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Commissioning Tips

How to Make Your Commissioning Editor Fall in Love with You

Heart on a nail

Photo by PV KS CC BY 2.0


It’s tempting to believe that getting your idea commissioned begins and ends with a good idea. YOUR idea. But sadly, that’s not true. What gets your idea commissioned is a relationship. More specifically a relationship with a commissioner. Even more than that, a relationship with the RIGHT of commissioner, that is the one with whom you have good chemistry.

Now you might already have good chemistry with commissioner because you started on some industry training scheme together back in the 1980s and your paths have since diverged in a way that is beneficial to you: you to an executive producer role, they to a commissioning job at a broadcaster. Now, obviously, this won’t necessarily be beneficial to you if you:

a) never got on with each other
b) fell out over the ownership of an idea / lover

c) haven’t bothered to keep in touch (perhaps you backed the wrong horse and made friends with the most promising young director on your training scheme who went on to run a yoga retreat in Spain).

So what if you aren’t fortunate enough to have fostered the right relationships? The best way might be to move house and get your kids into the same school as the target of your desires and nobble them at sports day. Failing that, there are some things you can do to make yourself more attractive to a commissioner during that all-important first meeting/reunion (should you be lucky enough to engineer one):

  •  Mention an award-winning ratings-buster that you produced or directed
  • Talk enthusiastically about every programme they’ve transmitted on their channel over the last two years (except those that were a ratings disaster)
  • Understand the personality of their channel and mirror it in your approach to the conversation: intelligent for up-market specialist factual fare, funny for comedy pitches
  • Have attended a recent conference where you heard them talk about their current commissioning needs and address them in your pitch

Once you have that small talk out of they way – which will probably take 25 minutes of your allotted half-hour, before their assistant interrupts to inform them that “your taxi is here” – you can move onto the pitch. If they dash off, you know that either they really did have a taxi waiting to whisk them off to a more important meeting, or they have fled to the bathroom and are waiting for you go away.

If you find the two of you do have some chemistry,  and they think they can tolerate working with you for several months, they will want to hear your idea. As you outline your narrative, your key characters and your unique visual style, a number of questions will be at the front of their mind:

  1. Is this a current story? Will it still be current by the time the film is completed, or will it feel outdated?
  2. Does this film update a familiar story in some way? Or does it feel like an entry-level look at an already familiar topic?
  3. What are universal themes that their audience will relate to?
  4. Is the main character interesting enough to sustain the narrative
  5. What actually happens over 60 minutes?  What will we see?
  6. Where is the conflict or jeopardy?
  7. Are you willing /able to tweak the idea to better fit their channel’s remit?

If you can answer all those questions convincingly, you might be granted a second meeting when you’ll be expected to further demonstrate your desirability by producing a well thought out treatment and/or pitch tape.

ITVS have a great series of articles about how to make a good pitch tape, or work-in-progress as they call them. Read how filmmaker Shukree Hassan Tilghman produced a successful tape despite not having a track record or much material to work with. Read his tips on Beyond the Box.


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