Moving away from a magazine style approach to more authored programmes, especially by artists themselves seems to be the way that arts programming is moving at the moment according to a panel of arts commissioners at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Partnerships with arts institutions and co-pros with other channels are also de rigeur.
In a session chaired by Guardian journalist, Liese Spencer, the commissioners outlined what they were looking for, what they viewed as particular successes, their key challenges and what they were most jealous of.
(Photo courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest – Jacqui Bellamy)
What makes specialist factual special? How can broadcasters make it relatable? How do we best use talent? To what extent can broadcasters take risks and what kind of special factual content punches through? These were just some of the key questions in the Specialist Factual session at Sheffield Doc/Fest chaired by filmmaker and journalist Ruth Pitt. (Photo courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest – Jacqui Bellamy)
At Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016, a panel explored looked at how the commissioning of singles, specials and series has changed in recent months. Chair of the panel, Emma Read (Emporium Productions), introduced the session by explaining how there has been many changes in the world of documentaries in the past year with BBC3 going online, Netflix, Vice and Buzzfeed streaming popular documentaries and a ‘changing of the guard’ at the BBC and ITV. She feels that there is much more clear blue water between the channels this year than in the last few years, largely because of this ‘changing of the guard’. Emma asked a panel of commissioning editors how these changes have influenced their commissioning decisions and what programmes they are particularly looking for. (Photo courtesy of Sheffield/Docfest – Jacqui Bellamy)
Given that we are witnessing the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World war it seemed fitting that Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016 ran a session entitled How to Document the World’s Biggest News Stories:Telling the Refugee Crisis.
Chaired by Roger Graef, the panel included Siobhan Sinnerton, Channel 4’s Commissioning Editor for News and Current Affairs, James Bluemel, Director of Exodus: Breaking Into Europe coming soon on BBC1, Ahmad Al-Rashid, a Syrian refugee who is featured in Exodus and James Rogan, director of BBC’s forthcoming series Welcome to Britain (working title) for BBC3. (Photo courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest – Reem-Khabbazy)
A documentary about the Welsh steel plant threatened with closure won the Vice Rule Britannia pitch at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2016. Sibling filmmakers Shelley and Jamie Jones won £25,000 for their documentary Port Talbot: A Little Town Built on Steel focusing on a group of employees who are contemplating their futures in the face of the company’s possible closure. (Photo courtesy of Sheffield Doc/Fest-David Chang)
At Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2015 one of the panels, which consisted of a range of funders and filmmakers, discussed how documentary producer/directors could best approach writing grant proposals for documentary funds. Writing proposals is generally the thing that visually-driven filmmakers like doing least. And, as Tracie Holder, Production Assistance Program Consultant to NYC-based Women Make Movies, pointed out: it’s hard to know what a good proposal looks like as filmmakers never see other people’s proposals.
Tracie explained that a written proposal is your introduction to a funder, so it should establish confidence that you can deliver a fantastic film.The reader should be able to “ski down the proposal without hitting any red flags”.
Ever so often a show comes along that changes the landscape and influences everything that comes in its wake: Big Brother (contributors/contestants/celebrities confined to one location for the duration of a series), Strictly Come Dancing/Dancing With the Stars (celebrities pairing with professionals to learn a skill and compete), One Born Every Minute (fixed-rig shows). The latest show to be spreading its DNA far and wide seems to be Gogglebox. At Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2015 a panel of Factual Entertainment Commissioners discussed their current needs.
If you are tasked with developing science programmes you face a number of challenges: the number of channels that actively embrace science is small, and sometimes those channels – in an attempt to attract as broad an audience as possible – can disguise their science content so thoroughly that it ceases to be science in the eyes of actual scientists. This makes for some uncomfortable conversations when trying to research and develop a science series or talent scout potential onscreen experts. Nonetheless there are commissioning opportunities out there for those dedicated and determined enough. A panel of science commissioners at Sheffield Doc/Fest discussed what science programming means to them and what they are looking to to commission in the coming months. Interestingly although many programmes and approaches were mentioned, few of them were recognisable as science.
In order to be successful when pitching to TV commissioners, it’s vital to know what they are looking for. This is harder than it sounds, despite many broadcasters now sharing their commissioning briefs online (via their commissioning portals), because they are often vague and sometimes out of date.
Another way to get a sense of what commissioners want is to attend a panel in which they outline their current needs. These panels are common at TV conferences and festivals around the world. Some commissioners are refreshingly candid, whilst other remain coy and seemingly reluctant to give away their secrets; others appear more interested in scoring political points against their co-panelists than helping the audience of producers understand what they should pitch. So they can be a mixed bag. And so it was with the Arts Commissioning panel at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2015.
