#Westdoc/Doc, You’re in the Content Business Now

18Sep09

Destined to become the go to marketplace for quality reality programming and documentary features, really don’t miss Westdoc next time it comes around:  for the content, for the access, for the mentoring.  Truly a best kept secret.  Step into a Hollywood producer’s party with 400+ of his closest A-list friends pitching programming, talking tv, schmoozing as laid back LA as it gets.  Cozy chats, close to midnight screenings, and unbelievable mixing with every development executive you’d ever need to meet.  Producers wide-eyed soaking up priceless advice on recutting reels and filling grid gaps. It felt like a private affair but Westdoc was open to anyone trying to break into the business. No gatekeeping, no screening, no curating. Why? Because fresh ideas are in high demand. As content consumption fragments and mass audiences get harder to aggregate, reality programming production costs are in the sweet spot of what advertisers will pay.  And thus, there is a ferocious appetite for it, the market is exploding, morphing way beyond trash tv, this unscrpited alternative nonfiction world is being elevated to an art form, that of Cinema Verite TV.  The hosts, Chuck Braverman and Richard Propper, couldn’t have been more warm and welcoming, and along with their stellar cast of characters, Westdoc was a winner.

So much was offered, I needed more of me to cover it all.  Luckily the Doubletree Santa Monica has strong 3G and I was able to tweet much of it live.  Here are the notes from some of what what was said.  Enjoy!

Matt Kunitz, Wipeout, Endemol
Endemol Wipeout, Fear Factor, look for big characters audience can relate to, feel they could be them, live vicariously.  Film US in SoCal because producers want to work close to home, but its more expensive, so for international distribution, Endemol built dual sets in Argentina, film for multiple countries, keeps cost down, way less than filming in US. Reality started in Europe.  We’re a machine, have 30 subsidiaries worldwide, announce shows at weekly conference call, we’re an easy entry into foreign market, don’t need to go to MIP, big US hit is instant, output deals with certain buyers.

Gary Auerbach, Go Go Luckey Entertainment
Go Go Luckey screens sinfully entertaining sizzle reel showing off docusoap programming with anger, greed, sloth, lust, gluttony, big characters:  Laguna Beach, The Hills, partner with Endemol, RDF and ITV when at MIP for UK buy, can’t sell paper, need 15 minute reel, pilot, Because of the economy, cable companies will deal if you can come up with 20-30% of budget with international partners. Partner with Endemol to go to network so international is a given, Endemol’s business is worldwide distribution, networks want proven, relationship is already in place. Looking into the future the question is:  Is there a reality drama to replace scripted drama?  And what will unions be successful in organizing unscripted talent as scripted goes down.

Paul Buccieri, ITV Studios
ITV Hell’s Kitchen edits around SOB host, big onscreen magnetic confrontational in your face compelling personality, he’s a star born to be on tv.  When you are first out of the gate, there is going to be cloning, Top Chef has been successful.  How Endemol, Fremantle, got their start, find a friendly UK producer, US networks retain the rights.  Sell elements of the show, compelling star, relatable format, is it big – go network, e.g. The Chase, test worked.  90% fail, that it is produced gives you an edge, will wait to pitch UK to get it off first before bringing it back to US.  Indies should partner with Endemol, execution is it’s brand, selling is in the packaging, don’t go stragiht to nets, won’t take you seriously.  Look at Defying Gravity and Mentalist for unique finanical models, creating well-produced dramas at a fraction of the price, plays more like indie features.

Alex Ben Block, The Hollywood Reporter
The future of TV is getting more real.  Will Leno change landscape..All eyes on Jay Leno tonight who debuts in a scripted slot, future of the media, people want to watch what’s real to them.  Now only 6 major media concerns.

Chuck La Bella, NBCU
Apprentice pays low set rate, celebrities do it to make quota for charity, sometimes up to $1mm.  At NBCU, Celebreality is not going away, egos are getting bigger, the fighting better, the allure of celebrity is huge.  Some celebrities don’t pass psych test.  NBCU uses Google # to decide, easier to get than TVQ.

Jason Cornwell, Cornwell Casting
Look for people who pop, who are recognizable perhaps with internet following, also need story, great characters and how they interact with each other. Cast via Skype for outside LA talent, keeps cost down, cast many shows at same time, saves money, if one doesn’t work on one show, might work on another.  It is an art form to put a reality cast together.  In light of recent tragedies, Cornwall is doubling up on background chacks for MTV, VH1.  Cornwall will get hired on a $20,000 casting budget, taking multiple clients drives the cost down for everyone.  Everyone gets an MMPI psych test, anyone can crack under being watched for 6m 24/7, and won’t be famous once show ends, can yo handle it.  Sends staff into High Schools to cast 15y, also look to family members when not casting for competition reality. Cast Tough Love, Project Runway.

