wing has also done good recent business on the likes of Cunningham, which went to Magnolia Pictures, and Maiden, which sold to Sony Pictures Classics.
Now, we can reveal the six titles (five films, one series) that will comprise the outfit’s next wave of productions. (All working titles.) Below is also our interview with company bosses about growth.
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The Lost Leonardo (in production): From director Andreas Koefoed, whose Ballroom Dancer played Tribeca in 2012 and was distributed in the UK by Dogwoof, the film recounts the mystery surrounding the Salvator Mundi, the first painting by Leonardo da Vinci to be discovered for more than a century, which has now seemingly gone missing. The film is a co-production with Elk Film (Denmark), Pumpernickel Films (France), Mantaray Film (Sweden).
Superdome (in development): Directed by Eddie Martin, whose Have You Seen the Listers? was repped for sales by Dogwoof, the doc series chronicles the events that took place over five days inside the Louisiana Superdome during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Carver Films (Australia) is also producing.
One (in production) Denis Delestrac directs an intimate look at Steve McCurry, best known for his famed photograph ‘Afghan Girl’, who has braved hardship and personal risk over his 40-year career to create some of the most enduring images of our time. Polar Star Films and Intrepido Films (both Spain) are also producing.
Valerie (in production) Sally Aitken directs the story of pioneering scuba diver Valerie Taylor, who has dedicated her life to exposing the myth surrounding our fear of sharks. Wildbear Entertainment (Australia) is also producing.
Song Of Giants (in development) James Rogan, who directed a three-parter about the murder of Stephen Lawrence for On The Corner and the BBC in 2018, is director and producer on this film about maverick American scientist Roger Payne, who discovered whale song in the 1960s and is now on a quest to find those same whales to see if they have survived. Rogan Productions (UK) is also producing.
Citizen Ashe (in production) Rex Miller directs the story of groundbreaking tennis champion and civil rights leader Arthur Ashe, featuring never-before-seen archival material. Stick Figure (U.S.) are also producing.
Dogwoof will act as a co-producer and sales agent on all of the above, and has the ability to board UK distribution on a case-by-case basis. The company also takes remake rights for the projects it invests in.
Since launching its production fund TDog in 2016, which draws on company funds and money from a private investor, Dogwoof has made two significant investments in the form of Lorna Tucker’s Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, which was at Sundance in 2018, and Halston, which was at Sundance this year.
Both those films saw Dogwoof board at the development stage, injecting finance and helping to creatively shape the projects before taking them out to market with its sales division. It also handled UK distribution on the two titles.
Speaking to us at their London HQ, CEO Anna Godas and Head of Distribution and Acquisitions Oli Harbottle outlined the company’s plans to ramp up production as it competes with streamers and other larger companies in a crowded factual space.
Godas says that its two initial production plays Westwood and Halston have helped to shape the production push going forward.
“It’s been a learning curve,” the CEO admits, “We do much better deal structures now. The way we’re structuring our investments isn’t necessarily an MG. It can be equity, gap finance, development. But we do want to be involved editorially, it’s not a pre-buy.”
“We also have other investors here and in North America that we can bring to the table to help close projects without pre-selling,” she adds.
Having its own distribution and sales wings gives the company flexibility with funding because it can put up money against those rights. This helps the team close finance without pre-selling, which Godas says is key in the current market. The company also taps into soft money to complete budgets whenever possible, and has done so on the above slate with public funders in Australia and Denmark.
Dogwoof will presently invest up to $500,000 per project, a significant figure for most docs, and will inject up to $60,000 into development. The company could also look to stretch beyond those figures to fully-finance in the future if the appropriate opportunity arose, says the CEO.
Alongside its own productions, Dogwoof is continuing to be a regular distribution and sales partner for U.S. companies including Netflix, Amazon, Universal and National Geographic.
“There has been a boom in the doc genre. A lot of the U.S. companies and platforms come to us first because they see docs as a genre for them to explore. [Factual content has] been a key cornerstone of Netflix’s originals structure,” says Harbottle. “We have also helped qualify Netflix and Amazon docs for BAFTA in the UK.”
“Free Solo [which was a partnership with Nat Geo] was a game-changer for us,” the executive adds, noting that the film’s strong performance in UK cinemas has encouraged U.S. partners to see more potential for docs in the UK theatrical market, and has increased confidence in Dogwoof as a delivery partner.
“We have had an ongoing partnership with Nat Geo since they launched their feature doc division, handling UK distribution and international sales on films such as The Cave and Sea Of Shadows this year. Having seen us work in a successful partnership, other similar sized entities now view us as an agile partner on the ground in the UK. Universal have used us twice this year, for Marianne & Leonard and Apollo 11,” continues Harbottle.
Dogwoof may also take its in-house productions to those companies for potentially larger scale distribution deals, he adds.
Godas notes that TDog is already turning a profit off the back of its initial two investments, plus returns from a handful of smaller financial plays in other projects, and that now is the right time to be ramping up that side of the business. “It’s been going well, no one broke a leg, and now the show is about to start.”
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