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Developing Factual Ideas

Here’s a Quick Way to Have 20,000 TV Programme Ideas

TV is a visual medium, so sometimes it’s easier to have ideas for new programmes with a bit visual stimulation, and watching old archive can be a great way to spark ideas for history or science documentaries, or even list shows. Once upon a time, if you wanted to find rare footage you needed to hire an experienced archive researcher. Nowadays, you can find –  and sometimes view – all kinds of fascinating archive material online. Here are some excellent resources, which contain more than 20,000 films, to get you started:

The Internet Archive is a US-based digital library of thousands of video, audio and texts, and it is freely accessible by the general public.

Search the Prelinger Archive for more than 2,000 films produced for US nonprofit organisations, educational institutions, community groups and corporations. The archive focuses on films made between 1927 – 1987 and includes animation, adverts, instructional films and industrial films in genres such as: amateur videos, atomic-nuclear weapons, Cold War and gender roles.

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The Timothy Leary Archive has 40 years of films, talk shows and guest appearances.

The Beat Within has video diaries from some of the 17,000 young people who have been behind bars in California, and are trying to get their lives back in order. The Beat Within holds weekly writing workshops and the results are published in a magazine that is also available in the archive.

Alternatively,  you can watch  Linda’s Film on Menstruation, in the Vintage Educational Films category:

Film and Sound Online is a UK-based archive that has access to 16 collections of film intended for the use of educational  and research institutions. Although it’s not accessible by the general public, it does list some little-known archives that you can approach if you are looking for ideas or archive for history documentaries, such as:

Amber FilmsA film and photography collective based in the traditions of social documentary in the North East of England.

Anglia Technical Library – contains two history series: Who Were The British (1965) and The Lost Centuries (1968)

Biochemical Society – archive of lectures and interviews with scientists such as Professor Patricia Clarke, Sir John Cornforth, Dr Dorothy Hodgkin, Sir James Lovelock, Professor Alfred Neuberger, Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgy and Lord Alexander Todd.

Digital HimalayaMore than 100 hours of ethnographic film from 1930s through to the 1980s, shot by anthropologist Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf, who lived in Nepal and India. It includes footage of Buddhist rituals.

Educational and Television Films – Communist film archive from the European Eastern Bloc, Cuba, Chile, Communist China and the former Soviet Union. The archives document major 20th century events from a Communist viewpoint. It includes footage of the Spanish Civil War, Vietnam War, Tibet, Beirut and the 1917 Russian Revolution. There are also biopics of Anna Pavlova and Sergei Prokofiev.

Films of Scotland – 120 films chart the changes in Scotland over a period of 50 years, from the 1930s onwards.

Healthcare Productions – Aimed at medical staff, this collection contains training films and case studies of various diseases.

Imperial War MuseumWar archive and informational films aimed at public education.

IWF Knowledge and Media GmbH – Audio-visual recordings of scientific phenomena, biological sciences and ethnography. Subjects include:  zoology, botany, anthropology, chemistry, environmental science, genetics, oceanography, chemistry, physics, physical sciences, mathematics, ethnography and geology.

Logic Lane – Six films explore key themes of 20th century British philosophy

Royal Mail Film Classics – Documentary, animation, informational and industrial film archive, with a focus on war, British industry and health.

St George’s Hospital Medical School Collection – 19 films on examination techniques, illnesses, operations an diagnosis guides.

Inspired by: Catalin Brylla

Get more development and pitching tips in Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch


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