Deena Katz, Talent Central
We search for talent on the web, go on fan sites for ideas, look for shock value, takes 6 months to assemble cast of 6, not just seeking a single person, it’s akin to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, the shows need stars for audience to latch onto, reality is a pathway to scripted for some:  Vivica Fox got Curb, Cloris Leachman got Tarantino.  Casting fees for Dancing with the Stars haven’t gone up since Season II.  Across the industry to bring productions costs down, story editing and seniors are first to get cut.  If Leno works really well tonight, why go back to Grey’s Anatomy.  Reality shows work because of casting, the cast makes or breaks the show, look at our ratings, casting should have an Emmy category.  Network executives love celebrities because they are a given, proven fan following, brand, safe.  In psych testing, ask what will happen when you get eliminated.  Hired cowboy who was big in his world, will allows choose 500,000 followers over 75,000.

Joe Weinstock, Director, Original Series, Spike
Know the program needs of the networks you are pitching, get docusoap on 10min DVD, competition reality can be papered.  Average production budgets range $200,000 – $900,000 per hour, Spike pays good money for good stuff – loud, big, descriptive titles help.

Jeff Hasler, Discovery – Planet Green
Reel Impact watch at 8, talk at 10, Blue August w Cousteau kids, more consumer feel.  Green is rebranding programming from tip driven how to to character narratives about the world, not eat your veggies must eat tv, intimidating, lectured to, feel guilty,  will spend $3 – $4mm on a show.  At Discovery the deliverables are voluminous, always partner unknowns with a production company like Authentic, ok to send email with log lines, if log line is great, will request treatment.  It’s really a development conversation than a pitch.  Planet Green is open to sponsorship and integrations but Discovery ad sales team doesn’t want done deal, come in with sponsorship offers.  Pitch after you have analyzed the network’s grid, so you can say this fills a hole in your Thursday 10 spot.  DOC MOP (most often pitched) – shorthand for ideas development execs hear 10x/week, TV is business of imitation, stand out with unique concepts.  Finding talent in the nonfiction space, in the factual entertainment world, need big personality, Khourtney & Khloe are celebs.  Planet Green is looking for more docusoaps, characters and stories of the world, with narrative and point of view.  Found when borrowed programming from Discovery like Blue August with Cousteau kids, ratings went through the roof.  The difference between Oprah’s OWN and Planet Green is that OWN is about living your best life/self actualization, whereas Planet Green is about we the world, have a Saturday night doc buying window, Flow, Crude.

Joe Swift, WEtv
25-54y woman, My Fair Wedding, Platinum Babies. Steve Cheskin now back at TLC.  Can only greenlight one sheet with tape, with My Fair Wedding, saw it on paper before, but this treatment made it more accessible, came with recommended production company that has track record of delivering, look at everything.  WEtv had stepped away from makeovers – can’t outbravo Bravo – but pitched with talent and straight forward concept packaged well – slated it.  WEtv part of Rainbow network IFC Sundance AMC, open to sponsorship as long as it doesn’t compromise editorial creative.  WEtv MOPs – housewives, over the top characters, psychic friends.  The Locator always has a resolution, a great arc, a beginning/middle/end, strong talent.  Receives 3000 pitches for 150 hours of programming, very competitive, keep it obvious, theatrical feature docs work for tv with high emotional gutwrenching moments.

David Schiff, GSN
Money List, Bingo America, about 80-85% acquisition, expanding into cooking, weightloss, draw those audiences. Live interstitials, taking game and interjecting live comedy, play everyday.  Henson muppets, docusoaps, how to grow the ten without alienating the core, goal is not to be one note all day.  Will look at paper treatment, want to own IP, will do step deal – paper to pilot to series, don’t have lots of holes in grid to fill like Bravo.  GSN will give large orders, 65 episodes at a certain price point, production company needs to be attached to one with track record in game.    Attach talent, acquire rights, increase status, list the digital extensions, extend brand to make a deeper connection.  Sponsors want to know what network you’re on.  Focus on producing the show and let network ad sales team get the sponsors.  At GSN, you see products in the shows, audience is used to it, it doesn’t betray the public trust.  When at A Smith, did not approach products, thought solely about talent attachment, packaging.  Its the Cash Cab for toll booth lines (Discovery doesn’t get that MOP), and memory-based games.  GSN Newlywed Game highest ratings ever, people like to see spouses whack each other on the head for the wrong answer.  GSN site is not a social media play, the community forums are buried, its a gaming site owned by World Winner, with skill games, huge revenue-producer.  See some classic games like Name that Tune daily 9-3.  Classic games have Fremantle rights issues, ondemand viewing onsite.

