We are not Talking about a Crisis in the Field of Formats, but Neither is it a Golden Age

Interview with the creative producer for Czech Television, Kamila Zlatušková, about the public genre of reality TV, the development of new formats and the new phenomenon Slow TV.

Holiday in the Protectorate

Kamila Zlatušková has her own ideas about the way public television should work and serve. In her creative production group at the studio of Czech Television in Brno, she most enjoys developing new formats, which teach the viewers and even the creators new experiences.  This year she successfully introduced a feature film with elements of scripted reality, Goat (Koza), which represented Czech and Slovak films in Berlin. In autumn she is launching a new reality TV show, Golden Youth, about prominent young children put into an environment they were prejudice against. In the interview she discusses the topic of her dissertation, the definition of the term reality TV, developing shows in her creative group and formats she would like to try out in the future.

You recently participated in the Eurovision Creative Forum in Berlin, where producers from European public televisions present their new formats. What does such a meeting look like?
The Eurovision Creative Forum is a prestigious presentation of new formats. This year it celebrated the tenth anniversary of its founding. Czech Television took part in the presentation for the first time and did so in two of the completive sections. Apart from Polish public television, we were the only guest from Central Europe. The other formats were presented by West European broadcasters. The forum lasted two days and 300 television producers and creators gathered there.

What did participating in such a world-class presentation mean to you?
It was a very valuable experience for my colleagues and me. Producers were also present there, which gave us the opportunity for discussions amongst each other. You also get the chance to see budgets, find out what is being made for how much abroad. Sometimes I think that the amounts can’t even be possible. We are used to shooting for a fraction of the cost. A reason for which I am even prouder of the fact that we are capable of competing with them. In my opinion, if there is something extraordinary about reality TV, it's the fact that it never will be as costly as acted productions. Also, its service to the public can be many times greater.

What kinds of formats were represented this year?
It is difficult to judge formats which cost an incredible amount of money and difficult production-wise such as the Norwegian film, When the Orchestra Came to Town, where the orchestra is taken to the streets. This year’s winner The Art Forger was a strange type of reality TV. It was about a painter-forger who has her own talk show from prison. It is a case of a non-transferrable format as it is built around a specific person. We also saw some more conventional programs and, in contrast, my favourite Japanese and Koreans who never fail to bring something to the table that astounds us, the European audience, in terms of what the television screen can withstand.

Is there any single definition of reality TV? What shows can we think of when speaking of this term?
I see reality TV as something bordering on the line of a "new" form of documentary and documentary series. As a solitary affair reality TV is practically non-existent. Its serial character is absolutely key to television. Likewise, in the definition television, not the internet, has to be the primary medium broadcasting the final production to the viewers. It is also crucial that reality TV reflects the present in some way. I would prefer to avoid the Czech words of reality, truth and objectivity, for they could be misleading. Moreover, within the reality TV genre we can also notice scripted formats and docudramas, which are acting affairs.

Is reality TV a public television genre and does it belong on Czech television?
I fundamentally believe that it is one. I think that the public service television of public service should have come up with it first. Recently I saw the series An American Family, a production of the American public television PBS. It was one of the first docusoaps, which followed the life of American middle-class families. Although it is a series from 1973, even today it comes across as utterly timeless in terms of production. It was followed by BB’s daily soap dealing with a family in tighter social conditions (The Family, 1974). In essence, it was created and aired from day to day. For me, both of these series come across as revelations and emphasize the necessity to experiment in public service TV, in order to come up with something vital and new.

If we were to talk about what reality television format does not belong on the screen of public television, we can mention the erotic scripted-realities such as Gigolos (2011), which are certainly great, but belong on the commercial stations.

Golden Youth

You talked about the fact that Czech Television is just learning how to make the reality TV format, even though abroad, this genre already has decades of development. What is behind the delay?
In the case of the Czech Television, the big reason for this was the reluctance of previous management during the times of director Janeček to try new things. Coincidentally, it was program director at the time, Kateřina Fričová, who started the production of the first Czech Television docusoap,  Little Birds (Ptáčata). It can’t even be compared with today's approach, although there is always room for improvement. We still have a very conservative audience, unforgiving towards experiments and new things. To me, it looks as if they do not want to rack their brains about such a thing. I would not want to burden the viewer. I understand that television primarily serves a relaxation purpose, but for me it is an important element of cultural life and should also be an opinion maker. Its role should be to present and process current topics not only in the forms of classic documentaries, which are irreplaceable of course. But it is also necessary to try new things. It is extremely important that reality TV targets new groups. I'm not saying that we should not continue producing classic documentaries. I enjoy producing them very much, but I think that if we want to present an issue, perhaps in the human rights field, reality TV is a great opportunity for that.

