“Entertaining, but still deeply informative”

Earlier this month, it was announced that you have sold your company to Leonine. What will this change?

Christian Betz: Not much has changed at all in the sense that we continue to pursue our passion, i.e. developing and producing great documentaries and documentaries as a team. And this is still the case with all partners we have worked with previously – in any constellation. But of course the odds we have now with Leonen are changing.

How much independence is left when you suddenly become part of a large corporation?

Reinhardt Betz: The critical criterion was to maintain our journalistic and creative independence. We would never have been part of a group in which we could have turned into a workbench at the end of the day, which should also enhance the implementation of different catalog formats. It’s different with Leonine. We are delighted to be part of a very dynamic group with all their creative minds and companies already represented today.

What are your hopes?

Reinhardt Betz: Creative exchange is very important to us. Over the years, our international focus has created a huge network of people who trust us and who we enjoy working with. This can be further developed with leonine. And there may still be different fantasy series or TV movie contacts within the company that can be combined with our documentaries.

The importance of the documentary has changed significantly in recent years, and the demand is high all over the world. How do you explain that?

Christian Betz: Indeed, we are looking forward to a major disruption in the documentary film industry. On the one hand, there is localization, but on the other hand, there is also internationalization driven by streamers. There is a global audience of young people all over the world who loves documentaries and serials that are perfectly narrated. The traditional players, the national broadcasters, who are slowly changing with their media libraries, are now also reacting to this development. Perhaps this can be clearly seen in the new Reeperbahn series, which we are doing for the ARD media library. There was already a lot of international interest in it six months ago at MIPTV when we presented the project, and we had just been accepted into the fiction competition at the Hamburg Film Festival and won the Producer Award for the series straight away. All this shows a broader public interest. The concept of documentaries has changed. However, it is also only about a very specific type of documentaries and series.

In fact?

Christian Betz: Films should entertain the audience and have a multi-layered narrative.

Is it the secret of success in this regard?

Christian Betz: The focus is on narration and drama. This is often misunderstood. Many try only objective classification, but this is often not enough or appropriate. It’s about telling entertaining stories that still go deep. This increases the opportunity to address a wide international audience.

Maybe related to the pictures.

Christian Betz: definitely. The demands became very high. In order to serve viewing habits, a certain visual language is required, along with corresponding effort and more complex production structures. And that’s where we came full circle, and that’s why we collaborated with Leonen. In order to continue and grow the business, we needed a strong background partner who knows and supports the creative process.

“We are only at the beginning, because viewing habits can no longer be reversed.”

What does Leonen do?

Reinhardt Betz: Many parts of everyday business, such as information technology, human resources, and finance, are now under the control of the Leonine Holding Company, allowing more scope for creativity and the development of new materials. In addition, we can count on a large development fund to be secured for the next few years. As a result, we are able to develop about ten to fifteen major productions with external partners and talents every year. Our ambitions are to produce more documentaries and major series for the international market from Germany and to be successful there.

Christian Betz: So far, this has been a very big challenge because, unlike our competitors, we have a competitive disadvantage, eg we can’t use English for sales, like the English and Americans. But above all because we do not have the financial resources in Germany like the French or even the Danes. Unfortunately, local broadcasters still have a large, low-budget market that cannot be reconciled with the realism of the production.

What do you attribute to this?

Reinhardt Betz: For many years, we had a strong monopoly in the documentary sector through ARD and ZDF and had no interest in fully funded productions. This had an effect on prices. The market has changed dramatically because of the banners, but also especially like RTL. And we’re only at the beginning, because viewing habits can no longer be reversed.

Christian Betz: Of course, this development does not stop at public broadcasters. With the Reeperbahn series, for example, we were initially on the road with classic TV budgets and away from international budgets that we had at our disposal, for example, to produce the Netflix “Rohwedder – Unity and Murder and Freedom”. With a great combined effort by ARD and a lot of persuasion, we have not only been able to convince many broadcasters under the leadership of NDR, but also many government funding agencies, GMPF and the strong sales force of OneGate Media. Combined with a large amount of own money, we were able to close the budget. We now hope the series will be well received by national and international audiences. We already had a very interesting first show last week at the Hamburg Film Festival, and international distribution is now starting at MIPCOM. Fortunately for all partners, the response has been very high.

It seems that the Corona crisis is over, and now we are already in the next crisis. How do you feel prepared?

Reinhardt Betz: While the coronavirus has meant you can barely travel and produce, or only under difficult circumstances, the energy crisis is now being felt. The global economic situation presents a major challenge to our industry, which we find difficult to overlook. However, you still need to be well informed and have fun. And we discovered for ourselves that there can also be opportunities in crises when we made our documentary series “Rohwedder”, which launched on Netflix during the Corona period. After that, several public broadcasters contacted us because they wanted to see something like this happen to them. This led to discussions that eventually led to the production of the Reeperbahn. It’s a different kind of storytelling, entertaining but still bearing the same trademarks of public service.

Finally, let’s take a look at the beginnings of your company. What drove you to start a company together over 20 years ago?

Christian Betz: We are united by a broad interest in the world. We were abroad, traveled the world and saw the wonderful diversity early on. What could be nicer than getting out of it with a career? In the end, this is where the heart of the world, the different cultures and people’s stories, and the transfer of this world into documentaries come from.

Reinhardt Betz: After studying directing, I spent nearly two years in America and learned a lot there because there were relatively few points of contact between America and Germany at that time. At the production company I worked for, we did a lot for Discovery or National Geographic, and we were the first to produce HD documentaries, for example. The most crucial thing for me, however, was to experience how important it was to always think outside the box, and team spirit, along with of course the spirit and entrepreneurial spirit that radiated to even the smallest tip of hair. With this knowledge and knowledge that Christian had, we met at the time and were just beginning to experience our first projects. Of course, every attempt has a lot to do with failure, because no one is waiting for you. But fortunately, in hindsight, she succeeded. And so we’ve come full circle with our new partner, Leonine. We value creative exchange and team spirit and would like to do what is close to our hearts for a long time to come.

Thank you for this interview.

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