Arunima Dhar, ESPN
Sports have inherent drama, 30 for 30 debuts 10/6 goes through 2010, 30 best storytellers tell 30 stories of the last 30 years of ESPN great moments in sports history.

Lauren Lexton, Authentic Entertainment
Some talent is born to be onscreen, they know it, they sizzle, spark, pop, can email video to view on iPhone, if good will fund sizzle reel.  Jeff Lewis of Bravo’s Flipping Out was born to be on tv, Authentic was doing show with Jennie and Chris when Jeff’s neuroses stole the show and he emerged as the star central character.  Prefers tape to live pitch, shoot self on home video camera, not for network, but can use it to fund sizzle and develop what is on the show.

David Goldberg, Endemol
If you can convince a braodcaster it’s yours and they buy it, it’s a format.  ABC and FOX are notorious at ripping off each other’s format.  Be quick and secret – it’s a race against time.  Pays format fee but localizes for US.  Fear Factor US is very different than Fear Factor Holland.  Global creative team meets 4-5x a year to discuss formats, comes up with global blockbusters 2-3x/year.  6-7 member thinktanks come up with content and monetize it via merchandising, gaming, theme parks, digital and mobile.  SMS has some legal issues.  No longer sell a format where you own 100% syndication and merchandising, now 50/50, have to be scrappier.  Tide has turned, now there is a lot of US properties going overseas.  Only sue if ripoff is successful.  Advice on pitching – shouting is bad.  Unsolicited, uncredentialed submissions opens networks/producers to litigation – important to use submission release.

Chris Grant, Reveille
Millionaire was first reality show from overseas that worked in US, opened the floodgates.  What’s a format – it’s anything anyone is willing to buy.  Format is a set of rules, distinct brand, gameplay, unique elements.  Format bible – ad breaks, music, graphics, Biggest Loser added to by buyers, huge.  Finished US tape popular in 150 countries, can be big $ but Home Makeover format doesn’t work outside of US, Survivor doesn’t sell in Italy.  Biggest Loser is huge in Middle East, Europe is buying US, but there is cultural sensitivity in Middle East.  US Wipeout set in LA, replica in Argentina, sold to 30 countries.

David Lyle, Fox Reality Channel
Format disputes involve originality, need to combine elements in unique way to make it protectable, distinct narrative progression occurs, gameplay with a celar beginning middle and end with rules, casting bible with everything laid out from program lighting to sound cues, that’s a format.
Lots of copycat in the genre, noone has won format wars in courts.  Best protection is to be quick with marketing and be secret about it.  When selling formats, make sure any changes revert to owners, look at what happened to Sweden’s Family Feud, changed so many times, said it’s no longer your show.  Fox’s Supernanny had a great bible, how long the shots would be, how long they left parents to screw up kids, format gives buyer better chance for success.  There used to be a lot coming over from UK and Holland but nothing in the last 5 years, direction has reversed with US going overseas.  You can register formats with FRAPPA, WGA, should be copyright protection for formats like there are for photography and choreography.  Pitch formats not ideas.  Work with agents to avoid getting ripped off – agents are in a volume business.

