Every November documentary filmmakers from around the world get the opportunity to pitch their projects to commissioning editors from international television stations and other financiers at IDFA’s international co-finance and production market, the IDFA Forum. After each pitch, the assembled commissioning editors and other funders are given the opportunity to express their interest/concerns and ask questions about the film. Over the course of several pitches a number of recurring, and sometimes contradictory, themes that emerge from the commissioners’ feedback that can be useful to reflect on when planning your own pitch, whether at IDFA or elsewhere. Here are some of the comments from the IDFA Central Pitch in 2014 – although all the comments are project specific there are many insights that are transferable to any documentary in development, and can help you preempt potential objections to your own project. (Photo by Kennisland (CC BY SA)
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)
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)
If you are planning to pitch your documentary to funders you’ll no doubt spend much time on displacement activities such as dusting and doing the washing up rather than knuckling down and actually preparing your pitch. Nobody likes pitching; it’s an uncomfortable, exposing and potentially embarrassing experience – especially if you are unfortunate to be pitching your project at one of the big forums such as Hot Docs in Toronto or IDFA in Amsterdam. Never been to a forum before? Scroll down to see what that actually looks like (and weep). But if you are going to get your film financed you’ll have to pitch it at some point, there’s no getting out of it so you may as well get used to it.
At IDFA 2013, Danish producer Sigrid Dyekjær came to the rescue with her inspiring pitching tips in a session called The Future of the Art of Pitching. Sigrid Dyekjær is the founder/co-owner of Danish Documentary Production and was due to pitch some of the projects she used as case studies at the IDFA Forum later in the festival. (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)
At Sheffield Doc/Fest 2013, a panel (produced by Sharron Ward of Katalyst Productions) discussed the thorny issue of what to do when you’ve got a great idea for a documentary, but don’t have the channel contacts to get it commissioned. Jes Wilkins, Head of Programmes at London-based Firecracker Films presented a case study that proves that it can be possible to secure a commission without a track record, but underlines the fact that there are no short cuts.
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)
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.
IDFA (International Documentary Festival Amsterdam) is, besides being a great place to watch a wide range of documentaries, one of the key places where filmmakers can pitch their films to buyers from around the world.
There are a number of ways to do this, via one-on-one meetings (whether privately arranged, brokered via the festival team or the unexpected encounter where you are asked about your project on the fly – as I write this in the festival cafe someone is pitching to HBO Europe on the next table), via The Forum (where you pitch in front of a large industry audience), or in the more intimate round table format. Each situation presents its own pitching challenges but the commissioning editors’ responses more often than not remain broadly similar.
Forewarned is forarmed, so if you know what issues preoccupy the buyers you can preempt them and make sure that you develop your project in a way that will give it the best chance of survival in the sometimes brutal gladiatoral arena of the pitch forum.
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)
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
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.
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 […]
Peter Hamilton, ex-CBS exec turned TV consultant has just launched a new blog documentarytelevision.com. A regular on the conference panel circuit, Peter shares his knowledge of Discovery network budgets in one of his first posts. For example: Discovery’s budgets range from $250 per hour for a low budget programme to $1,500 to a showcase programme. […]
Check out the new Film Business Asia website for news about festivals, awards, sales, distribution deals and box office news from Asia. Looks as though they’re focusing on narrative/feature films but there is some documentary news in there too. And handily, there is an English language version.
This week we have a special treat: an interview with Singapore-based filmmaker and executive producer Lionel Chok. Lionel’s TV credits include Culture Shock for Channel News Asia International; Lifestyle – a health series for overseas broadcast fronted by Nadya Hutagalung; and Activate Your Camera – Singapore! an eight-part Hi-Definition local series on photography fronted by Tom Ang (whose last photography series was commissioned by the BBC). Lionel also has theatre and feature film credits and works as a Film Instructor at SAE Institute. Click though to read the interview. (Photo (C) Lionel Chok)
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.
These days it’s not enough to come up with a factual TV show that gets commissioned by one TV channel – in order to make money you’ll need to be able to sell it around the world too. And that means knowing what will sell in the global market.
As a rule of thumb, in order for documentaries to be successful around the world they need to stay away from parochial, local subjects and concentrate on themes that people can identify with wherever they are in the world: March of the Penguins (survival against the odds); Touching the Void (friendship/human spirit); Blue Planet (the wonder of nature); The Apprentice (the American dream/ rivalry).
Formats also need to deal with universal themes, but they can be tweaked to suit the local market.
You’ll no doubt be familiar with the likes of Who Want’s to Be a Millionaire? (sold to 100+ territories), Idol (40+ territories), Dancing with the Stars (30+ territories) and Wife Swap (20+ territories). But, according to major distributors, there are a lot of best selling shows that might not be so familiar.
Click through the headline for a list of some of the top sellers.
(Photo by: JasonRogersFooDogGiraffeBee)
Meet Virginia Mouseler, founder of The Wit – a research company that publishes weekly and monthly reports about all the new TV shows around the world. Explore the database of 80,000 TV programmes from around the world; search using keywords, country, genre or production company; and watch full length videos of any TV show online. Sign up for a weekly email report with news of new pilots and projects, and a monthly report on new shows aired in 35 countries.
Channels contemplate closure
A saleable programme idea captures the zeitgeist or fills a commissioner’s need and you’ll only be able to give them what they need if you know what they’re looking for.