Documentary pitching in a new age



CANNES: "Pitching is not a matter of life and death, it is more than that." This is how European Documentary Network (EDN) director Lena Pasanen ended the workshop session on How to pitch? at MipDoc, at the Hotel Carlton in Cannes in the south of France.

Hosted with Paul Pauwels, project manager of the European Television Management Academy, the session was well attended and proved an eye opener to many.

Pauwels said: "The world of television has changed. No longer is one person – the commissioning editor - the decision maker, it is teams that decide, based on the profile of the broadcaster. Therefore you keep things simple, bullet points, not too much detail, in one or two sheets of paper. Have a big picture so that they can remember, have visual impact."

He added that: "Once they buy in these people become your evangelists internally within their organisation. Once they are sold on your idea that is."



Added Pasanen: "Please don‘t catch the commissioning editors when they are eating; it is annoying. Also don‘t corner them in the toilet. If you get them in the lift, make sure you have a one-liner which will get their attention. Also make sure you have your contacts in each page pat down and clear so they can get in touch with you later."

After the commissioning editor shows interest, you will have put together a four five page document pointed out Pauwels, packed in with a lot of research.

"They will ask you, why you want to make this documentary? If they don‘t get a feeling, this is a documentary you want to die for, they will drop you," he said. "Then they will ask you when you can deliver," he added. "You will sign agreements and then they will then set milestones for you, for getting more financing, if you don‘t deliver on your milestones, they will probably pull out."

The EDN TV guide is a good reference tool for a database of European Documentary Makers, he added.

According to him, a bound script is needed very early, after the commissioning editor has shown interest. "This probably will come within four months of interest. You can do it in advance, it depends on the topic. Though of course the script changes as you produce. A very good research file is what you should work on, if not a script."

On the question of linking with a distributor he said that it is important to start talking to distributors very early; not when it is finished. "Remember if a documentary has gone to festivals, it is finished. So show the distributor when you have 20-30 minutes to show," he said.

He added that development cost should be 15 per cent of the project, "A sum of 5,000 euros can be good for research, fliers, EDN sessions etc. Documentaries cost 100,000 to 500,000 euros, it‘s a business, and producers who have the pockets should be your partners."

But he cautioned that deals should be done carefully. "Sometimes film makers have to pay money to distributors, because of costs," he added.


Pasanen pointed out that broadcasters have fixed slots genre wise. So you cannot cross over genres, have history and science in a project, she said.

Pauwels pointed out that the positive side is that the European television market is going to explode with 5,000-6,000 broadcasters slated to come up. "You will get 500-1000 Euros per broadcaster. To recover your costs you have to have a 360 degree experience like DVDs, books, mobile, websites dgitial channels for smaller audiences"," he said.

Additionally, a route for recovering costs is to have different versions of the same documentary for different channels, opined Pasanen. "You need to know your broadcast partners needs...you must face the fact you need to do versions...for instance for one of our projects the Spanish people wanted emotions ,Germans wanted to know how they did it, the English wanted something else."

Both emphasised that the various windows of sale and creating versions can open up a rights nightmare. "Broadcasters want to cover themselves; they want all the rights whether DVD, or online or what have you. It‘s a just in case option even if they don‘t know what to do with them, You have to make it clear that they will have to deal with them or get more production budget, " highlighted Paul.

He added that currently this issue is open and no solution has been found. "Within three years an economically sustainable model will be found when with mobile TV, broadband will take off. Until then it will be a test period. There will be victims. But you can work with advertisers, brands, to help lower costs," he opined.


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