RJ Cutler, Actual Reality Pictures, September Issue
The September Issue is about the 9/07 issue of Vogue (5th Best Doc Debut Ever!)  Fascinating people are fascinating, need to have story told.  About Anna Wintour, throw a rock and hit a caricature of her, there are two on Ugly Betty, one on Incredibles, of course Devil Wears Prada, she rules the $300B fashion world.  All meetings with her took 7 minutes, no schmoozing.  Secret to her success is that she trusts her instincts and surrounds herself with talent.  It takes 7m months to produce the September Issue, took 7m to film.  Needed money and access.   Told money we had access, told access we had money.  There were many clues in the first meeting as to how the doc would take form.  Cutler insisted on complete creative control of final cut, she said my dad is a journalist, I am a journalist, I understand and gave him control.  Leaving the meeting, knew they was a connection – Wintour’s relationship with her dad was key.  A specific way they communicate at Vogue – not verbal – visual. Anna is British, everything in nuance, glance, gesture.  Biggest mistake made was getting a polish manicure before meeting Wintour, hid nails the whole meeting, read “Hollywood Rules:  What I Learned from Making a Film with Anna Wintour.”  War Room was self-financed, election had already passed, HBO offered lots of $ for it but it was filmed for theatrical, knew millions would watch on TV, in the end it did make a lot of money in theatrical, and wound up selling it twice for tv.   Spetember Issue wound up a feature because TV got skittish over access between sell and close, episode outs and network notes would have killed it.  Then at Sundance Stephanie Davis said it’s clearly a feature doc, cheaper than TV, doc feature costs $1-2mm, CAA sold it.    As for the doc model, it’s a storytelling narrative with objective obstacle, dynamic relationship between people and big central character who needs others.  For 20 years, Anna battles Grace, they are complete opposites, Grace is a Welsh hippie, Anna a British proper, Grace is the creative director, all art, Anna is all commerce.  Grace didn’t want to do the film, saw it as a distraction but hit it off with the DOP who showed up in the issue and film.  Maybe Anna and Grace agreed to do the film because they wanted recognition in the final act of their careers, maybe it was a response to Devil Wears Prada. *If you ask someone on a date, and they say yes, you don’t ask why…when someone says yes when proposed to, the next question is never why – why ask why – when you close the sale, quickly leave the room before they change their mind*  If she knew what HD was, she never would have said yes.  (If we weren’t in the age of Twitter, I’d share a great email she sent me with you.)  Anna and Grace love fighting with each other in hteir 60s and 70s (a rivalry not unlike Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden).  Thanks to a right wing administration and media corporatization, documentary filmmakers have risen to fill the gap as the voice of dissent, it is the heydey of the advocacy doc.  But not all docusoaps are about advocacy.  There are no sweatshops in China in the September Issue.  There is a vacuum funding great Cinema Verite, humanism, what it is to be human on earth, so those doc filmmakers are going to reality.  At TIFF, The Good Pitch gets funding for advocacy docs but nothing for Cinema Verite.  My advice to filmmakers is make that movie anyway even if you have to charge it on your credit card.  Before kids come along, before debt matters, do it now, buy the camera and return it 30 days later if you have to but tell your story, get it out there.  It’s not just about doing good.  It’s about making great movies.  Not everyone wants to make Food, Inc.  Love observational docusoaps – Gimme Shelter – you live in that moment with people.  With Cinema Verite, the story belongs to you, they’re really conversations, being a fly on the wall is a misnomer, you earn the trust of the subject as they would be comfortable with anyone else.  September Issue was shot 320 hours over a billion shoot days, titled all resources to that, no more than one camera to a room, one sound, no body mics, not at Vogue, it was 14m with one editor, crew of 4 pulling back, only two in a room, one year to cut, everything boomed, they don’t talk at all, nothing like the Meryl Streep character, everything is done with the eyes.  Used HDX900 to film and cut on FCP by a first time editor.  Cutler raised the $, conceived it, in edit bay everyday.  Producers are not filmmakers til they wake up one day screaming – give yourself over to it entirely.  Not sure what’s next, will continue to challenge self (rousing applause!!).

John Saade, ABC
More Megan Wants a Millionaire safeguards. ABC is very conservative. ABC is a feel good family brand, programming in ballroom dancing, Wipeout.  Its Disney.  Broad shows with cross-generational appeal like Extreme Makeover.  Producers self-select when pitch.  There is an 85% failure rate, wish Kid Nation would have succeeded, 5y ago easier to shock audience, America’s Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, always three judges, voted off.  It’s the couch in the middle of the sitcom, it’s a sporting event, with simple rules the audience understands, and symbolic death vote a cliche.  There are only so many braincells to keep track of.  Lost, Damage, blocks other shows out.  For a pitch, nothing worse than “it’s X meets Y” predigested, want producer passion.  Can’t take pitches from anyone except for approved agents.  Wipeout was bought off paper as a format, but usually want tape.  Global buying market.

