For the love of Doc

Ahead of AIDC, 10's Head of Popular Factual believes documentaries are really all love stories, deep down.

“I’d argue everything is about Love, deep down. Or it should be,” says Sarah Thornton says.

“You want to be taken on a journey, but at the heart of it there’s love, right?”

As Paramount ANZ’s Head of Popular Factual, Thornton has oversight of such shows The Dog House, Mirror Mirror, Couples Therapy, The Bridge, Undressed, and upcoming shows Location, Location, Location and Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly.

Her portfolio even includes the newly-launched Taskmaster.

“I’m genuinely a super fan. I’ve seen every English speaking episode, so that’s 14 seasons in the UK, the Champions or Champions and I even watch the US and all the New Zealand series.

“So I’m genuinely a superfan. I don’t think there’s many shows where I’m that big a fan and to get to make it has been my dream come true.”

There’s plenty of love to be found in hit series The Dog House, filmed at Animal Welfare League NSW. The simple format, based on a UK series, pairs rescue dogs with prospective new owners. But it invariably shoots an arrow to the heart and tells stories about those seeking a new pooch in their lives.

“We have this wonderful, diverse cast of people with fabulous stories to show. It just happens naturally, that the types of people who want to adopt dogs are from all across the state … everyone’s got an interesting story to tell,” she explains.

“There was a perfect location where they already had this process running”

“We really lucked out finding the AWL because it’s a beautiful set-up out there. There was a perfect location where they already had this process running, where people would meet dogs. So it felt very natural for us to set up there. We have a little control room with our team but the AWL conduct their daily business in and around us.

“Our crew will even go out and walk a dog in their lunch break, in order to help the AWL out. They’ve really helped allowed us to integrate into the day to day, which we’re really grateful for.”

“They draw on dogs from pounds all over the country”

Central to the format is the ‘reveal’ when doggies come face to face with new owners, filmed in an outdoor meeting pen.

“We have the family come in for the pre-interview where we get to know them. They meet the matchmakers …a really large part of the production is working with the AWL on making sure we’ve got the right dogs for the families that are coming through. They draw on dogs from pounds all over the country and foster carers to ensure that there is a variety and the right type of dog for the right applicant, and that the match has genuine chance of longevity,” Thornton explains.

“We are reflecting their genuine processes but I guess we stage that moment of love at first sight.”

Next month Thornton will moderate a documentary panel at the Australian International Documentary Conference: True Romance – The Ethics Of Love, Sex And Relationships In Documentary.

Recently producing Couples Therapy on Paramount+, Thornton was impressed by the format’s arm’s-length approach to intimate conversations as couples underwent genuine counselling. To replicate a genuine counselling space, production went to great lengths.

“They would go in and have a genuine session and leave.”

“It needed to feel like it was a place where Therapy rooms existed. We had a corridor with other doorways leading off to all other manner of offices. The waiting room was a real waiting room. They would go in and have a genuine session and leave.

“Then around that you have a camera behind two way mirrors. Apart from miking up the contributors there is no other contact with the production team on the day…. they really only touched base to make sure that they found the filming experience okay. It was never to talk about the therapy.

“It’s an incredible hands-off production but still enables you to film something beautifully”

“So it’s an incredible hands-off production but still enables you to film something beautifully. The camera work is beautiful and intimate, the lighting is beautiful, and it feels kind of filmic and lovely. But you’re getting this raw, unfiltered therapy session where people are genuinely looking to change something quite important in their relationship.”

Participating in the AIDC session will be the US creators of Couples Therapy (Paramount+) plus creators from The Matchmakers (SBS) and Better Date than Never (ABC).

In terms of what Thornton is looking for at Paramount ANZ she adds, “Across our platform, there is definitely room for another ob-doc series if it was in the right space that felt that it bringsgravitas of storytelling that you get from things like Ambulance, Bondi Rescue and The Dog House. We’re always in the market, for documentary series that tap into very distinctly Australian conversations and feel of the moment.”

Australian International Documentary Conference
5 – 8 March, Melbourne
9 – 11 March International Market (Online)

One Response

  1. Sarah was also responsible for bringing The Living Room in-house from production company WTFN and creating…um, something that definately wasn’t a love story.
    It was a harsh lesson in how to take a perfectly good lifestyle programme and frankenstein it into a poor man’s ‘ Queer Eye for A Straight Guy’ rip off – something fans switched off from in droves.
    This finally ( after a few years of ratings agony ) resulted in The Living Room being ” rested ” AKA being axed without Ten having the guts to admit it.
    Something not for the CV I guess.

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