The deal will see the two companies, who most recently collaborated on 2021 Sundance title Playing With Sharks, develop, finance and co-produce an initial slate of five documentaries. The companies are currently in-production on their first project, Fastest Thing On Wings (working title) which will reunite Playing With Sharks director Sally Aitken with WildBear producer Bettina Dalton. WildBear CEO Michael Tear will exec produce the project.
Fastest Thing On Wings is inspired by Terry Masear’s book of the same name, which follows the journey of a hummingbird rehabilitator in L.A.
“It’s about hummingbirds and all of this bejewelled magic that comes with them” Dalton tells Deadline of the project. “It’s sort of like magical realism where we tell the story of this hummingbird rehabilitator in a season in L.A., and we get all the backstories from these different people that bring the birds in.”
This latest deal marks the second international commercial partnership for Dogwoof, which operates across production, sales and distribution, following its deal with Danish outfit Elk Film earlier this year.
“We support projects by talent that we really believe in,” says Dogwoof CEO Anna Godas, whose company has worked on award-winning projects ranging from The Act Of Killing to Blackfish to Becoming Cousteau. “And WildBear was a natural fit for us. It’s an opportunity we see where we can look to independently finance these projects where possible by assessing different models where we can minimize risk and we can be entrepreneurial and develop a real business partnership.”
Dalton adds, “When we first met Dogwoof in Sundance a few years ago for Playing With Sharks, we immediately saw how beautifully our companies were aligned. As Australians, we need to partner to tell stories that are universal. The appetite for streamers and buyers out there now is that they want stories that are about Australians or Australia but that resonate internationally and thematically.”
Under the deal, both Dogwoof and WildBear will bring projects to the table, with an aim to replicate the model they used on Playing With Sharks, which was independently financed and sold at Sundance to National Geographic.
“With Playing With Sharks, we managed to finance it without preselling,” says Dogwoof head of acquisitions Oli Harbottle. “It’s a model that is really interesting to us because if we can retain the IP, take it to market and then sell it based on the value and less predicated on the budget, that’s obviously a much more attractive model for everyone.”
While the move into the production space has been what Harbottle describes as “a natural evolution for us as a company”, the demand in the documentary space has meant there has been increased competition. Increasingly, Dogwoof has found it has made more sense to position itself earlier in projects.
“We’re always looking for partners but after a very happy collaboration with WildBear already on one film, teaming with them for this seemed like an obvious one,” says Harbottle. “Also, Australia is a very attractive country for documentaries in terms of soft money as well as being a country that is active in the documentary space. It’s a country where there are opportunities to finance films in an entrepreneurial way.”
Godas notes that Dogwoof can support projects at any stage, from development right through to sales and distribution. Since it launched its production fund TDog in 2016, which draws in company funds and money from a private investor, Godas says that it’s got the clout to do “whatever fits and whatever a project might need.”
“For me, what I’ve always envisaged is a truly global, integrated, true stories studio,” Godas adds. “Being positioned in London sort of opens the door. It’s like being in between the U.S. and the rest of the world. In that sense, I feel we’re in a privileged position to combine U.S. talent and resources and production companies with European talent. Beyond that, we can give them access to funding, there are endless opportunities.”
Both Godas and Harbottle say they are currently talking to “a couple” U.S. companies about doing something similar.
“The majority of our business is with the U.S. or led by the U.S. so we’d love to establish a strategic partner there,” says Harbottle. “And if there are other geographical opportunities that make sense, we are very open to it. It’s always slightly a bit fluid and we want to create an international network.”
Godas adds that the opportunity in the documentary space is better than ever. With increased appetites from streamers, she says that “it has created opportunities for us to come up with some really interesting projects that are not necessarily the types of documentaries that big platforms go for.”
“There’s an opportunity now to develop, produce and finance other types of films that aren’t your usual suspects but are becoming highly commercial propositions once they are done,” she says. “The pandemic, of course, brought a huge number of incidental audiences that would have maybe never looked into documentaries before and that was the beginning of a wave of new audiences who are realizing these stories. Now, there is so much potential on a lot of different levels.”