Rob Sharenow, A&E
A&E Intervention reality drama to rip your heart out, heartwrenching reality show about momaholics, with what’s happened with DJAM and his MTV intervention show, Jon & Kate in the tabloids, protecting show and brand is not the issue, A&E’s brand of reality is pure verite, things happen because it is real, First 48, Intervention people do die and have aired it, there is controversy with talent, audience is hungering for authenticity, free expression and we’re liberal in what we show, careful consideration with kids.  Queer Eye completely different, nothing to do with brand, nonfiction is in a strange place, very eclectic.  Time for a change, looking for something fresh.  Amazing Race, Survivor going on 10 years.  Programming is stale because of the tendency for networks to work with big producers, now meat and potatoes acting like scripted to play it safe.  A&E wants to hear ptich from voice of show not agent.  Worst pitch had no sense of audience.  Cost pay per show is budget plus 10% producers fee.  (When pitching production budget, think big, $200,000 per hour is too low)

Kristen Connolly Vadas, CW
Would air DJAM if MTV.
You only have so many times at the bat, cable has 600 hours of programming to fill each year, costs less so you can risk more, the volume is massive.  If January premiere is a bust, it’s a problem, need less $10mm series and more $100,000 hits at bat, 10h at most scripted programming per week.  TopModel is a beast to keep costs down.  TV is a priority over the web eventhough target demo F 18-34 is all over the web.  Casting tape preferred.  Creepiest pitch was plastic surgery for pets.

Nancy Daniels, TLC
Jon & Kate, Cake Boss, Police Women of Broward County, Toddlers & Tiaras, Dancing Tweens – primetime leaping 43%.
When TLC took left turn – lost audience, went back, shoring up core shows.  The TLC brand is heart/family.  Cake Boss is extraordinary characters with great visual payoff at end of each episode.  Took Little Couple on 3m casting tape.  Cost pay per show is budget plus 10% producers fee.

Adam Chapnick, Distribber.com
(Interview at the HISCOX Cocktail Party) Monetizing  iTunes distribution for features as front end for TuneCore. Charges one time fee of $1295 if it gets through Apple QC.  Met very happy client, Justine Jacob of Runners High who only had praise for Distribber. Expecting to sell 600 of her films through the holiday.  Robert Greenwald, Walmart, also gave a shout out to Distribber during his session.  (Doing the math you would have to sell something like 185 $9.99 films at a 70/30 split with Apple to break even which would require a massive fan marketing campaign, not easy to do without a feature.  Personally I’m on the fence about Distribber’s fee which seems high compared to the $3 minute ingestion fee typically absorbed by distributors that take a 15%-30%+ management fee, however, if you look at it as a tip to the gatekeeper, when there is no other way to gain access, then access is priceless and Distribber plays an important role in democratizing distribution and it worth its fee.)

Erick Opeka, New Video
If you’re film has a star, a huge fan following, or the winner of major film festivals, then a distributor like New Video is the way to get on iTunes, and now Hulu, Xbox, PS3, AVOD, Sling, Cable VOD…  They have an online submission form on their site at www.newvideo.com (also serves as distributor for www.indieflix.com)

Thom Beers, Deadliest Catch, Ice Road Truckers, Pitchmen
Talking with Cynthia Littleton of Variety, getting a high-five for breaking another rating record for Deadliest Catc, most profitable show in the history of Discovery.  Beers brand:  Everyday heroes in high stakes/ high risk/high reward situations, interesting locations, pulsing music, screaming – Pitchmen, Tree Huggers, Catch, Ice Road Truckers.  Deadliest Catch came out of 12min segment of 1999 Deadliest Job in the World.  First shoot so scary at sea, threw notes overboard in bottle hoping it would wash up on shore and be discovered by child of Emmy-winning producer who makes notes into show post-mortem.  Discovery ordered 10, then more.  Catch beats networks for male demo, now everyone is asking “Where is my Deadliest Catch?”  The movie flopped.  Past life started at TBS with Cousteau who hated him for 6y taught him to work with prickly people, also did scripted dramas at CBS and TNT.  Bought life rights to MJ coroners staff, life rights can cost $500-20,000 2y with annual renewal, can’t get it in perpetuity.  Burns through electronics on set, use $4mm of equipment on Catch.  Cameras on bottom of ocean, 700′ down.  Hires young puppies, adventure guys, don’t let them know of the real world, gets real feral out there, lots of grunting.  Loss of Billy Mays was tremendous for Pitchmen but it’s a great show, still casting dream merchants, about inventors, kid you’re a millionaire.  Mays was in bad shape at Conan with his hip, he was fighting a staph infection, on painkillers, but really wanted to go on with the show, great guy.  Own and control as much as possible, Beers narates 80%, has own music publishing company, cranks out $1mm/year.  Does well in UK Ch5 in a slot of 300,000 viewers got over 1mm in first week, has a house in Mexico, Catch there is called El Pescal Mortal.  Getting more involved with characters, their lives, popular worldwide thanks to theme of danger, Fremantle’s equity was welcomed, loved getting $40mm wired to bank account.  Used Staci Slater (sp?) in Santa Monica to clear rights for Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive, Bon Jovi liked the male audience, had never licensed before, refreshed their brand, older iconic rock songs worth the money, $160,000/year just for domestic onair, not even home video, worth it, elevates the material, using Steve Tyler’s Working on the Edge for Ice Road Truckers, music is key, sets a standard.  It took 24 years to figure out mosaic of TV, started as actor/playwright, worked for Lee Strasberg, then was broke, became a PA on commercials, learned lighting, working with crews, then did docs for Ted Turner, 10 years ago appt viewing started to gain traction with Discovery and NatGeo, audience was showing up for series, got lucky break, had done Wild Things at Paramount and Amazing Race, 5y ago felt he finally knew what he was doing, where to plug in. (Kevin Williamson, EP, CW Vampire Diaries at Apple said network shows music budgets are less than cable.)