The first time Charlotte Fisher went to Sheffield Doc/Fest, in 2011, she was a total novice in the world of documentary making. She was a TV news reporter making a switch to factual programmes and although she’d made current affairs half hours, this was another world. In 2015 she went to the festival as a journalist, going to seminars and watching films; getting an overview of the whole festival. But she was also taking an interest with her other hat on, as a freelance producer at an independent production company.
After broadcast journalist Lisa Francesca Nand suffered her third miscarriage she decided to turn the camera on herself to document her experience and to try to find some answers as to why miscarriage might happen and how it can be prevented. After an emotional production process, the advice of a mentor and a visit to Sheffield Doc/Fest helped bring the film to completion and find a commission.
Shepperton Studios based crewing agent Kate Watson recently attended her first Sheffield Doc/Fest; with many of her agency clients having worked on documentary films it was a great opportunity to dip into their world. But she soon ran into her first problem: how do you choose from 150 films?
In January 2014, Writer and Director Stephanie Wessell started on Sheffield Doc/Fest’s mentoring scheme, Fast Track To Features. Beginning with a relatively undeveloped idea at the time, she nonetheless progressed through the selective stages of the scheme to reach the final six and publicly pitch what is now a project-in-development, at the festival in June. These are her thoughts about generally pitching a project at Sheffield.
When labouring at the coalface of a development slate, you need as many tools as you can get your hands on to excavate those elusive gems that are eye-catching enough to catch the eye of a commissioning editor. During a Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 session Dan Biddle (@DanBiddle), Twitter UK’s Head of Broadcast Partnerships, explained how producers can mine Twitter for breaking news stories, research, audience collaboration and marketing.
As you might expect of a digital platform, Twitter is all about the metrics, and has a host of audience user data that reveals information about Twitter users’ lives. For example, mentions of shopping indicate that Sunday is the biggest day for heading to the shops in the UK and more people go for (or talk about going for) a run on a Monday and Tuesday than they do at the end of the week, when the pub beckons.
But how does this help us in development? (Photo (C) TVMole)
Many documentary festivals have a market or forum attached where filmmakers are able to pitch their ideas to an assembled panel of potential broadcasters or other funders, often in front of an audience. Power to the Pixel is a similar forum that is dedicated to the development and funding of cross-media projects such as the interactive documentaries A Short History of the Highrise and Alma: A History of Violence.
At Power to the Pixel 2014, eight projects were pitched in the Finance Forum: Block Seven (pictured); The Flickering Flame (a Ken Loach biopic that won the €6,000 ARTE International Prize); The Infinity Engine; My Enemy, My Brother; How to Kill Uffie; On Screen Off Record; Urbance and Loving Long-Distance.
Although the assembled commissioning editors and digital content executives were briefed to offer advice on where the producers of each project might go for finance, inevitably there were questions about the structure, content and viability of projects. Here is a round up of the most common concerns and suggestions that may help you better develop your own interactive content.
If you are lucky, you will have established, built and nurtured relationships with the people in power long before you need to ask them for money; maybe they’ve been tracking your career for a number of years and are receptive to discussing your new projects in a collaborative and supportive way. But more likely, you’ll find yourself a situation where you are forced to pitch cold to someone who has never heard of you, who doesn’t know your work and has never heard of your project. That’s intimidating enough, but then you’ll find that you have to do this to a panel of people you’ve never met, and in front of an audience of up to 200 of your peers. And once you’ve pitched under the bright lights of the auditorium, you have to stand there while they deliver their equally public assessment of your project.
Panels generally respond well to the following elements being in evidence in the project and expressed via the pitch. (Photo (C) TVMole)
One of the many commissioner panels at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 concentrated on arts programming and revealed a new trend among arts commissioners: the desire to see art in action. Most channels seem to be moving away from having a host or experts talking about art towards wanting to see artists actually performing and creating art, removing the barrier between artist and viewer.
In January 2014, Writer/Director Stephanie Wessell started on Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Fast Track To Features scheme. Beginning with a relatively undeveloped idea, she nonetheless progressed through the three selective stages of the scheme to reach the final six and publicly pitch what is now a project-in-development, at the festival in June. Here are her thoughts about pitching her documentary/drama feature project in public.
Following on from Good Pitch… advice from observing what commissioners and buyers responded well to in public pitches at Krakow Film Festival’s Dragon Forum 2014 and Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Fast Track to Features 2014 here are some tips on what not to do in a pitch.
Negative feedback can generally be put into one of two categories: that which relates to the idea for a film and that which relates to the physical delivery of the pitch and description of that idea. If you watch a lot of public pitches you may notice that those who get to pitch first are given constructive feedback preceded by some encouragement and positivity about some aspect of the project. Those filmmakers unlucky enough to be pitching last, at the end of the day, or both, may find that the decision makers are fatigued and therefore a little less diplomatic in their critiques. (Photo (C) TVMole)
The World Congress of Science and Factual Producers (WCSFP) is the go-to festival for TV producers working on the more serious side of factual programming (if reality TV or factual entertainment are more your thing try Realscreen in Washington DC or try WestDoc in Los Angeles, or Sheffield Doc/Fest for documentary and factual TV).
