Tiger King 2 and the Weird Rise of Documentary Sequels
“On a fundamental level, it seems like there’s so much more interest in financing for documentaries, based on when I entered the industry in 1996,” says Jesse Moss, director of Sundance hit Boys State, which Apple TV+ released last year. Much of this funding appears to go into docuseries. Following the popularity of HBO’s true crime doc The Jinx in 2015, an abundance of five-, six-, seven-, and ten-part documentaries hit streaming services. Over time, it seemed as though everything that would’ve been a single doc a decade ago was now becoming a docuseries. The mantra was simple: “More is more.”
Moss says streaming has brought his documentaries to wider, international audiences, and he has enjoyed the opportunity to explore topics in the docuseries format. But, he notes, this is “not the right approach for every story” and “there has been, at times, pressure to expand a story that may not support a multi-episode approach.”
What makes a docuseries, rather than a feature-length documentary, more profitable or appealing? Hard to tell. “Netflix doesn’t give out the methodology that they use to determine what is considered a success,” says Dan Rayburn, a streaming media analyst with Frost & Sullivan, a market research firm. “So we don’t know, really, what goes into how any of these streaming services decide what content to make or the length of time that should be.”
Still, we can guess. Rayburn notes that there’s no additional cost to uploading extra content to the internet compared to paying for an extra slot in the TV schedule or in a movie theater. If you have five hours’ worth of content and would normally edit it down to two, he says, “Why not put it up?” Similarly, it’s economical to produce sequels using old footage, and there’s less risk involved when you already have an established fanbase. “Netflix doesn’t guess on a lot of things, they have the data behind it to show what’s considered a good investment and what isn’t,” Rayburn says.
But are good investments and good content the same thing? Guggenheim fellow Matt Wolf, director of Spaceship Earth, says that the docuseries format works well for the true crime genre when there’s “a story that has enough twists and turns that it demands to be serialized.” But, he says, documentary filmmakers have always historically shot hundreds of hours of footage, and there’s now “a risk of misidentifying an abundance of material for an abundance of story.”
Published at Tue, 16 Nov 2021 12:00:00 +0000