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Alternative Funding

Funding 101: Ping Pong – An Truly International Affair


Dorothy DeLow © Hugh Hartford

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:

  • Terry (81) who having been given a week to live, not only recovers, but gets in sight of winning gold
  • Inge (89) who has used table tennis to train her way out of dementia
  • Australian Dorothy de Low (100) who creates a sensation as the oldest competitor at the championships
  • Les (90) who has been selected to be an Olympic Torch bearer in the run up to the Olympic Games in London.

International Characters Open Up International Markets

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 ForumSheffield 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.

Off-TV Funders Step In

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.










An International Patchwork of Funders

Eventually, the production of the film was co-funded by a number of organizations around the world including:


Funding Tips

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:

  1. Making a rough trailer in the very early days (for the cost of a budget flight and a cheap hotel), so they had some compelling characters to show to potential funders and to make the project feel more ‘real’
  2. Rethinking their content to make it more appealing to to a wider range of funders
  3. Attending various documentary markets to meet with buyers, and start building long-term relationships
  4. Working with a respected industry organization such as The Good Pitch who could help with funding, pitching, introductions (and even distribution)
  5. Working out that funders respond better when there is a tangible need for funding, or a deadline of some sort e.g. the impending World Championships in China or a 100th birthday party.

 Support Ping Pong

Follow Ping Pong on Twitter @pingpongfilm

Like on Facebook

See the film:

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.

Get More Funding Tips

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.


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