Ping Pong is a bittersweet feature-length documentary that follows eight pensioners from across the planet as they compete in the over 80s category of the World Table Tennis Championships in Inner Mongolia. They include:
Hugh originally planned to follow the British Table Tennis team, but soon discovered that UK broadcasters didn’t feel that a film on ping pong fitted their remit. He realized he would need to approach international channels for funding and that caused him to rethink the focus of the film to include more foreign players. He’d already shot a short trailer, very cheaply, at the European Table Tennis Championships in Croatia, which gave him something to show to potential funders. He then set of on a punishing schedule of international festivals Docs Barcelona Forum; Sheffield Doc/Fest Meet Market; and IDFA, Amsterdam to meet with commissioning editors and pitch the film.
He discovered that, while there was a lot of interest, the smaller foreign channels were reluctant to commit their money upfront to a film still in production. Although he had around 25 commissioning editors tracking his progress with the documentary, he was only able to make pre-sales to a couple of channels – Yes, Israel and ETV2, Estonia. The trouble with pre-sales (like the acquisition of a finished film) is that you don’t get the money until the film is complete, so they don’t help with on-going production costs.
Hugh and his producer (and brother) Anson Hartford, had to look to other sources to get the film made. The film was selected for the BRITDOC Good Pitch, London where they were introduced to The English Table Tennis Association, who in turn, introduced them to the International Table Tennis Federation who went on to provide a chunk of production funding. PUMA also chipped in with some money to get the crew to Australia to film Dorothy’s 100th birthday celebrations and BRITDOC gave them enough money to fly to China to film the World Table Tennis Championships. Bit by bit the money came in.
Eventually, the production of the film was co-funded by a number of organizations around the world including:
If you are an emerging filmmaker, or are making a film that might be challenging to fund because it outside of the normal remit of TV broadcasters you need to be more creative not only in your documentary making but also in your approach to fundraising. Some of the key things Hugh and Anson did to get their film off the ground included:
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The film will be out in UK cinemas from 6th July 2012 in the run up to the Olympics. See the full screening schedule here
The UK release coincides with both the Olympics and the EU’s ‘European year for active ageing’. A programme of special launch events including indoor and outdoor inter-generational matches will run alongside the film’s national screenings in partnership with Age UK and The English Table Tennis Association.
Read an in-depth interview with Hugh Hartford in Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot!: Finance Your Factual TV/Film Project to find out more about how he raised the funding for the film.
Read Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making Your Documentary Fundraising Trailer by Fernanda Rossi to learn how to make a compelling trailer.
Read Chapter 1 in Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot!: Finance Your Factual TV/Film Project to find out more about the difference between TV commissions, pre-sales and acquisitions.