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Documentary Commissioners: Searching for Gems in the Schedule

Go to one of the major international documentary festivals and you’ll come away feeling that the genre is alive, kicking and having a party. ITV’s Jo Clinton-Davis said at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2015 that the audience was searching for “gems in the schedule”, but of all the commissioner panels, the documentary session seemed to be the one where the commissioners had the most trouble articulating/least enthusiasm describing what it was that they wanted or needed in their schedules; they seemed to be suffering a strange collective ennui.

Factual Entertainment Commissioners: Difficult to Deliver

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.

Science Commissioners: Go Big or Go Home

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.

Arts Commissioners: Doing it, Not Just Talking About it.

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.

Show Don’t Tell: New Forms of Arts Programming

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.

Greenlit: The Police Commissioner, Channel 4

Cutting Edge: The Police Commissioner (1 x 60′) w/t  – Ann Barnes, Kent’s first elected Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), hit the headlines in April 2013 when she appointed 17 year-old Paris Brown as her Youth Police and Crime Commissioner. Paris was to act as a bridge between the police and young people. However, after a Twitter […]

Out: Chris Shaw, Senior Programme Controller, C5

Chris Shaw, Senior Programme Controller at C5 (formerly Five) is stepping down from his post after taking voluntary redundancy from the channel. Source: Televisual

Out: Donna Taberer, Head of Entertainment, C5

Donna Taberer, Head of Entertainment at C5 (formerly Five) is stepping down from her post after taking voluntary redundancy from the channel. Source: Televisual

New from TVMole:

How to Get Your Ideas Commissioned – The Things No One Ever Teaches You The first idea I ever pitched, The Guinea Pig Club, was commissioned within about a week. Little did I know that it was the easiest commission I would ever get! I’ve since written more than 400 proposals and have been directly […]

Meet the UK Factual Commissioners: Steve Gowans, Head of Factual Entertainment, Five

Steve Gowans, Head of Factual Entertainment at Five recently outlined his commissioning needs to attendees of the Broadcast Factual Forum. Click through to see what’s hot and what’s not on Five. (Photo by Torres CC BY-SA 2.0)

Meet the UK Factual Commissioners: Harry Lansdown, Commissioning Editor, Formats, Features and Specialist Factual, BBC3

Harry Lansdown, commissioning editor, formats, features and specialist factual, BBC3 recently outlined his commissioning needs to attendees of the Broadcast Factual Forum. Click through to see what’s working on the channel and what he wants to commission. (Photo by Torres CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wanted: What UK Factual Entertainment Commissioners Want.

In the final of a series of reports from the Intelligent Factual Festival, the factual entertainment commissioners from Channel 4, Five, BBC and Sky One reveal what kind of programmes they are looking to commission. Photo by takomabibelot (CC BY-2.0)

Wanted: What the Specialist Factual Commissioners Want in the UK

At the Intelligent Factual conference a couple of weeks ago, specialist factual channel execs talked about which programmes have recently worked well for them and what they are looking for in the future. Click through to see what BBC1, BBC2, BBC4, Ch4, BIO, History UK and Crime & Investigation want in their science, history, art, religion and natural history slots. (Photo by plagel under CC BY-SA 2.0)

How to Avoid the Commissioners and Still Get your Films Made

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)

Where to Pitch Your Idea (and Avoid the Commissioners)

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)

Arts Documentary: Moving to More Authored Approaches

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)

Telling the Refugee Crisis

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 Beginner’s Guide to Sheffield Doc/Fest by Charlotte Fisher

For anyone who has not been to Sheffield Doc/Fest before, it offers the chance to listen to commissioners from TV channels and film companies all over the world talking about what they are looking for from documentary makers and producers. It could also be the chance to pitch your latest project to some of them. And it’s an opportunity to watch the latest and best feature length documentary films.

Sheffield Doc/Fest: Through a Current Affairs Lens by Charlotte Fisher

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.

First Heartbeat – The Birth of a Sheffield Doc/Fest Baby by Lisa Francesca Nand

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.

Pitch Forth!

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.

Opportunities for Filmmakers on Alternative/Challenger Platforms

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.

How to Write a Proposal a TV Commissioner Will Actually Read

Commissioning editors can receive up to 80 programme proposals a week; few will be read from start to finish. Many commissioners never read past the first paragraph, or even the title. On average, they make a decision within 40 seconds. Usually that decision results in the proposal being filed in the bin.

So how can you make sure a commissioner keeps reading to the end of your proposal? Here are ten ways to make your proposal stand out and keep your commissioner reading to the end.

Hidden Treasure: Secret Sources of Documentary Funding

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.