WCSFP is a roving conference that is being held in Vancouver for the 2013 Edition. London-based TV producer Amelia Vale went to the congress for the first time in 2012 and here shares her tips for anyone thinking of attending this year.
Attending a big documentary festival, such as IDFA in Amsterdam, is something you should do at least once, and attending the major documentary market is essential if you have a film you are trying to fund. But it can be an intimidating experience if you are a festival virgin, and all the more so if you are going alone. But sometimes going alone means you are open to serendipitous meetings, able to change your schedule without consulting with your travelling companions and see all the films you want to see without having to resort to trade-offs and compromise. Still, it helps to have a plan before you go so you can take full advantage of the festival , so here are some tips to get you started: (Photo by TVMole)
“I thought it was going to be a documentary, but it was great!” (Cannes Film Festival audience member after screening of Seduced and Abandoned) Seduced and Abandoned is a documentary by writer/director James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin that explores the world of film financing; the film also doubles, in the words of Baldwin, as […]
The world seems to be split into two: Twitter Evangelists and Twitter Rejecters. Although I think it might be fairer to say that the world isn’t so much divided, as at the two ends of a continuum. Most people start as a Rejecter, but given the time and opportunity, will become an Evangelist and will […]
Realscreen Summit 2013 has wrapped. This year it was a sell-out with more than 2,000 registered delegates, which should perhaps be no surprise as it is one of the world’s key industry conferences for those working in non-fiction television. A packed schedule of panels and workshops means that you can keep up-to-date with new programming trends and hear first-hand from some of the main gatekeepers. But with everyone from commissioning editors to acquisitions executives, financiers, distributors and producers in attendance it’s a also a great opportunity to make new contacts and reconnect with old ones. Meet the right person and you could form a new production partnership, find funding or successfully pitch your new idea.
If you have a short film (less than 5 minutes) you’d like to see screened head over to the inaugural Walthamstow International Film Festival which is being held 5th -12th September, 2010. The festival is free to enter and films must have been made since January 2009. Get in now before the competition gets too […]
If you didn’t make it to MIP this year (and let’s face it, given the fall out you are probably glad you didn’t) you can still catch up on the progammes that were pitched by signing up for MIP online screenings (for the princely sum of €390, which gives you access to full-length programmes until […]
Michael Moore’s latest documentary Capitalism: A Love Story, will screen at Sheffield’s Showroom Cinemas on Saturday 7th November at 2.30pm. Capitalism: A Love Story returns to the issue that Michael Moore has been examining throughout his career: the disastrous impact of corporate dominance on the everyday lives of Americans, and by default, the rest of […]
This year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest opens on 4th November with the World Premiere of Moving to Mars: A Million Miles from Burma. The documentary follows two Burmese refugee families who are relocated to Sheffield, depicting their moving and sometimes humorous struggles in 21st Century Britain. The documentary will be shown on More4 later this year. The […]
If you weren’t able to make it to Santa Monica to attend the Westdoc conference, you can keep up with what’s going on in real time – who’s commissioning what, and how to pitch – via twitter. Just follow the #westdoc thread.
SXSW Interactive Festival is gearing up for more than 200 panel sessions, presentations and networking events for anyone interested in new media and technology. The festival runs from 12-16 March, 2010 (alongside the film festival 12-20th March and music festival 17-21st March). Book before 25th September, 2009 for an early bird discount and pay $395 (instead of the normal price of $450-$550, depending on when you book).
Visit SXSW for more details.
(Photo by David Berkowitz CC BY 2.0)
As Peter Andre said, “you can ignore the headlines as you know they’re probably not true, but you can’t ignore the photographs…” All photos by Rob McDougall 2009 1) TV’s Got Talent winner Carolyn Philpot 2) Five’s channel controller Richard Woolfe 3) Director of BBC Vision Jana Bennett and Dragon’s Den series producer Sam Lewins 4) Peter Andre […]
Realscreen has come to the rescue if you couldn’t get to MIPTV – you can see what you missed by watching highlights of some of the programmes and films showcased in Cannes in their Screening Room. Current clips include: Extinction Sucks – about two irreverent conservationists Kashmir: Journey to Freedom – the story of young […]
There’s a new factual conference on the block – Realscreen’s Factual Entertainment Forum: The Real Deal, which is focussing on reality programming. When: 20th May 09 (one day) Where: Santa Monica What: A day of discussion, inspiration, and networking with reality TV producers, cable channel execs and agents. Sessions include: Building a Blockbuster – how […]