Robert Greenwald, Walmart, Outfoxed
EFF Stanford Fair Use Project with Lawrence Lessig.  Defensible if can’t tell story without footage.  Anything not core to story/wallpaper is tossed.  Walmart didn’t sue but tried to smear by circulating bad reviews, backfired with positive pres attention for the film.  Don’t need balance in films, the purpse is social action not he says/she says.  Bravenewtheaters.com free houseparty service.Use social media to promote films:  @robertgreenwald, @bravenewfilms, @sickforprofit, @rethinkafghanistan.  YouTube views lag comment, 340 comments can equal 10,000 views, watch CTRs and open rates.  Brave New Films funded by political partners who help the distribution process.  Greenwald started the McCain Mansions story then it was picked up by HuffPo, The Swamp, WaPo, NYT til he was asked “How many homes do you have” replying “I’ll have my staff get back to you.”  It was one thing to say it and another to see it juxtaposed against people losing their homes.  Got 48mm YouTube views.  Over the course of his career, Greenwald made 60 made for tv/cable movies.  Good friends with Chuck Braverman.

Marilu Henner, Celebrity Apprentice
Got into reality with onair birth of son, We’re Having a Baby.  On Celebrity Apprentice couldn’t go to bathroom alone, cameras would follow.  240 crew rotating every 8h for 16 cast members.  When you get nervous you lose your sexuality and humor. Follow@therealmarilu

Beth Greenberg & Damla Dogan, E!
E
! no budget for 24/7 (Leave it to Lamas) have morn/eve portable crews for docufollow.  Toss first 2 days, get comfortable with cameras, forget story.  Seek talent with millions of followers.  VH1 coined celebreality.  Need large cast for long legs.  Docusoaps with an ensemble cast that appeals to W 18-29.  Need to hold emotion for the camera, hard skill to acquire for celebrities.  There is a roadmap but we abandon it if something happens, cast needs to be willing participant, true emotions, more vulnerable.  Spun out Lamas from Shayne on the Bachelor, liked the organic family relationships, natural events.

Jonathan Murray, Bunim-Murray, Real World
We were given a budget and a 10% producers fee.

Brad Holcman, Fox 21
Fox 21 is looking for that untapped franchise, that small show in Vegas ready to explode on network.  Seeking competitive food reality game show, bring back family viewing, something undeniable, have to see it on air, can’t be TiVo’d.  Twitter spoilers ruin reality.  Games with super simple rules, immediately immersive, one sentence or less logline, like causal games, talk back TV, like Deal or No Deal (pick 12, no deal), perfect game show for the smartest and dumbest, everyone can play, grandma, parents, kids.  Sons of Anarchy, Geek, Two Strikes (Interventionish). SHO HBO making a push into reality.  Don’t Forget the Lyrics & Singing Bee were lyrics games.  Voted in the Emmy’s – loves watching TV, not a job, it’s a lifestyle, loves Intervention, Family Guy’s Where’s My Emmy YouTube video.  Forget sponsors in pitch, 360 pitch is standard.  Highlight ancillary opportunities, standout with concept, character, execution, expert polishing, presentations.  Story should be tight, episodic, for good, make the world a better palce, has an afterlife.  Fox 21 great creative home to develop shows from ideas, never let projects die, have multibillion resources/access of Fox.  Study tv before pitching, know what the acquisition executives are looking for.  The coasts are not reflective of middle america, seeking Xgen programming that appeals to 7y-70y, family time appointent viewing, ideal pitch lives in cable too.  Fox 21 has a packed slate, seeking next big format.  Top Chef is a massive business, HK not so, brings wife to all meetings.  Mike Darnell does too. Looking for food, game and intervention docusoaps.  Has the biggest budgets in town and an 8 page development grid.  Seeking volume.

