Ben Kempas
Kampas is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

More than 2000 documentary professionals attended this year’s edition of Sunny Side of the Doc. For two of them, their role at the market changed radically.

Paul Pauwels, until recently an independent producer, now works as commissioning editor for Flemish broadcaster VRT. And Leena Pasanen is leaving Finnish YLE Teema to become the new director of EDN.

paul-pauwels_01“Ladies and Gentlemen, Paul Pauwels has now left the building.” Ending with these words, an email from Paul announced his departure from Periscope Productions in May. When he told friends about his new job as Programme Manager for VRT, they warned him: “Watch out, Paul, you’re going to spend half your life in meeting rooms.” He replied, “Hey, that’s nice: sitting and listening to other people and being paid for it.” Having worked with many commissioning editors before, Paul Pauwels had a pretty good idea of the job. “But I was not really prepared for the amount of meetings within the channel and for the amount of paperwork that’s waiting for you. It’s a huge organisation.”

One day before Sunny Side of the Doc started, EDN announced the name of their next director: Leena Pasanen. Still a commissioning editor for YLE, she is only finishing projects she is currently involved in, viewing rough cuts in Marseille. Congratulations everywhere. “I have mixed feelings,” she says. “I found some really, really nice projects here, and I’m not able to take them anymore because I’m already leaving YLE at the end of September. Whenever I see something and say, ‘I want to have this,’ then I can’t do it. It’s a bit sad. On the other hand, I’m already thinking about all the possibilities that I can see in the future with EDN. That’s very, very exciting.”

Paul Pauwels is constantly surrounded by producers passing him A4 sheets and sample reels. “It’s very strange to be on the other side because they’re doing exactly what I did before. It’s very inspiring to see all these ideas come by, and people hoping that you can help them. It’s less inspiring to know that you will not be able to help everybody. At Canvas, with our limited resources, we can’t do too many co-productions.” At EDN workshops, Paul used to tell fellow producers: “Give commissioning editors some time to breathe and to go to the toilet without being accompanied by someone who’s pitching.” However, Paul’s impression at Sunny Side is that this kind of guerrilla pitching is less aggressive than it used to be. “People behave quite well.” He admits that as a producer he always felt “a bit ashamed” when trying to pitch to buyers. “I thought I was invading their privacy.”

Lleenapasanen_0227_c_maiju_saarieena Pasanen encourages producers to jump on commissioning editors even if they weren’t able to make appointments beforehand. “Especially when you’re starting up as a producer and doing your first international co-production, it is very important to attend events like this. It’s not enough just to keep emailing or calling people who’ve never seen you and have no idea of what you’re doing. You really have to meet them in person. It might take years before you get your first contract, but this is the way to do it.”

Paul Pauwels admits that after twenty years in documentary production, he felt very tired. “There were not a lot of new things for me to discover. It became increasingly difficult. Running a company, having to pay people is a huge responsibility.” Although he loved the work he did as a chairman and a tutor for EDN, it sometimes made Paul feel like he was competing with himself. “People asked me for my advice on their projects, and I would tell them: ‘Why don’t you go and see this commissioning editor, why don’t you go for that broadcaster, why don’t you apply for MEDIA plus in such and such a way.’ But then, two weeks later, I had a project myself, and I had to send it to the same broadcasters. So in a way it was a competition.”

Leena Pasanen remembers how her first EDN workshop changed her attitude towards producers. “I think it ruined me as a commissioning editor. It’s quite easy to come and sit on a panel and say what you think, but when you see all the effort that’s happening before that moment, you start feeling for them. You try to help them as best you can.” At Sunny Side, that’s not always possible. “It’s become a mass event,” Leena says. The more relaxed an atmosphere is, the better results I find. But if it gets very hectic and tightly scheduled, it is sometimes so exhausting that you stop thinking.”

Paul Pauwels still uses the EDN booth as his favourite meeting point. He promises to continue his offer to give advice to EDN members. “I’ve never considered independent producers and broadcasters as being two sides. It’s one body that has to work together. It’s the lungs and the heart. Before I was the lungs, and now I’m the heart.”