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”.
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.
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.
When you are developing a documentary there are many things to consider: access, narrative arc (is there an unfolding story, sufficient jeopardy and conflict to make commissioning editors take notice?) and creative approach. One thing that many filmmakers avoid thinking about – often until too late – is who the potential audience is and how to find the money needed to get the film not only into production, but finished. But these two things should be integral to the development process as they are invariably intertwined: a broadcaster or online platform is not going to fund a film that doesn’t directly appeal to its core audience.
Filmmakers who have more of an independent streak, who feel that they must operate outside of the mainstream – for idealistic reasons as much as necessity – are sometimes tempted to think that the normal rules of funding don’t apply to them. They think if they film it, the audience will come. But they won’t. In order for a film to be successful it needs fans (funders in the first instance, and audiences later on), not just at the point of release but right from the start of the process. No-one knows this better than Dunstan Bruce, a vocalist with the anarchist band Chumbawamba for 23 years.
It’s hard to get an idea commissioned as a large indie; it’s even harder if you are working solo. However, the changing media landscape means that there are an ever increasing range of outlets and platforms in need of content. At Sheffield Doc/Fest 2014 a panel of commissioners from emerging/alternative platforms outlined opportunities for more independently-minded filmmakers.
For anyone frustrated by the glacial decision-making and risk averseness of traditional broadcasters (and indies), new digital platforms offer filmmakers an number of advantages.
Sophie Robinson is a London-based producer/director with a host of science TV credits such as Horizon, Meet the Ancestors and Your Life in Their Hands. She’s just embarked on her first feature-length documentary My Beautiful Broken Brain here she shares what she’s learnt from launching her first crowdfunding campaign.
Natalia Quintana, a NYC-based self-shooting producer with reality TV credits such as Hardcore Pawn, Say Yes to the Dress and What Not to Wear. She’s just embarked on her first feature-length documentary Comics Are Everywhere! Here she shares her experience of launching a crowdfunding campaign and shares her tips for anyone considering embarking on the same journey.
One of the more interesting funding stories heard at the festival came from Andi Hector-Watkins who has managed to fund her documentary through a variety of non-traditional sources. Andi, a London-based ethnomusicologist and filmmaker, shares an office at Chichester University with cellist Laura Ritche who was taught by the world-renown Hans Jørgen Jensen, a professor of cello at Northwestern University, Illinois. On discovering that Hans Jensen is not only hugely influential, but is also a great character with a compelling back-story, Andi decided to make a film about him.
At this point, Andi might have struggled to raise money for her film due to the niche subject matter (classical music), the lack of arts slots in the TV schedules, and the film’s length, which is currently planned to be a 30′ single (slots for one-off 60-min documentaries are rare; slots for one-off 30-min are nonexistent). Despite this – or more likely, because of this – Andi has been able to find funding in some unlikely places.
“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 more idealistic you are about your work the more cunning and savvy you have to be about the business side” of it says, Ira Glass, presenter of NPR’s This American Life. In this lecture to journalism students he describes what makes good journalism, and how to tell important stories in a way that does them justice. Some of his other observations include:
Don’t wait for permission to make the work you want to make… just start
Be super-ambitious – keep trying things until luck kicks in and you find your story
Amuse yourself – it’s not enough just to be idealistic, you have to love your work if it’s going to move the audience and ultimately make a difference to the world. Provoke a reaction – and humour is a good reaction.
It should be your goal to make memorable work – people remember things that make them smile (Photo by JD Hancock CC BY 2.0)
All filmmakers have ideas. All filmmakers want to see those ideas realized. But not all filmmakers will do what it takes. Why not? Fear. A quite rational fear, as it happens, but fear nonetheless. Here are some of the objections you might be using to comfort yourself as to why no-one will help you make your idea and so what’s the point in trying? I’ve added some suggestions of how to overcome these stumbling blocks whether they are practical or psychological. Add your own tips in the comments or via @tvmole on Twitter. (Photo by dryhead CC BY 2.0)
Building on the success of Greenlit, this book is the most accessible guide to the traditional, emerging and creative funding models being exploited by factual TV producers and documentary filmmakers in an ever-changing international market. It introduces you to ten different kinds of funder – from international broadcasters to ordinary individuals – and reveals their very different motivations for funding non-fiction films and TV series.
