When submitting a non-fiction book proposal to publishers, writers are expected to submit a proposal that can be anything from 50-70 pages long. That’s because the publisher wants to know what the finished book is going to look like, and whether the prospective author has the technical skills – original voice, style, structure, narrative, grammar, spelling – to write a book of 90,000 words.
Fortunately, TV is a visual rather than a written medium, so you only have to write enough to cover a single side of A4 paper. If your commissioner wants to see more they will ask for a treatment, taster or pilot tape. But you are missing a trick if you don’t use at least one strong image to enhance your initial proposal (and let’s face it, you don’t have room for more than one).
A well-chosen image makes your proposal stand out. It helps communicate the tone of the show and allows the commissioner to visualize how the programme might look stylistically. The finished show won’t look anything like your photograph, but at this stage you are in the business of seduction – and you wouldn’t put a ropey photo on your online dating profile, would you?
When I sit down to write a proposal I always spend some time finding a good image to put at the top of the page. I do this for a number of reasons:
1) Concentrating on finding the right photograph helps to get me ‘in the zone’ for writing.
Once I’ve found the perfect picture (I generally don’t know what I’m looking for until I experience an ‘aha!’ moment), it makes the idea come alive and the words start to flow – it’s more about the mood it invokes than the precise subject of the photograph.
2) Looking for a photograph allows a period of mental ‘limbering up’.
Using keywords to search for photographs is good to loosen up in advance of choosing the right words to get your idea across.
3) The physical act of breaking up the blank expanse of page helps to break any writer’s ‘block’.
Once you’ve found your photograph, you can start to write. You can change the photograph later if it turns out to not to be quite right for the final proposal (although I’ve seldom found this to be the case).
Of course, you do have to guard against using an image search as a procrastination tool. This article will help you find reliable sources of free images that you can bookmark and return to again and again.
The obvious place to download images is from Google image search, but there is no way of knowing who owns the copyright or where the image came from. All images are automatically protected under copyright law and you can’t use them unless you have obtained permission from the copyright holder.
Writing this the day after David Lammy, Britain’s Intellectual Property Minister likened the illegal sharing of music files to taking a bar of soap from a hotel room, it might be tempting to think it doesn’t matter if you download a copyrighted photograph – who’s going to catch you?
Everyone in TV has a story of an idea that got nicked (and there’s a whole different article to be written on that) – and they’re never happy about it. So we shouldn’t nick the work of other creative people without their permission – we should respect the photographers whose images we use on our proposals.
The good news is that it is easy to make sure you stay on the right side of copyright law by using the thousands of photos that have been made available for commercial use. That used to mean paying a stock photo agency a fee for boring and generic pictures, but there are now a number of excellent photo sharing resources, such as Flickr, where copyright holders release their photographs for use under Creative Commons license.
The Creative Commons has produced a number of licenses, which allow for different uses and stipulate the terms under which image can be reproduced – see the Creative Commons website for more information.
Choose photographs that are available for use under one of the following licenses (taken from the Creative Commons site):
Attribution – You can copy, distribute, display, and perform the copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if you give credit the way the copyright owner requests.
Share Alike – You can distribute derivative works only under a license identical to the license that governs the original work.
No Derivative Works – You can copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of the work, not derivative works based upon it – including cropping or adding text
Avoid photos that are licensed for noncommercial use only
Top Tip: If you need to search again using different keywords, use the big search box in the centre of the page. That will restrict your next search to content licensed under Creative Commons for Commercial. If you use the small search box at the top right of the Flickr home page you’ll have to go through the above steps every time (which is very tedious).
Once you’ve found an image you can double check the CC status on the photo’s home page, listed under Additional Information at the bottom of the right hand column.
It’s considered good etiquette to inform the photograph owner that you’ve used it but it isn’t necessary under the terms of the CC license.
Beware: Not everyone who uploads photographs to Flickr under CC holds the copyright to those photographs – use your common sense and avoid those that look like professional portraits, famous photographs, and those featuring people (who may not have signed a model release).
You can find list of ten more great free photo resources listed on PresidiaCreative.
Once you’ve got the hang of honing your search for expressive photos, your proposals are guaranteed stand out from the teetering pile of paper on commissioner’s desk.
Get more development and pitching tips in Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch