Whether you are working for a global ‘super-indie’ production company or are an independent filmmaker with a passion project there are some simple proposal writing principles that will increase your chances of attracting channel executives and investors. These principles are the same wherever you are in the world, and whichever TV commissioner, funder or buyer you are pitching to. This course will show you, step-by-step, how to craft a compelling written proposal that will catch the eye of executive producers, commissioning editors and other funding bodies. According to TV executives and other buyers of documentaries, producers and filmmakers consistently make elementary mistakes when pitching their ideas - find out how to avoid them. The key steps are simple to follow and implement – once you know what they are. Once you understand - and have practiced - the key principles you will be able to adapt and apply them to any kind of proposal you need to write.
Fat and Back w/t (2 x 60′) – Ex-The Apprentice UK contestant Katie Hopkins undergoes a dietary experiment as she aims to double her weight and then take it all off again using diet and exercise. Channel: TLC Producer: TX: 25th January 2015 Source: Cynopsis
When labouring at the coalface of a development slate, you need as many tools as you can get your hands on to excavate those elusive gems that are eye-catching enough to catch the eye of a commissioning editor. During a Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 session Dan Biddle (@DanBiddle), Twitter UK's Head of Broadcast Partnerships, explained how producers can mine Twitter for breaking news stories, research, audience collaboration and marketing. As you might expect of a digital platform, Twitter is all about the metrics, and has a host of audience user data that reveals information about Twitter users' lives. For example, mentions of shopping indicate that Sunday is the biggest day for heading to the shops in the UK and more people go for (or talk about going for) a run on a Monday and Tuesday than they do at the end of the week, when the pub beckons. But how does this help us in development? (Photo (C) TVMole)
Many documentary festivals have a market or forum attached where filmmakers are able to pitch their ideas to an assembled panel of potential broadcasters or other funders, often in front of an audience. Power to the Pixel is a similar forum that is dedicated to the development and funding of cross-media projects such as the interactive documentaries A Short History of the Highrise and Alma: A History of Violence. At Power to the Pixel 2014, eight projects were pitched in the Finance Forum: Block Seven (pictured); The Flickering Flame (a Ken Loach biopic that won the €6,000 ARTE International Prize); The Infinity Engine; My Enemy, My Brother; How to Kill Uffie; On Screen Off Record; Urbance and Loving Long-Distance. Although the assembled commissioning editors and digital content executives were briefed to offer advice on where the producers of each project might go for finance, inevitably there were questions about the structure, content and viability of projects. Here is a round up of the most common concerns and suggestions that may help you better develop your own interactive content.
If you are lucky, you will have established, built and nurtured relationships with the people in power long before you need to ask them for money; maybe they've been tracking your career for a number of years and are receptive to discussing your new projects in a collaborative and supportive way. But more likely, you'll find yourself a situation where you are forced to pitch cold to someone who has never heard of you, who doesn't know your work and has never heard of your project. That's intimidating enough, but then you'll find that you have to do this to a panel of people you've never met, and in front of an audience of up to 200 of your peers. And once you've pitched under the bright lights of the auditorium, you have to stand there while they deliver their equally public assessment of your project. Panels generally respond well to the following elements being in evidence in the project and expressed via the pitch. (Photo (C) TVMole)
It’s hard to get an idea commissioned as a large indie; it’s even harder if you are working solo. However, the changing media landscape means that there are an ever increasing range of outlets and platforms in need of content. At Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 a panel of commissioners from emerging/alternative platforms outlined opportunities for more independently-minded filmmakers. For anyone frustrated by the glacial decision-making and risk averseness of traditional broadcasters (and indies), new digital platforms offer filmmakers an number of advantages.
One of the many commissioner panels at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 concentrated on arts programming and revealed a new trend among arts commissioners: the desire to see art in action. Most channels seem to be moving away from having a host or experts talking about art towards wanting to see artists actually performing and creating art, removing the barrier between artist and viewer.
In January 2014, Writer/Director Stephanie Wessell started on Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Fast Track To Features scheme. Beginning with a relatively undeveloped idea, she nonetheless progressed through the three selective stages of the scheme to reach the final six and publicly pitch what is now a project-in-development, at the festival in June. Here are her thoughts about pitching her documentary/drama feature project in public.