Three Ways to Increase Your Chances of Getting a TV Commission

It is generally accepted that the industry-wide pitch to commission rate is ten to one, and for some people even that’s optimistic. Here are some of the tried-and-tested tricks that will help you get your idea gets commissioned. (Photo by Hub☺ CC BY SA 2.0)

Ten Reasons Not to Pitch Your Independent Documentary to Funders

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)

Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot! Finance Your Factual TV/Documentary Project by Nicola Lees

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.

Funding 101: Lost and Sound – The Art of Finding the Right Partners

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. […]

Funding 101 – How to Speed Date a Funder

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

Pitching Tips Straight From the Commissioner’s Mouth

Pitching is such a tricky thing because you rarely get the opportunity to see other people do it, so you just have to take a deep breath and hope for the best. And chances are you won’t walk out of the door with a commission (research by The Research Centre suggests you have something like […]

Greenlit: No County for Old Men, History UK

No County For Old Men (8×60’) – Comedians and best mates Simon Day and John Thomson attempt to uncover and discover how our counties help define who we are….What’s the difference between an essex girl and a cornish maid?. Do you call a ‘bread roll’ a cob, batch, a barn cake or scuffler?. What’s the […]

Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch by Nicola Lees

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.

The Trouble With Ideas Sessions at Festivals

At the recent Media Guardian Edinburgh International TV Festival there was a session (as there was in 2009) on the best way to develop creative ideas. This year, (as last), there wasn’t one person on the panel who specialised in developing TV ideas. Instead we had a panel consisting of an installation artist, the director of a product design company, the MD of a media communications agency and the creative director of an advertising agency. The panel was tasked with a brief from Duncan Gray, Sky’s Head of Entertainment, for a new cross-platform, portable breakfast programme, in an attempt to test whether the “more formal and rigorous ways” they employ in ideas creation are better than the, presumably casual and careless ways employed by TV development producers. The blurb for the session asked whether it was fair to compare the different methods and questioned whether “TV development teams are given the time, training or resources they need”: a valid and important question. Unfortunately, it was a question that went unanswered. The session served, by its very failure to include of anyone from TV development, to prove that TV development is undervalued and not given the time or resources it needs (even on a panel, where the only investment would have been an extra chair on the stage).

International Factual TV Conferences and Festivals 2011

There are many documentary and factual TV festivals every year. This list only contains festivals and conferences where you can pitch/sell/network with channel execs. All prices are in USD unless otherwise stated. January History Makers Date: 26th – 28th January, 2011 Location: New York, USA Focus: “The  World’s best program makers… looking forward to the […]

Meet the Commissioner: Diana Howie, Commissioning Editor, ITV Daytime and Factual

Diana Howie, Commissioner Daytime and Factual, ITV recently outlined her commissioning needs to attendees of an event run by Women in Film and Television. (Photo by Torres CC BY-SA 2.0)

Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch – Recommended Resources

Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas from Concept to Pitch reveals how to get an idea for a documentary or non-fiction/reality television series such as Touching the Void, The Apprentice or Supernanny from concept to commission and explains why having a great idea is not enough. Candid interviews with fifty top industry insiders – including international […]

Development Insider: Commissioning Steers

Back by popular demand is the Development Insider who tells it like it is. This week, commissioners get skewered:

Sky recently revealed they want “dynamic and challenging subject matter about the contemporary world.” Bravo declared that “programmes need to stand out; we want ‘did you see?’ moments that will get people talking.” Five “want to tackle mainstream subjects in interesting new ways and find talent that help pull an audience to our shows.” No shit… (Photo by das.viereck CC BY-SA 2.0)

Meet the UK Factual Commissioner: Charlotte Moore, Commissioning Editor, Docs and Features, BBC

Charlotte Moore, Commissioning Editor, Docs and Features at the BBC recently outlined her commissioning needs to attendees of the Broadcast Factual Forum (March 2010). Charlotte oversees BBC1, BBC2 and BBC4 and works alongside the commissioners for BBC3. Click through to find out what’s working at the moment and what she’s looking to commission in the coming months. (Photo by Torres CC BY-SA 2.0)

CableFAX’s Best Websites 2010 – Part II: Blogs

CableFAX’s Best of the Web awards ceremony is being held in NYC on 28th April 2010. All commissioners now want to know what the multiplatform/360 degree content will be for any idea you pitch, but it can be hard to think beyond the standard programme website content of cast photos and biogs. In the second part of this mini-series we’re looking at the nominations for best programme blogs. Explore the links and see if you can find some inspiration to help you develop your own ideas.

Click through to read more. (Photo by Niffty.. CC BY-2.0)

CableFAX Best Websites 2010 – Part I: Twitter

CableFAX’s Best of the Web awards ceremony is being held in NYC on 28th April 2010. All commissioners now want to know what the multiplatform/360 degree content will be for any idea you pitch, but it can be hard to think beyond the standard programme website content of cast photos and biogs.

