Discovering Asia’s tyro filmmakers

Six winners face big challenges to make half-hour shows

SINGAPORE — Discovery Channel has launched its First Time Filmmakers project for Asia, continuing its hunt for programming of local relevance.

The network is accepting proposals from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan following its success in South Africa, Europe and Australia.

The six successful entries will make their docs with extreme real-time and budget constraints.

“They will have to tackle the logistics of filming,” says Discovery Networks Asia’s director of programming James Gibbons. “They will have to demonstrate that their stories can be filmed with a minimum of travel, within five to seven days.”

The resultant six half-hour shows will air in the Asia Pacific region this December, and Discovery will maintain a working relationship with the winners.

Challenge unspools

“The network … challenges talented young filmmakers to bring something truly innovative to the table,” says director of marketing and communications Kevin Dickie.

Not that such a project is without its downside. Dickie admits the initiative is “not cheap” but that the end justifies the means in discovering and nurturing new local talent.

“It certainly makes an impact on the market,” he says referring to the project’s previous track record. “And it shows our commitment to the region as a whole.”

The importance of local relevance has been a lesson learned the hard way for many U.S. networks in Asia, who wrongly assumed Asian auds would lap up Western shows.

Despite a presence in the region since 1993, few have made a profit. Discovery is one of the first in Asia Pacific to have broken even.

Projects like First Time Filmmakers are seen as generating and sustaining local interest. “We see it as an opportunity to tap the talent pool,” says Dickie, “and to continue to work with successful applicants in the future.”

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