Following on from Good Pitch... advice from observing what commissioners and buyers responded well to in public pitches at Krakow Film Festival's Dragon Forum 2014 and Sheffield Doc/Fest's Fast Track to Features 2014 here are some tips on what not to do in a pitch. Negative feedback can generally be put into one of two categories: that which relates to the idea for a film and that which relates to the physical delivery of the pitch and description of that idea. If you watch a lot of public pitches you may notice that those who get to pitch first are given constructive feedback preceded by some encouragement and positivity about some aspect of the project. Those filmmakers unlucky enough to be pitching last, at the end of the day, or both, may find that the decision makers are fatigued and therefore a little less diplomatic in their critiques. (Photo (C) TVMole)
If you are planning to pitch your documentary to funders you'll no doubt spend much time on displacement activities such as dusting and doing the washing up rather than knuckling down and actually preparing your pitch. Nobody likes pitching; it's an uncomfortable, exposing and potentially embarrassing experience - especially if you are unfortunate to be pitching your project at one of the big forums such as Hot Docs in Toronto or IDFA in Amsterdam. Never been to a forum before? Scroll down to see what that actually looks like (and weep). But if you are going to get your film financed you'll have to pitch it at some point, there's no getting out of it so you may as well get used to it. At IDFA 2013, Danish producer Sigrid Dyekjær came to the rescue with her inspiring pitching tips in a session called The Future of the Art of Pitching. Sigrid Dyekjær is the founder/co-owner of Danish Documentary Production and was due to pitch some of the projects she used as case studies at the IDFA Forum later in the festival. (Photo (C) TVMole)
Here's a list of some of the most memorable documentary films I saw, roughly divided into narrative style; the films grouped at the top of the list I generally found most enjoyable and satisfying and within each group of similar films I've listed in order of preference from best to worst (my favourites are in bold). Of course this is highly subjective and some of the films I disliked intensely have won awards, so you'll have to make up your own mind. Some films could easily be placed in a different category but I've put them in what seemed to be the most prominent storytelling style for that film. However, whether you agree with my selection or not, we can learn from the different narrative approaches chosen by the filmmakers you may find inspiration to help you develop and shape your own films. Having a clear idea of how you are going to tell the story will help you pitch your idea to potential funders (and ulimately the audience) more effectively, and also help you keep on track schedule- and budget-wise. (Photo: Jingle Bell Rocks! courtesy of IDFA)
IDFA in Amsterdam is always my chance to concentrate fully on watching films over anything else and typically watch around 25+ films over the course of several days. This focused immersion in documentaries is guaranteed to be thought-provoking and often throws up several interesting themes or trends; here's a round up of my top three favourite films from IDFA 2013 with an attempt to articulate what makes them successful. I've chosen these documentaries on the basis that of the 22 films I saw these were the ones I found most enjoyable and that have stayed with me, and I would definitely watch them all again. But beyond being enjoyable, what can we learn from these films that could help us when developing and pitching our own films? (Photo courtesy of Dogwoof)
Sophie Robinson is a London-based producer/director with a host of science TV credits such as Horizon, Meet the Ancestors and Your Life in Their Hands. She’s just embarked on her first feature-length documentary My Beautiful Broken Brain here she shares what she's learnt from launching her first crowdfunding campaign.
The World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) is the go-to festival for TV producers working on the more serious side of factual programming (if reality TV or factual entertainment are more your thing try Realscreen in Washington DC or try WestDoc in Los Angeles, or Sheffield Doc/Fest for documentary and factual TV). WCSFP is a roving conference that is being held in Vancouver for the 2013 Edition. London-based TV producer Amelia Vale went to the congress for the first time in 2012 and here shares her tips for anyone thinking of attending this year.
Attending a big documentary festival, such as IDFA in Amsterdam, is something you should do at least once, and attending the major documentary market is essential if you have a film you are trying to fund. But it can be an intimidating experience if you are a festival virgin, and all the more so if you are going alone. But sometimes going alone means you are open to serendipitous meetings, able to change your schedule without consulting with your travelling companions and see all the films you want to see without having to resort to trade-offs and compromise. Still, it helps to have a plan before you go so you can take full advantage of the festival , so here are some tips to get you started: (Photo by TVMole)
Commissioning editors can receive up to 80 programme proposals a week; few will be read from start to finish. Many commissioners never read past the first paragraph, or even the title. On average, they make a decision within 40 seconds. Usually that decision results in the proposal being filed in the bin. So how can you make sure a commissioner keeps reading to the end of your proposal? Here are ten ways to make your proposal stand out and keep your commissioner reading to the end. (Plus get 10% off an exciting new course)
At IDFA in 2012, I spent five (glorious but sometimes bruising) days watching documentaries. Some of those films were great but many weren't. Here's what I wish documentary filmmakers were taught in film school:
Often when developing a film, it's easy enough to come up with an idea or a subject for a documentary. What's harder is to work out how best tell the story. What can be helpful, and should be part of your development process, is to look at other films to see what narrative techniques they used and to what effect. Choosing an approach early in your development process will help you to structure your idea, plan your schedule and budget more accurately and, ultimately, it will mean that you are better able to describe your film (i.e. pitch it) to potential funders. Here's the full menu of films I watched at IDFA 2012, roughly divided into narrative style; the films grouped at the top of the list I generally found most enjoyable and satisfying and within each group of similar films I've listed in order of preference from best to worst (my favourites are in bold). Of course this is highly subjective and some of the films I disliked intensely have won awards, so watch to make up your own mind. (Photo: Charles Bradley: Soul of America courtesy of IDFA)
Natalia Quintana, a NYC-based self-shooting producer with reality TV credits such as Hardcore Pawn, Say Yes to the Dress and What Not to Wear. She's just embarked on her first feature-length documentary Comics Are Everywhere! Here she shares her experience of launching a crowdfunding campaign and shares her tips for anyone considering embarking on the same journey.
Many new filmmakers worry that partnering with a production company will mean that they will lose control of their project, or even have their idea stolen. So what's the reality? What happens to an idea before it's officially greenlit, and what are the best ways of avoiding the pitfalls? This thorny issue was tackled during a panel at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013.
There's something slightly discomfiting about people who think the only way to help is by pointing a camera at someone worse off than themselves; especially if they insist on feeling righteously aggrieved at being 'forced' into being an impoverished artist in order to save the world. Besides which, although there is a growing awareness from NGOs about the possibilities of using documentary films to raise the public profile of their issues, broadcasters (who have more money for funding) are pushing back, reluctant to fund films that push a particular agenda. Nick Fraser of BBC's Storyville documentary strand and Mette Hoffmann Meyer, Head of Documentaries and Co-productions at DR TV, Denmark are particularly outspoken about this, as you can see in this video from Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012. (Photo by HowardLake CC BY SA 2.0)
At Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013, a panel (produced by Sharron Ward of Katalyst Productions) discussed the thorny issue of what to do when you've got a great idea for a documentary, but don't have the channel contacts to get it commissioned. Jes Wilkins, Head of Programmes at London-based Firecracker Films presented a case study that proves that it can be possible to secure a commission without a track record, but underlines the fact that there are no short cuts.
Industry intelligence, how-to articles and international pitching and funding opportunities – everything you need to get your factual TV programme commissioned.