Sad but true ….
It might not be a pleasing fact, but it is a fact nonetheless, that even the best ideas will be ignored if they're not presented to the right person, at the right time and in the right format.
A written programme idea will be better received if it is well presented.
Whilst there is no one way of making sure your idea is read and understood, there is a basic format that can be followed to give it a good chance.
Pick your Target …. find out who to send it to
Finding the right person is a big part of the battle. Research carefully, craft your idea to suit your target.
Don't just go straight to Commissioning Editors at broadcasters' headquarters. You are far more likely to succeed if you approach a production company that you know has already made similar programmes for the broadcaster you have aimed your idea at. They will already have valuable contacts with a channel's commissioning editors and, more importantly, a track record of producing programmes for them to time and within budget - hopefully!
Watch television and make a note of the production companies credited at the end of programmes that might share some sort of link with your own idea. The subject matter of these programmes might be similar, or it may be the way they deal with a subject, the technical difficulties involved in filming it or just the style of production.
Once you have settled on a couple of companies you think might be interested, find out who you should send your idea to. This may sound daunting, but it really shouldn't be. The best way is simply to telephone and ask! You will not be the first person to call and ask this and you won't be the last. Explain what you are trying to do calmly, politely and succinctly and ask the name of the person to whom you should send your idea. This will probably be a Producer or Editor. If you are nervous about making the call, there are notes further on to help you with this. Read them before you call, be confident, polite and cheerful and you will find that name.
Once you have found out who you are sending your idea to and where they are, it's time to prepare your initial presentation, or pitch.
- Target your idea with a broadcaster in mind.
- Approach Production Companies rather than broadcasters direct.
- Don't be shy, call and ask for the person to send your idea to
Short is good, shorter is better ….producing your presentation or 'pitch'
The purpose of your presentation is to put your idea into a form that can be read and understood quickly and easily by a very busy Producer or Editor who probably has to read several ideas a week or even every day.
You should aim to get your idea across in as few words as possible. If the basic premise for your programme idea can't be explained in one paragraph, there is probably something wrong with the idea.
If you're not convinced, pick any major TV programme on any subject and try explaining it in one paragraph of a reasonable length. You may not get every little detail in, but you will be able to communicate the main features and points. Now try it with your programme idea - you've just made a start on presenting your idea. This paragraph will form your initial explanation on the first page of your explanation.
In total, your initial presentation should extend to no more than three or four pages. This must include the outline, an explanation of the format, a breakdown of any 'mechanics' involved and at least a rough indication of budget expectations to realise the idea.
On page one include the following:
The programme's title - this will be a 'working title' at this point as it almost guaranteed to change
Number of programmes and how long they are Expressed as: 6 x 30 mins
Programme Type - Is it a gameshow, a documentary, a reality show or a sit-com? This may not be possible, you may have invented an entirely new form of show - but you probably haven't so don't be too worried about being categorised - it isn't always a bad thing and it provides a handy quick reference at this stage!
An indication of the Channel and time slot - Obviously, this is hypothetical at this stage, but it gives a quick indication of the type of programme you are proposing
Introduction - You have already written this - see above. Try to write like a 'Radio Times' billing for the programme, that is succinct, complete and grabs you. Include what the programme is about, how it is going to be treated and any other important elements.
Congratulations, that's page one finished!
On pages two and three….
Now you need to get into the nitty-gritty of how the programme will work, what will be in it, who will present it, where it will be made and a lot of other things particular to your idea. Don't panic!
List the following headings and answer the questions as you go along…:
This is where you go into more detail about the programme -
Consider and answer the following questions: What is in it? What questions does it answer? What need does it fulfill? Why has it not been done before? Who is going to love it? Who will hate it? Who will watch it? Who will be in it?
Use this section to explain in graphic terms how your programme will look and feel. Is it fast, pacy, gutsy, dynamic, urban, styled after films like 'Snatch'? Is it gentle, warm, soft-focussed? It might be hard-edged and shot in a news style or made to feel 'live' with lots of camera work 'on the shoulder'. Don't be afraid to try anything to explain the style - this is important. Think of it in terms of the descriptive part of a wine taster's notes - be creative!
This can be extremely important to some ideas. Is it studio-based, shot on location? Consider the practicalities of filming and how this will affect budget. If this is not so critical to your idea, ignore it!
Is your idea a vehicle for a particular presenter? Beware if so, because not every channel will happily use every presenter. List those you think most suitable and try to include a selection of two or three for key roles. Always be prepared to be flexible on this, production companies often have their own 'pet' presenters and will want to use them.
