Westdoc Workshop 2012

What Do U.S. Networks Want? How Can You Get It?
A Network Insider’s Guide to Greenlighting Factual Programs

Speakers:
Stephen Harris, Producer, Workaholic Entertainment
Peter Hamilton, DocumentaryTelevision.com

Producing Stories
Length: 15:06

HIGHLIGHTS
About Steve Harris

  • Former Development Executive at A&E in New York
  • Programs he worked on include: Gene Simmons Family Jewels, Monster-in-Laws, Celebrity Ghost Stories
  • Responsible for hundreds of hours of broadcast programs
  • Currently an independent producer in LA, founder of Workaholic Entertainment

o Just as much pressure, just a different type
o Previously had to produce programs that would fit the “TLC brand” or the “A&E filter”
o Now as an independent “development executive you’re always trying to look at what’s going to be the next big thing. It’s like playing the stock market.”

  • In the short time since leaving A&E, Steve has “successfully pitched a project to CW, and they responded by investing in a presentation tape.

Getting Your Concept to the Side of the Bus

  • Peter says: “For producers, the commissioning process seemed vertical…and mystical. But in reality, producers are part of a larger, circular commercial process.”
  • Steve adds: “Just because you have one contact in the network doesn’t mean you’re in.”
  • Peter: “Whenever you pitch a project into a commercial environment — and increasingly to PBS and public television – the team on the other side of the pitch table wants to know how you’re addressing their audience.”
  • “The scale of the network’s revenues drive the commissioning and acquisitions process.”
  • Peter: “It’s extremely competitive… Producers must have a handle on all the market dynamics.”

Stephen’s Four Filters

  • Big Characters
  • High Stakes
  • Unique Access
  • Resolution

‘The Sequence of Success’
1. Pitch with Sizzle Tape
2. ‘Proof of Concept’

  • Budgets range of $15-25,000
  • A halfway point between your sizzle tape and a pilot
  • Deliverables:

o Identify the characters, “make sure they pop”
o Format and Structure

3. Pilot
4. Series

  • “At first, the network may only place a 4-6 episode order”
  • Steve: “Your network executive is your collaborator and your business partner – they have just as much invested in the program as you.”

5. Franchise

  • “Programs reach “franchise status” only after your second, successful season.”

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Pitching
Length: 1:48

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Steve: “I would take 25 pitches a week, and out of those 25…I would filter and present 3 to 4 to my development team.”
  • “I can only bring in 2 to 3 a week…The slate that I would keep in development would be anywhere from 5-7 projects at any given time. Their stage of development would range across series production supervision, pilot, presentation tape, sizzle, or casting tape.”
  • “Out of those…I was averaging one conversion a year to series.”

—————

The Commissioning Process
Length: 1:39

HIGHLIGHTS

  • A commission is a “work-for-hire project… that is the network’s property.”
  • “After your pitch, you are then given a budget to produce that show.”
  • “Your cut [of that budget] is anywhere between 10 and 15 percent, so you should use the other 85 to 90 percent to capture the greatest on screen value for your project.

—————

The Sizzle Tape
Length: 0:33

HIGHLIGHTS

  • “You can use any footage to create a sizzle reel: movie clips, any music you want. That footage will never see the light of day.”
  • “It’s your challenge to build the excitement and enthusiasm with the production company or network that you are pitching.”