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Ten Tips For a Tasty a Taster Tape

One of the most popular panels at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2012 was the Taster Tape session run by the BBC Academy. This is probably not surprising given that a few years ago a taster tape was the exception rather than the rule; today it seems that position is reversed and that every pitch is expected to be accompanied by tape. Sam Anthony, commissioning editor, BBC,  said that smart directors always make tasters and that he regarded a written proposal as just “the small print”.

However, just  as it’s difficult to know what constitutes a good pitch unless you’ve seen a lot of other people pitch (which most people haven’t), so too with taster tapes – they are rarely seen outside of a pitch and their content closely guarded.

So this session provided a valuable opportunity to both see some good examples and hear what commissioners think makes a great tape.

The panel consisted of BBC commissioning editors  Tom Edwards and Sam Anthony, and moderated by BBC Academy Creativity Consultant Frank Ash.  That all panelists were from one organization, was a little limiting as they were clearly talking about what makes a good taster for their particular channels, there were a number of insights and  tips that could be applied more broadly:

  1. A taster needs to tease, it doesn’t (shouldn’t) try to convey the whole story arc or all the format points; less is more.
  2. Ideally a taster should show access, the talent, their environment, their expertise and style of the programme. The taster for Rachel Khoo’s BBC2 cooking show (set in Paris) “brought Amelie to life”.
  3. Your first version of a taster for an idea can (should) be made cheaply. Several clips shown as examples used found YouTube clips and one that was for a documentary about Terry Pratchett going back to find an orangutan in Borneo was shot in a zoo and a local park to give the impression of him being in a jungle setting. If you just want to show one character or expert a filmed Skype chat might be sufficient.
  4. Captions and cards are better than voice over – they can convey stats and context without being distracting.
  5. The taster doesn’t always have to be a perfect representation of what you show will be as it can also provide a useful starting point for a discussion (although some commissioners are more literal than others and will reject a tape if it’s not exactly right for them on first viewing).
  6. Choice of music, editing style and graphics need to fit the channel’s tone/branding (difficult to achieve if you are pitching your idea to more than one channel).
  7. Some commissioners will pay for taster tapes to be made (£5K – £20K), others expect it to be paid for by the producer as part of their research and development.
  8. Try to identify the most exciting thing about the idea and then work out how to represent that in the taster.
  9. Making tasters is a skill that you can only really learn by doing, so just start making them; don’t worry if your first ones are not very good, you will get better.
  10. Making a taster of your idea is one of the best ways to retain copyright in your idea (ideas can’t be protected, but the expression of an idea,  i.e. the way in which it is filmed, is protected.)

 Trailer Mechanics by Fernanda Rossi has more advice on making taster tapes.

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