Advice from industry insiders – producers, buyers, media agencies and film funding bodies – is combined with a range of case studies that illustrate the benefits and drawbacks of each source of funding. Packed with practical, actionable tips and examples of successful written proposals and grant applications (along with tales of caution), this book explains exactly what TV commissioners, grantors, brands and investors are looking for in a pitch.
In 1970, a young British director Michael Grigsby made one of the first films about veterans returning home from the Vietnam war – the critically acclaimed and award winning I Was a Soldier. In forty years the funding landscape has changed enormously. I Was a Soldier was made for Granada Television in an era when films could be pitched with one sentence and funded by one broadcaster. One glance at the credits of We Went to War shows just how different things are today. (Photo (C) Rebekah Tolley 2011)
At the recent BVE North (November 2012), I chaired a panel featuring Hugo Heppell, Head of Production, Screen Yorkshire and Lynne McCadden, Head of Development, Creative England. I had been expecting them to talk about TV and funding quotas for regional producers and to hear about the development and production grants that they had to […]
CNN has announced the creation of CNN Films to secure feature-length documentaries for air on CNN and CNN International, alongside theatrical distribution. The move is part of a wider strategy to acquire original non-fiction content to complement CNN’s award-winning news programs. Girl Rising the first documentary acquired by CNN Films, will air in spring 2013. […]
ITVS International no longer has a once a year submission deadline but will now consider projects on a rolling basis. The International Initiative provides production and/or post-production funds for single non-fiction television documentaries that bring international perspectives, ideas, stories and people to a U.S. audience. This initiative is for non-U.S. producers and filmmakers who live […]
Increasing numbers of filmmakers (and other types of entrepreneurs) are turning to crowdfunding platforms such as IndieGoGo or Kickstarter in an attempt to find funding for their films and some are being extremely successful. For example, Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie raised $325,927 on IndieGoGo and Save Blue Like Jazz raised $345,992 on Kickstarter. But for every successful campaign there are many failures (one survey found that 65% of crowdfunding projects fail to raise even one single dollar). So what are the ingredients for a successful crowdfunding campaign?
It’s easy to imagine that putting together a crowdfunding campaign might be easier than pitching a project to a traditional funder such as a TV broadcaster, but that would be to grossly underestimate the amount of sustained effort that a successful campaign requires – it’s not enough just to post your project and hope that people will fund it. They won’t.
Jonathan Goodman Levitt, a NYC-based filmmaker, has been making his documentary, Follow the Leader, for seven years. The film is “a real-life coming-of-age story of three traditional American boys with Presidential dreams. At sixteen-years-old, high school Class Presidents Ben, D.J. & Nick are all conservatives who plan to continue leading their peers as President someday. Over three life-changing years, they split into Republican, Democratic and Independent camps as each reconsiders his lofty ambitions.”
Jonathan has had a hair-raising fundraising journey so far, but has managed to secure most of his funding from foreign broadcasters (read a candid interview with Jonathan in Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot! about all the trials and tribulations). He’s now on the final straight and he needs to raise $27,000 to complete the project and to raise awareness of the film ahead of the US presidential elections in late 2012.
Here we use his Kickstarter crowdfunding page as a case study to examine the key elements you need to include in your campaign pitch. (Photo courtesy of Changeworx)
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.
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 Forum; Sheffield Doc/Fest Meet Market; and IDFA, Amsterdam to meet with commissioning editors and pitch the film. (Photo © Hugh Hartford)
Director/Producer Lindsey Dryden is a documentary filmmaker who has worked on documentaries for broadcasters such as the BBC, Channel 4 and Current TV, but when she started making her first feature documentary she had to learn a whole new set of skills – not only to make the film, but also to find the funding. […]
Are you a creative documentary-maker? Of course, you cry: creativity is my craft. But wait a minute; if you are what is defined by the industry as a maker of ‘Creative’ documentaries you could be in trouble when you try to find funding for your film.
Documentaries with a social conscience have, in recent years, become fashionable with NGOs, foundations and brands all keen to be seen to be supporting (with hard cash or ‘in kind’ assistance) documentaries will change the world. It’s still a little too early to tell whether documentaries really do make a big difference, although organizations such as the Good Pitch are beginning to track results (Read a summary of their research to date in The Good Pitch Review.) While all this is well and good, many traditional and emerging film funds now insist on some kind of social justice agenda for the films they fund, which means that documentaries that don’t have social justice at their heart have been squeezed out.