Unless you have already produced a programme budget, you can only be very vague here, but it will still be worth while including the headings of major outgoings if not the actual figures. Think about how many filming or studio days you will need, and how long the editing will take. Will the programme require overseas travel or filming. These are usually the most expensive items.
This is also where you might include areas where big savings can be made: you may be presenting it yourself and not charging, you may have negotiated a supplier to give you a free house to build in a house-build show, whatever it might be, include it.
On page four…
Who are you anyway! A Producer is going to want to know something about the person sending them this idea. Include a distilled version of your CV and an explanation of how you came to dream the idea up in the first place.
There are two things left to consider:
Protecting your idea
In truth, there is not much you can do. Include your name, the date and the copyright '©' symbol on every page. You could also consider sealing a copy of the idea into an envelope, signing across the seal and posting it back to yourself through the mail. This may, just be useful, but the hard truth is probably not. If someone really wants to steal your idea, they will. Some people do say though, that you should take heart from one thing - it's better to have the idea out there, alive and realised, even by someone else, than for it to lie buried in a drawer. And so it's better to risk it than to not.
Presenting your idea
Be simple, clear, professional and nothing else. Gimmicks, clever whiz-bangs and tricks just get in the way. Your idea should leap out of that first paragraph and sell itself without having to be sellotaped to a turnip or whatever other trick you think might give it the edge. Use good quality white paper and black text, consider using colour sparingly and only where necessary for emphasis or clarity.
Then it's time to cross your fingers and head for the Post Office…
Include a covering letter explaining that you hope they can find five minutes to take a glance at your idea and that you would be delighted to hear from them with any feedback about it or maybe to discuss it further. Package it up, send it off and, three or four days later, follow it up with a telephone call.
Ask whether your proposal has been received and whether the Producer has had a chance to read it yet. Don't be disheartened if not. Persevere with another call a week later. If you feel you are getting nowhere fast, then it's time to resort to one of the other programme-makers you have already researched!
If you are still nervous about making those 'phone calls, the following might be useful…
Language of Success
Using the 'phone - to get that job, interview, chance to pitch an idea, anything!
We need to make the most of the brief opportunity we'll get to speak to a programme maker on the telephone. The words we use in telephone conversations are vital. Your instincts will probably be right , but consider the info below. Additionally when working as a runner, fixer, researcher etc. you will need to do a lot on telephoning on behalf of the programme. Listen! You will learn a lot from those around you… and remember the following:
Time is of the essence in the most areas of production as well as within the programmes. Keep your words clear and succinct. Find the right words at the right time to convey exactly what you mean and you will communicate clearly, powerfully and persuasively.
Skillfuly blended and accurately applied we can paint vivid pictures with our descriptive words and convey a wealth of feelings. Using words carelessly means we end up with a confusing picture which bears little resemblance to what we intended to say.
Without the help of body language on the telephone we are totally dependent on the words we use and the silences between them. What you say, how you say it and the way it sounds are all important. The lack of body gestures and eye contact means the listeners concentration is focussed totally on the tone of the voice and the word being said.
Some of the most powerful words to use are no words at all. Silence can be very potent after you've made an important point. Silence forces the other person to respond.
Real concern will be conveyed in the tone of your voice, so avoid the temptation to embellish it with extra words. Look out for phrases like 'how are you?' and 'it's been nice talking to you'.
The greatest courtesy you can offer a contact is to recognise the value of their time.
Words can just as easily hold us back as they can propel us forwards.
Pitching your call
- Know who it is you wish to speak to and their job title and responsibilities.
- Jot down things to talk about so you can move fluently through your conversation.
- Ask about their current programme, their past programmes and, if you dare, ask about the programmes they have coming up!
Keep your approach simple, consistent and if necessary be persistent.
Say what you mean, spell it out.
- You must know what it is you want in terms of work and then you've got to ask the question - do they have any opportunities/ openings.
- Don't over elaborate.
- Always sound positive, using encouraging and enthusiastic language.
- Expect a challenging conversation, but don't get into a slanging match.
- Be friendly, and tell them how valuable their help or cooperation is.
- If there is not an opportunity for work or work experience, you are still looking to find out more about the business, and so might carry on as an information interview.
- You may ask for information about their field of work, or for the contacts of other people who might be in a better position to advise you on your areas of interest.
Hitting them hard
There are no more powerful words to use than 'you', 'your' and the person's name. It's friendly, intimate and persuasive.
The twenty most persuasive words in the English language are:
Easy, effortless, simple, new, love, money, safe, secure, protected, save, keep, retain, health, strength, results, benefits, discovery, guarantee, promise, free.
CHANNEL FOUR GUIDE TO GETTING COMMISSIONED.....