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Alternative Funding

How to Win a Commission for a Short Documentary on All 4


Richard Davidson-Houston, Issac Densu and Jody Smith

All 4 is the new umbrella name for all Channel 4’s platforms, including online, which is the home to the Channel 4 Shorts strand

At a recent Sheffield Doc/Fest panel, the Head of All 4 and Digital Content, Richard Davidson-Houston, and Shorts Commissioning Editors Jody Smith and Issac Densu explained their remit to commission original digital content and how their audience differs from a mainstream terrestrial audience.

They commission factual shorts aimed at their core audience of 16-34 year olds (29% female and 45% male); one third of their audience watch content on their computer, one third on their tablet/phone and one third on a Smart TV. This is a very different watching experience to terrestrial TV, which is communal; mobile viewing is done by individuals, usually with headphones.

Commissioning brief:

  • They are pen to all factual genres with an emphasis on spectacle and humour
  • They want filmmakers to play with a wide range of styles and uncover new storytelling techniques
  • Give the audience access to a subculture (Black Lesbian Handbook); show people in extreme situations (Man vs Wave);  they enjoy warm journeys that show positive aspects of youth culture
  • Give ordinary people a place to tell their own stories, unmoderated by a presenter
  • Stories should be immersive, visceral and diverse; diversity is embedded in the story rather than its main feature e.g. Disabled Fight Club is about the fight club not the disability
  • The films do not judge their contributors for their choices (Tattoo Twists); the people featured aren’t to be considered ‘strange’ or ‘amazing’, they just ‘are’.
  •  If the main contributor is a famous face there has to be an authentic reason for them being there  – doing something they would be doing even if the camera wasn’t on them
  • The tone should be revelatory, good humoured and passionate
  • There is no need for exposition and explanation; the storytelling should get straight to the heart of the action  – if the viewer wants to know what scarification is, for example, they can Google it.

The practical detail:

  • They commission runs of six episodes and launch all online at once to allow for binge watching
  • They aim to launch a new series every week
  • Average length of Shorts is 5 minutes (3-10 minutes acceptable)
  • The target price is £3000 per episode

How to pitch:

  • Watch their current output – All4 Shorts are not the same as YouTube clips. Previously commissioned Shorts include:

Black Lesbian Handbook

Tattoo Twists

Man vs Wave

Body Mods

My Secret Tattoo

Rich Kids Go Shopping 

How to Pull

Internet Famous

Disabled Fight Club

Drones in Forbidden Zones

WTF is Cosplay?

  • Email an idea in no more than a couple of paragraphs. If you can’t explain it briefly, you need to do more development work on the idea
  • If they like the idea, they will discuss how to make it best fit their audience – it’s a collaborative creative process
  • Their next step is to commission a non-TX pilot (for £3000-4000)
  • At the pilot stage you need to think about
    • the title
    • the ‘button’ image on the website (this will sit next to ads for terrestrial shows so has to be distinctive – think sharable, like a good Instagram image)
    • the strapline, which should speak directly to the viewer rather than be a description of the content (think Tweet).

These three elements must work together to attract the attention of an audience that has FOMO (fear of missing out) and FOBO (fear of being offline), and make surfers feel like they will have missed out on something vital if they don’t watch it.

Mistakes to avoid:

  • The All4 online platform is not a pilot scheme for broadcast TV; the content is made for online and that is its natural home
  • Don’t mistake ‘personal’ for niche
  • They don’t want talking heads, whimsy, art films or illustrated audio tracks
  • The content should be current but not Current Affairs
  • Each episode/film should be self-contained so that they can be viewed in any order; sequential narratives don’t work

Who they work with:

  • To date they have worked with 26 indies, many of which have never worked with a broadcaster before, and some of whom are single self-shooting directors.

How to submit an idea:

Submit (a single idea at a time) to onlineproposals@channel4.co.uk


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