Do you consider any of the new Czech Television series examples of good public reality TV?
Czech Television is still poking and prodding this genre. I cannot be objective because I took part in such series, as a script editor or director. I do not know how to answer this question, without being accused of bias. But I am glad that Czech Television is trying it more frequently though in some cases I have dramaturgical reservations in regard to the final series. However, after the battle everyone is a general.

From your point of view as a producer is it more interesting to take on time-tested formats, or create new ones?
The term globalization is associated with taking on or modifying foreign formats for a local audience. It is impossible to take on a program as it is, for the audience rarely reacts the same. I try to take on parts of the format, but also have free reign within the licence to be able to make changes based on what we think might be relevant for the Czech audience. But it is much more fun to go through our own development, which is also more prestigious and economically interesting for Czech Television.

Can you give a specific example?
Two series by Czech Television, Golden Youth and the Ostrava Holiday in the Protectorate, placed in the top ten in the competition of television formats in Berlin. Czech Television was represented in this competition for the first time. We see that our own development is heading in the right direction and at the same time resonates even with professional audiences, which, of course, makes me very happy. Obviously, I would not be as happy knowing that we adopted the format from someone else. It’s a different story when you come across a format that leaves you breathless and you can only think: "That's exactly what we need. It's great that someone has already come up with it."

Where do you get inspiration when developing new formats?
From constant and continuous daily discussions with colleagues and principally from inspiration taken elsewhere. Very often we are taken in by something that cannot be transferred into the Czech environment, so we in the production department rack our brains how to discover ways the new series would hypothetically benefit us, Czech television and the audience. But I do not only follow the path of practicality. At the moment, I am writing my dissertation on reality TV. I am constantly reviewing my knowledge also in the context of theoretical research.

Have not all ideas and formats been milked for all they are worth?
We are not talking about a crisis in the field of formats, but neither is it a golden age. Nevertheless, today there is a good environment in which we can somehow exchange and test ideas amongst each other. When you see a new format somewhere else, it is never perfect. Thanks to the fact that it has been reproduced a few times in different national versions, you have a great opportunity to balance it out or fine-tune what you thing was previously missing.

If we were to develop new things ourselves at all costs, we would burn out. It is necessary to build on good quality and worry less about what the audience might want. We should take into account, what the mood in society is. We shouldn’t blindly indoctrinate people with an ideology. The purpose is to upset a little and unsettle their world view.

Slow TV

At the Jihlava IDFF, viewers will have the opportunity to debate with the Norwegian producer Thomas Hellum concerning the phenomenon of Slow TV, which you have also been interested in recently. In what ways is Slow TV special?
Slow TV is the negation of everything that people in the industry thought they knew about the way television worked. It destroys the idea of what contemporary TV should produce. It is stopping in time and space, becoming aware of a different pace of life and perspective. One of the main conditions is watching Slow TV as a key happening that is why it cannot be broadcast at late hours for a small audience. The "Story" must have a strong connection with most viewers. I know from the creators that the development of Slow TV is an extremely long thought process. I consider the fact that one of the authors of the concept is originally a mathematician who has never studied screenwriting or dramaturgy, and because of this his thinking about television must be different and interesting.

The audience of the internet television Playtvak.cz can watch hours of footage from different locations. Is this also Slow TV?
Slow TV on the internet is rubbish and an inflation of the term. Maybe we can speak of Slow Net but not Slow TV. It will never work because it does not comply with a lot of specific elements. They do not try to mess with the classic television idea, which we create. It is necessary to look at Slow TV as a unique thing, not some never-ending streamed broadcast of anything. But I am not against such broadcasts at this time.  Because of a recommendation of a colleague I watched a broadcast from webcams in a reserve showing wild pigs feeding every night before going to bed. That was a few years back and no one would have considered that Slow TV, because it is not. The concept is much more complex and sophisticated than going somewhere and installing cameras for people to watch.

What do you think is the key problem in adapting Slow TV to the Czech Republic?
The problem may be that someone will be appalled and claim that this is not of public service. It is something I am confronted with constantly. There are many of us in television and we all have different expectations. I know that my ideas are sometimes peculiar, but the more I watch things that are done elsewhere, the more I am confident that I am not entirely mistaken.

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1+2.19Greta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila Boháčková
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starší články

30. 10. 2015

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková