A growing demand for narrative non-fiction content from an international market dominated by the large SVOD/VOD operators is driving Barcelona-based production company JWP
Over the last five years, JWP, led by British journalist and director Justin Webster and Catalan producer Sumpta Ayuso, has certainly played a leading role in the rise of non-fiction content production in Spain, coinciding with the boom in new platforms.
The formula for success of this company, based in Barcelona since 1996, is to create non-fiction series and films with universal themes together with international partners.
Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Spain and Movistar Plus have taken part in the production and/or distribution of JWP creations, which signed an agreement in 2019 with The Mediapro Studio to develop a minimum of six projects in three years.
Directed by Webster, co-produced by JWP with The Mediapro Studio and LaLiga, exclusively for Amazon Prime Video, the first season of the "Six Dreams" documentary series was a success in all the countries and territories in which it was aired.
This original look at the world of soccer received two Daytime Emmy awards in 2019 for Outstanding Entertainment Program in Spanish and Outstanding Graphic Design. On October 2, Amazon Prime released "Six Dreams. Back to Win", the second season of the series.
“The agreement with The Mediapro Studio helps us greatly in the development of our ideas, which requires time and resources. The partnership with TMS, a major company that has a development support department, gives us a significant amount of peace of mind,” explains Ayuso.
In addition to facilitating the development of new projects, TMS has just wrapped on one of them, currently in the adjudication process, and it will continue on several more. The JWP-TMS alliance enables them to undertake more ambitious and necessarily international projects jointly.
“The relationship with TMS is turning out to be very productive for both parties,” Ayuso says. “The idea is to extend the commitment, because we are working very well together, despite the forced hiatus due to the pandemic.”
"Death in Leon"
JWP usually puts attractive proposals on the table based on real stories told through characters. In other words, like in fiction, but without the fiction.
With "Death in Leon", a docuseries that Movistar Plus aired in 2016, Webster enters into true-crime, in line with international references that popularized the subgenre globally, such as "The Jinx: The Life and Death of Robert Durst” from HBO or “Making a Murderer” from Netflix.
The merger of journalism and cinematography in “Death in Leon" was continued with the 2019 documentary feature film “Death in Leon. Closed Case ”, aired by HBO España.
“Death in Leon” also enabled JWP to push back against the preconceived idea of a documentary for minorities, coining the English-inspired term "non-fiction" to define its proposal.
“Calling them non-fiction stories has helped present these productions to the viewer in a way that is far removed from the stereotype of a classic documentary,” Ayuso says.
JWP's involvement with HBO continued that same year with the docuseries "The Pioneer”, the first original series from HBO España, which explored the life of Jesús Gil y Gil.
JWP's films and series include research built around characters, through testimonials, archives and recreations, and personal stories often with a vérité narrative style.
With “The Prosecutor, the President and the Spy”, a mini-series investigating the death of Argentinean prosecutor Alberto Nisman, in collaboration with Netflix, JWP participated last year in the San Sebastian International Film Festival, as it did in 2016 with “The End of ETA”.
Despite its success in completing major documentary projects, JWP continues to face challenges. “It is still difficult to find good stories and financial partners to back them up,” Ayuso says.
Given the complicated situation faced by public television, the traditional driving force behind documentary production in Spain, and the added difficulty of integrating numerous companies from different territories into a co-production, JWP is looking to new platforms.
“It is easier to make agreements with them. They buy the whole idea and the financial risk is lower, because they pay as you produce,” he says.
However, the other side of the coin is the intellectual property of this idea, which usually remains one hundred percent in the hands of these operators, “a matter that needs to be discussed in the sector because it is the producers who create new stories that they certainly pay for, but there is an intangible aspect that we must fight for.”