But what if you regularly ‘do good’ in your daily life – donate to charity, recycle your bath water, volunteer at a homeless shelter over Christmas and cycle to your allotment – and you feel like you’ve earned enough karma not to have to spend the rest of your days doing documentary outreach for yet another cause, however worthy? What if you just want to make a Creative documentary i.e. one with a good story about a great character or (whisper it) an experimental approach? (Photo by Horia Varlan CC BY 2.0)
Today, if you aren’t going after international money you aren’t doing your job properly as a documentary filmmaker. There are dozens of TV and documentary markets and forums around the world, and many filmmakers find they mu st go to several in order to meet with the right people. For example, Sheffield Doc/Fest has almost 250 commissioners, funders and buyers attending the various sessions dedicated to pitching such as t he MeetMarket, Round Table Session, Power Hour Sessions (formerly the Speed Dates), commissioning panels, and public pitches. Most meetings that you will have in an environment like this are high-octane – you’ll have between 10-15 minutes to pitch and get feedback on your project before their next appointment. So what can you do to make the most of this opportunity? Photo by MikeCrane83 CC BY 2.0
Ela Thier is a NYC-based independent filmmaker who has been writing screenplays for 20 years (to the detriment of her school grades when she first started out because she insisted in submitting screenplays instead of essays). But in 2009 Ela was still struggling to get any of her 20+ screenplays sold or made. She decided to take action by sending an open letter to all her friends and acquaintances explaining her frustration. She decided that if she was going to get her film made she had to take control and raise the money herself. At the end of her letter she asked people to donate $100 to help fund the production of A Summer Rain, a story about two adolescent immigrant girls coming to terms with culture-shock, homesickness and growing up. In return, investors got a $150 film-making/scriptwriting workshop / credit on the finished film / a chance to work on the production. Click through to find out what happened next.
Channel 4 is providing a new television platform for short films called The Shooting Gallery and has been working closely with online video platform Vimeo as partners.
The Shooting Gallery will bring the best short films, branded content and virals from around the world and showcase them alongside original commissions funded by innovation support fund – the Alpha Fund. In its previous incarnation running as a strand in the mid-1990s, The Shooting Gallery introduced the early works of Shane Meadows, Annie Griffin and Clio Barnard, amongst others.
The 2011 version rides the wave of new short form content that has exploded on the internet in recent years, but until now, has yet to find a mainstream TV outlet.
The strand will return periodically to support programmes in Channel 4’s peak schedule. The first show The Shooting Gallery: Caught on Camera, will broadcast on the 22nd March, 2012 and focus on a mixture of original commissions, award-winning shorts and internet hits focusing on still image and photography.
The Shooting Gallery: China will broadcast on March 29th, 2012 and comprises of a selection of shorts, a number of which have been curated by Vimeo, which centre on modern China, supporting Niall Ferguson’s new series China: Triumph and Turmoil as well as Gok Wan: Made in China.
Award-winning writer and producer David Elisco has been named director of development for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s new film production unit. Elisco has more than 20 years of experience creating science and natural history documentaries for National Geographic Television, the Discovery Channel, and the Public Broadcasting System, as well as films focused on science […]
Channel 4’s Alpha Fund was set up in January 2011 set up to encourage the development of TV ideas from new and emerging independent production companies in the UK. The fund’s managers are tasked with being closer to grassroots creative communities, often in advance of commissioning editors, to talent spot, to shape smart ideas and […]
Freelance development consultant Sean Kirkegaard is running an unusual creative experiment on his website Development Hell. Approximately every other day he uploads a new TV programme idea to his website. Once he’s got a slate of about 50 ideas he’s going to ask the public to vote on their favourite. He will then attempt to […]
The Ford Foundation have announced a new film fund – JustFilms – which will grant $10m per year for five years to filmmakers making documentaries that “show courageous people confronting difficult issues and actively pursuing a more just, secure and sustainable world”. There are three different strands to the funding, each of which will receive roughly 1/3 of the money:
* “Partnerships with major organizations such as the Sundance Institute, the Independent Television Service and others
* An ongoing open application process that will help JustFilms stay attuned to fresh ideas and stories wherever they may emerge, and
* Partnership with other Ford Foundation grant-making programs where the introduction of documentary film could help draw attention to an issue or advance a movement”
Filmmaker Orlando Bagwell will be oversee the new fund.