Steve Burns, National Geographic
Best pitch is live, then submit electronic proposal online ngcidea.com.  If we know the filmmaker we don’t want agent filter.  Most are commissioned, half are premade acquisitions, commissioned gets more than acquisitions (true for Sundance, History and Discovery).  Entertains audience.

Nicole DeFusco, Sundance Channel
Sundance is home to creative visionaries sensibility, point of view, voice of tastemakers, trendsetters.  Invest in building talent’s brand.  Likes indies to coproduce w those worked with before.  An agent gives confidence of delivery to unknown indie – how else do we know the producer can do what they say.  Has a green block Tuesday night – prosocial goals.  Art, architecture, design, fashion.  Blessed to live in a world of no ratings, not Nielsen-rated.

Charles Foley & Mark Etkind, Animal Planet
No longer for kids, no parent drag along, code viewing not great strategy. Has 12 foreign coproductions, doesn’t compromise creative.  Both Burnett and Beers tried bullriding on Animal Planet and Spike – set up families with diary cams, very cool, failed to get audience.  Budgets for whale wars, iconoclast, north of four, cheaper more cheerful budgets make up the rest.  Show you’re in the club, or use an agent.  Prefer no filter if there is an existing relationship.  More than half of programming comes from internal development.Not eat your veggies, dry, noble tv.  Whale Wars – don’t have to care about the issue to enjoy show.  Average production budgets $200,000+.  No gimmicky productions – does it have the gas to keep going through the years.  What are the story narrative questions, what is the magic gift.   River Monsters highest rated situating characters in narrative.  Whale Wars.  Family friendly storylines.

Gena McCarthy, Discovery
DiscoveryKids with Hasbro nascent initiative, ice and fire don’t work on Discovery. Discovery content drives healthy development budgets, budget is driven by ambition of the series.  At Discovery if we like your concept, you’re in the door.  (Discovery will spend $5-15,000 to fund a sizzle reel).  Submit pitches to discoveryproductions.com.  Indie submission is fine, don’t need rep.  Discovery has a relationship with BBC – deep pockets help.  More than half of programming comes from internal development. More than half of programming comes from internal development.  West Coast studio contact is Elli Hakimi, Century City.  Welcome subject driven, no host attached, need credible talent..  Pitchmen, Colony, Mythbusters – catch fringe, move to bullseye, brand definitional, invent core genre.  Have done straight to series orders. Hope for .8 in the demo, avg age 39-41, skews male. Sequel to Planet Earth – Life, an extraordinary 10 part event, bandwidth is broader than NatGEo.

Charles Norlander, History Channel
70% male, need big iconic familar to mass audience, can’t reignite passion, need buzz to already be there to drive eyeballs. For space doc who wants off the rock, feature interviews with Branson, Paypal, Amazon founders.  Loves ice (Ice Road Truckers), no music docs.  Looking for history of pop culture, monopoly iconic, audience is nostalgic.  (Monopoly film is smart to partner with Hasbro, bring their 250,000 to sponsors, 250mm sold, #1 game sold in history, 75th anniversary coming up, Hasbro/Universal has a movie in development.)  Likes Toronto DocForum, Amsterdam,ReelScreen Summit.  Doesn’t do co-productions, all productions are commissioned.  The history audience appetite for content is undeniable.  Indie needs a track record or get an agent, there were no doc agents 5y ago, today, WME ICM CAA MCA all rep docs. More than half of programming comes from internal development.  History is not green, no issue oriented programming.  American-centric, biblical can do well.  No what-ifs.  One-off docs must sell in 20 secs, what compels audience to make appt.  Character can’t be pitched on paper, must present reel, doesn’t need polish, shoot on a Flip.  Character driven formats invite brand integration, docuseries, competitive reality.  See subject in new way via producers execution of material. Compelling concept like life after people.  For History to greenlight a doc, has to hit sweetspot, 102 min new compelling info changed America.  History is made everyday, Tom Jennings producing 3shots JFK.  Ice Road Turckers, WW11 on HD, will buy 50 episodes.  America – Story of US – 12 part series, riveting found footage.  Need to be in love with project – one off docs and series.

