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Keys to the Castle: Mastering Access Report on the World Congress of History Producers

7 December 2006

 Keys to the Castle: Mastering Access Report on the World Congress of History Producers


(L-R) Norma Percy, Producer, Brook Lapping, Christine Whittaker, Archive Consultant, Declan Smith, Footage Researcher.


Mastering access to footage is one thing, but mastering access to interview the world’s leaders is another skill altogether.

Both themes were explored at the recent World Congress of History Producers (WCHP) at the Radisson SAS Portman Hotel, London.

As ever, delegates at the WCHP were able to enjoy numerous excellent panel discussions with leading history producers from around the world imparting their knowledge and sharing their experiences. A regular favourite was the ‘Great Debate’ with, this year, father and son duo Peter and Dan Snow leading a panel of producers versus academic historians, including Tristram Hunt and Brian Winston. The argument ‘Does Television Enhance or Diminish History?’ was hotly debated and to bring a touch of humour to the proceedings, Peter Snow employed his famous “swingometre” to monitor the results.

Taylor Downing’s ‘In conversation with Sir Jeremy Isaacs’ revealed much about the man and his remarkable career in broadcasting, producing landmark series such as The World at War and the Cold War along the way. He went out of his way to state that he was blessed, in both cases, with excellent research teams, and generous budgets – the latter often sadly lacking in the current environment.

Other discussions covered the use of CGI in history programmes, the Muslim voice, depicting genocide and the opportunities presented by new digital platforms.

As sponsors, FOCAL Chair Sue Malden introduced the ‘Keys to the Castle: Mastering Access’ panel discussion. Christine Whittaker, who was granted FOCAL’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 acted as moderator posing questions to the award winning Brook Lapping team behind Israel & the Arabs: Elusive Peace – Producer Norma Percy and FOCAL’s Researcher of the Year, Declan Smith.

What sets this series apart, like Norma Percy’s other series, are the candid and revealing interviews with all the key players....Ariel Sharon, Bill Clinton, Colin Powell, Madelaine Albright, Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak, plus the organizers of suicide bombings and assassinations.

Asked how she gained access to such key international players, Norma Percy revealed that dogged persistence and a lot of letter writing usually pays off, and if they still decline an interview, she makes her approach via other contacts who do have some leverage.

For this series, gaining an interview with Clinton naturally helped persuade other leaders to agree to participate. It also helped Declan Smith to secure stills of the Camp David meeting attended by Clinton, Arafat and Barak which otherwise would not have been available to him through the normal channels.
Norma admitted that it was rare for a piece of archive footage to lead the story, but finding a piece of unique footage of, for example, Ehud Barak playing the piano was an invaluable tool helping to give a human face to international politics. Clips were shown of this and other events like the 2003 Aqaba Summit where big political decisions were made apparently behind closed doors, and yet the team managed to secure footage of the actual event. Declan was praised by Norma for his tireless efforts in finding the right images to make the story work, and, within budget.

Exhibiting at the Congress were AP Archive, BBC Motion Gallery, Bridgeman Art Library, Huntley Film Archive, INA, ITN Source, RAI Trade.

Next year, in November, it is planned to stage the Congress in New York, so it is to be hoped that even more footage libraries attend to ensure that the industry is well represented.

About FOCAL International:

The Federation of Commercial Audiovisual Libraries International Ltd, is a not-for-profit professional trade association providing excellent networking and marketing opportunities for content industry professionals and giving users easy access to over 350 members worldwide:

FOOTAGE LIBRARIES selling clips, archive, footage, stock shots, stills, audio FOOTAGE RESEARCHERS with the professional skills to find and deliver the material, on time, within budget, rights cleared FOOTAGE CONSULTANTS to advise on content management solutions and use of valuable library assets FACILITIES with the technical equipment and expertise to store, restore or deliver the material on any format MEDIA LAWYERS specialising in media and copyright issues. Use FOOTAGE FINDER, RESEARCHER FINDER and FACILITY FINDER – FREE services giving fast easy access to footage and its professionals.

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