In this mini-series we’re taking a sneak peak at the Best of the Web nominations to see what’s standing out (and what’s not quite working) in the current market. Explore the links and see if you can find some inspiration to help you develop your own original multiplatform content ideas.

This week, we’re featuring the sites that make the Best Use of Twitter. Click through to read. (Photo by Niffty.. CC BY-2.0)

How to Pitch 360 Degree Content

At the recent Sheffield Doc/Fest, a panel of Multiplatform commissioning editors and producers talked about developing and pitching 360 degree content (i.e. content that exists on more than one platform: TV, online, books, DVD, live events, YouTube, Facebook etc).

The panel included:

* Lyndsay Duthie (etv productions)
* Nick Cohen (BBC Multiplatform commissioner)
* James Penfold (etv productions)
* Matt Locke (Commissioning Editor for Education and New Media at Channel 4)
* Jane Mote (UKTV Director of lifestyle, factual and new media, UKTV)

Click through to see what they said.
(Photo by gadl CC BY-SA 2.0)

Meet the Controller: Richard Klein, BBC4

Richard Klein is Channel Controller for BBC4; he recently outlined his current channel strategy and needs (as of August 2009). Richard’s View on BBC4 BBC4 is challenging and intellectual but with a twinkle in its eye. Programmes should be thought provoking – it’s a place for diversity of opinion and controversy. Polemical pieces that make […]

Developing Factual TV Shows – How to Get the Best Out of TV Mole

TV Mole is now six months old and has grown hugely, so I thought it would be good to look back at some of the best articles and signpost how you can get the best out of TV Mole – whether you’ve been here since the beginning are are just dropping by for the first time. You’ll find 350+ potential ideas ideas for new programmes, information on 97 TV channels in the UK and USA and a range of resources to help you successfully develop and pitch your nonfiction TV ideas.

Read on to find out how TV Mole can help you generate new ideas, write a punchy proposal, research potential buyers, pitch, and engage with your audience.

(Photo by blmurch

http://www.flickr.com/photos/blmurch/ / CC BY-SA 2.0


Help – I’ve Been Asked to Develop Some TV Ideas But I Don’t Know What to Do!

Have you been put into a TV development team for a few weeks but don’t know where to start? Don’t panic. Here is an easy (some might say cheat’s) guide to developing TV programme ideas, fast. All you need to get started is the TV Mole website, which will give you everything you need to […]

The Surefire Way to Stop Your Brilliant TV Idea Being Stolen. And Five Better Suggestions.

Here is a guaranteed way to make sure no-one steals your idea: Don’t tell anyone about your idea. Ever. That’s is. That’s all you need to do. Unfortunately this strategy has a major drawback – if you don’t pitch your idea you will never sell it?  And what’s the point of that? There is always […]

Development Insider: How to Steal Ideas

Stealing ideas. Everyone steals ideas. You forget you’ve done it a few times but you sure as hell remember the times when it happened to you. Perhaps it’s the nature of the game. But it’s still mighty annoying, so let’s consider the three most egregious forms of creative burglary in order of irritation caused. Bad […]

Six Ways to Allay Your Commissioning Editor’s Fears and Sell your TV Programme

You might think that all you need to get your TV programme commissioned is a good idea. Not so.

Assuming you have a really good idea, and have sprinkled it with fairy dust for luck, it is still unlikely that you will get your idea commissioned. Why? Because your commissioner is scared. They’re scared of commissioning a programme that might fail. And failing programmes put their jobs on the line. Which makes it your job to allay those fears and make it easy for them to say yes.

Here are six fears you need to address in your proposal and pitch. (Photo by Kables)

How to Get Your Idea on TV as a Truly Independent Producer

Alom Shaha is a factual TV development producer who has started pitching his own ideas independently, and raising the funding to make his films himself. His latest film is an ambitious 360 multiplatform project that asks, “Why is Science Important?” He proves that an individual can get a project off the ground (in less time than going through the usual channels) and maintain editorial control. (Photo by *USB*)

How to Write a Proposal a TV Commissioner Will Actually Read

Commissioning editors can receive up to 80 programme proposals a week; few will be read from start to finish.

Many commissioners never read past the first paragraph, or even the title. On average, they make a decision within 40 seconds. Usually that decision results in the proposal being filed in the bin.

So how can you make sure a commissioner keeps reading to the end of your proposal? Here are ten ways to make your proposal stand out and keep your commissioner reading to the end.

Six Pitching Lessons from the Dragons’ Den

Dragons’ Den: Success From Pitch to Profit, is a book that profiles the dragons and examines case studies of people who have successfully or unsuccessfully pitched in the den. If you read it with your development head on it has a number of lessons that can be applied to the development and pitching of factual TV programmes. (Photo by e-magic.)