Sacha Gervasi, Anvil!
Music docs can revive a band, refresh the brand, new vehicle for A&R, tour the festival circuit, sell CDs and merchandise, build fan email list.  Writing is a craft.  Wrote the Terminal for Spielberg.  Day job is writing stuff, never did a doc before, but at 15y was Anvil’s UK tour guide.  Reconnected at a 20y reunion, magical childlike absolute belief that it would still happen for them, spirit so strong.  Decided to make this movie about guys who wouldn’t give up on their dream.  Paid for crew, everyone worked for backend.

Brent Haynes, MTV

John Ferriter, William Morris Endeavor

Mike Duffy, RDF Media
Reality=trashtv when good pets go bad, prefers what it’s become as nonscripted doc tv.

Steve Cheskin, TLC

Joe Adalian, TheWrap.com

Gabriel Noble, P Star Rising
Wonderful father-daughter rags to riches NYC story.  Same as Anvil!, music docs can launch a band, new vehicle for A&R, tour the festival circuit, sell CDs and merchandise, build fan email list.  (Music doc as a one sheet to tell the bands story.  Shoot on a Flip, cut on iMovie, play every festival via Withoutabox, screen with live performance, music has to be good, story has to have heart, be told in a fresh way. 8mm watched MTV VMAs up 6% from last year.) P Star performs at screenings TrBeCa, 5000 TIFF Hotdocs, Montreal Zurich paid for her to perform.  PBS owns the film, airs in January on Independent Lens. Indiepix gave postproduction money, now paying people back.  PBS is taking care of her now, happily ever after with a role on Electric Company.  It took 270hours of shooting over 4y.  8m to edit.  She was 8y when Noble met family.

Donna Michelle Anderson, Planet DMA
Nonfiction does not distinguish between feature and tv like scripted. During pitch focus catcher on point of view from the start, charismatic central talent, can’t tell every story, need to focus on a few compelling juicy characters that both defy and confirm stereotypes, conflict, tears, where is the character escaping to/transitioning from, seeking Cinderella moment – what is character going home to, great end game, strong setup and building, if they get there or not could be a great story, transformational, uplifting, buyer seek attachment, access, partner, production value.  Sizzle reels have spoilers, trailers don’t.  OK to cut reel with Getty images watermark. Identify addressable market.  Arching episodic with an end point each episode or doc feature.  Take characters through beg/middle/end – get on a trajectory.  Visual eye grab, looks great, beautifully shot, moving, with strong characters. How do you film transformation.  Partner with reality showrunner.  JDRoth – reality has to be transformative.  Relatable imaginative inventive ways to stage challenges, need big personality, more character, less plot.  Conflict is the essence of drama. Programmable proof of concept, 22/30 format.

Tom Neff, Doc Channel
Makes acquisitions $5-15,000, buys with the intent of finding a sponsor for it, e.g. sell first minute to Nike. Likes black and white.

Sandy Varo, Lifetime
looks for a world packaged for commercially entertaining lifestyle that’s relatable (Bravo too).  Docusoap hone in on 5 key characters and don’t age up, take it to Disney if it’s a kids film.

Elizabeth Jane Browde, Travel Channel
Don’t see budgets below $175,000/hour anymore, range more $300,000-$400,000 with co-production.  Travel likes familiar for bigger audiences – not aspirational adventures, no music docs.

Richard SaizITVS – review 400-600 submission over 6 months, has $20mm acquisition budget/completion funds, 90% for the underserved, likes edge, exploring subculture. OK to let film wash over you.  Likes Jan Wellmann’s Made of Steele – great white hope racial spin, black and white visually striking, and the dad/son dynamic, resonates with men in the audience. Budget for the music film, e.g. House is a Feeling is $700,000, mostly for music rights.  (Saiz- only thing I watch on TV is Maddow skewer the right, no time for anything else)  Sees average production budgets of $250,000 – $350,000.  PBS not funding anymore, hook up with a WGBH. Reality is juggernaut on tv, universal narrative elements char casting conflict.  (Obama uses competition narrative vehicle for larger issue)  

Pitchfest – Winner, Bess Kargman, First Position!

*Production budgets $150/$175-200,000 per hour for TV, $400-$900-$1.2mm with co-production

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One Response to “#Westdoc/Doc, You’re in the Content Business Now”

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for this post. It was a very useful read.

    Regards
    Tom


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