Visit the Ford Foundation for more information. (Photo by Borman818 CC BY 2.0)
There are some simple principles to successfully developing and pitching your ideas, whether you are working for a global ‘super-indie’ production company, or are a documentary filmmaker pitching a passion project. The extraordinary thing is that no one will tell you what they are! Greenlit is the first book to reveal, step-by-step, how to originate, develop and pitch your factual/non-scripted TV ideas in a global market.
Get insider tips from: * 10 TV development producers – who have a combined 50+ years experience of developing and pitching ideas at all levels; * 20 senior executives who have sold some of the world’s most successful shows, to: * 16 channel executives, who between them have worked at: * 18 TV channels in: * 7 countries across 4 continents.
Greenlit is available now from Amazon and all good bookstores.
Channel 4 BRITDOC Foundation and Puma.Creative – part of PUMA’s CSR division PUMAVision – have announced the new PUMA.Creative Catalyst and Creative Mobility Awards. These initiatives will provide financial support, creative counsel and industry recognition to international documentary filmmakers whose creative storytelling highlights social justice, peace or environmental issues. PUMA.Creative Catalyst Awards, a new international […]
BBC News reports that Fede Alvarez, a Uruguayan film producer, struck YouTube gold when he uploaded short sci-fi film he made for $300. Four days later he was inundated with offers from Hollywood and has been offered a $30million dollar deal to produce a feature-length sci-fi film set in Argentina and Uruguay. Read the full […]
Current TV are well known for commissioning short films (or ‘pods’) but they’re now starting (in the UK) to commissioning and acquiring 30′, 60′ and feature length documentaries from new and emerging documentary producers. Keep up to date with what they’re looking for by emailing Charlotte for a commissioning brief. Budgets: £5k for a half-hour […]
Brandirector makes looking for programme sponsorship, ad funding or product placement partners much easier. It’s a ‘dating agency’ style site that aims to match independent producers with brands, such as BMW, Sony and Extreme, that are looking to team up with content creators. HarperCollins is the latest to sign up, and will put 120 of […]
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.
4Docs has been relaunched as the home of short documentary in the UK. There are screenings, funding opportunities and a filmmaker wiki (from 9th September 2009) that will give advice on funding, producing and screening your short. There will also be regular short film competitions. Visit the newly revamped 4Docs website for more info.
Ela Thier is a NYC-based independent filmmaker who has been writing screenplays for 20 years (to the detriment of her school grades when she first started out because she insisted in submitting screenplays instead of essays). But Ela is still struggling to get any of her 20+ screenplays sold or made. She’s decided to take action by sending an open letter to all her friends and acquaintances explaining her frustration. Ela faces the same frustrations that many TV producers face – years of backbreaking development work and little to show for it but rejection. Her letter should act as a reminder, that if you really believe in a project, and you can’t get anyone else to take an interest start looking for other, more creative, ways to get it off the ground. UPDATE: * People have been so inspired by this letter, that it ended up at NPR and they contacted Ela to do a story about it.
* An journalist contacted Ela from Israel to run a story about this letter in Israeli newspapers
* Just yesterday, a woman she has never met wrote to tell her that she was so moved by this letter that she forwarded this letter to her contact at the White House.
(Photo (C) Ela Thier)
The usual route to getting your programme commissioned is to:
* Get the channel brief and bang your head against a brick wall to come up with something that fits. And then hate yourself.
* Refuse to bow to the lowest-common-denominator-populist-dumbing-down-reality-TV peddlers and continue to pitch your save-the-world documentaries. You never eat and your children are in rags.
There is a third way, based on the US model of indie film production. Read Realscreen’s interview with Christo Hird of Dartmouth Films (ex-Fulcrum RIP) to find out how he’s doing it it.
(Photo by Lee Jordan)
Pitching is a bitch. Especially when you are just starting out. There seem to be so many different channels, all of them with closed doors.
But do you actually need to pitch your idea to a TV channel? No. It depends on your motives for pitching. You might think that the only reason to pitch your ideas is to sell them, but depending where you are in your career, there may be different reasons for pitching, and cleverer ways of pitching. (Photo by heiwa4126)