The days of full commissions are thankfully not over but we are seeing a trend for broadcasters to seek additional finance to pay for documentary projects.
Over the last 12 years, Bungalow Town has made many films with BBC Storyville and one with Channel Four True Stories and we have needed to look for additional finance for all of these projects from international broadcasters, foundations and private investment.
This job has become harder and harder as TV tariffs have gone down and competition for funding and for slots has gone up. Often the task of looking for funding means that the production process takes more time than if the project is fully commissioned.
Film schools and universities offering film and TV production courses don’t generally teach the actual skills and knowledge needed to broker complex deals and find funding for films.
The colleges usually act as producer to the students. Knowledge of global documentary TV slots, foundation funding, equity investment, crowd funding, festivals, finance raising forums, and distribution are all requirements as is the inside track on how to create partnerships with entities who often have differing editorial and distribution needs.
This skills gap means that graduates know the basics of how to make a documentary but are wholly unprepared for the business side of the role.
We responded to this industry need by initiating and devising Future Producers with Sheffield Doc/Fest as our partner with funding from Creative Skillset, Tribeca Institute in the US and the Public Media Alliance in the UK.
The programme has been running for three years and we have trained and mentored 39 talented emerging producers since 2014.
We will be running the course again in 2016/7 and will be looking for another 15 trainees. We will gather together in early 2017 for a three day residential workshop and our producers are tutored by world class producers and funders. We then mentor them in advance of an intensive programme of events and tailored meetings at Doc/Fest.
Since we identified the gap in producer training and devised Future Producer School, we’ve also noted that other organisations are responding in kind.
Sundance Institute in the US, Creative England and BFI in the UK are variously offering new talent schemes, funding and training opportunities for creative producers.
Sustainability and therefore diversity are a big issue in our sector. We’ve noticed a growing number of feature docs being made by privately wealthy individuals who have the resources to make films without the need for a salary.
Often these films are promoting a specific agenda or viewpoint. As it’s becoming increasingly difficult to earn a living making documentaries, those who can’t afford to sustain themselves will often lose out and in turn we’ll all lose the diverse and broad viewpoints that these producers and filmmakers offer.
We believe the future of docs and factual will be a world where it pays to play nicely with others….where the UK broadcasters and international broadcasters will want to form meaningful, collaborative relationships to get projects off the ground.
Commissioning editors are already working closely with their in-house business teams to make broadcaster to broadcaster deals but we also need experienced and dedicated producers who can act as conduits for this process and help our sector thrive.
Future Producers 2016/7 is launched on 6th October 2016. See www.sheffdocfest.com for more details and information on how to apply.
Rachel Wexler is a producer and company director at Bungalow Town Productions. The indie is producing Selah Hennessy’s feature length version of The Pacemakers, pictured above. Its credits also include Marc Isaacs’ The Road: A Story of Life and Death and Jez Lewis’ Living with Poverty: Country Kids.
Share this story