How to pitch and sell my documentary idea to a TV network?

by Beverley A.

Question I have an idea for a documentary for UK TV and I would like to know how to write the proposal for my idea, how to protect my idea and who to send it to? I'm a complete novice at this but I believe my idea for a documentary is good.

Thanks, Beverley

Answer | Desktop Documentaries

Hi Beverley, Thanks for your question(s).

Let's start with your first question:

"How To Write The Proposal For My Idea?"

Well, this question all depends on who the proposal is for. If it's for a certain TV broadcaster or a foundation or for an individual, you will write the proposal around the parameters of who will be reading the proposal. We've put together a multi-use Documentary Proposal Template package which you can download directly from our site. This template is a great starting point and then you can modify it for each particular situation. Or you can contact the organization who you want to pitch your project to and ask them if they have a specific format they require for pitching your project. So in your case, research the UK broadcaster you are interested in and find out what their process is for pitching ideas to them. Here's the link for how to Pitch TV Ideas to the BBC.

"How To Protect My Documentary Idea"

In general, a filmmaking novice will worry too much about protecting their idea. I'm not saying it's not important, but keep in mind that ideas are the easy part. It's the implementation and execution of that idea that's the hard part (imagine all the money, crew and coordinating involved in making a film -- and making a good film at that!). Most documentaries don't make a profit so there's rarely an incentive for someone else to steal your idea. Plus the value of an idea is often not in the idea itself, but in the treatment you put together, the unique access to the story and/or the funding/partners you bring to the table.

With that said, here's advice from entertainment lawyer Jaia Thomas about how to protect and copyright your documentary ideas.

"Who Do I Send My Documentary Pitch To?"

Again, this all depends who you are pitching your idea to. Every broadcaster, production company and organization has their own process. In general, you will send your idea to the programming department. So look up the person or department at the organization who handles the acquisition or development of new programs. Or find out if the broadcaster has an online "portal" for submitting your idea. But keep in mind this is similar to "cold calling" which is never ideal and probably won't get you very far unless you're pitching something pretty spectacular. Also, be aware that some entities do not accept unsolicited ideas from the public, so you'll need to work with a production company who already has the necessary connections. Click here on help finding filmmakers.

In general, it's MUCH better if you can pitch your idea in person. There are several ways to do this. You can attend film festivals and other filmmaking events where filmmakers can pitch their ideas to TV executives. Examples include the IFP market in New York, Hot Docs in Toronto, Westdoc in Los Angeles or IDFA in Amsterdam. Another option is to hire a "sales agent" to pitch your idea. Sales agents have relationships with all the big producers and networks and can shop your idea around. However, in order for an agent to take you seriously, you usually need to have a successful film under your belt. Example of a sales agent is Josh Braun of Submarine Entertainment.

Josh Braun: What's A Sales Agent

How To Navigate Documentary and Film Markets

To learn more about how to sell your documentary, the award-winning documentary team over at DocumentaryHowTo.com have gotten their films shown on top networks such as the BBC, A&E and PBS. They created a fantastic tutorial called Navigating Film Markets where they explain exactly how they did it.

Anyone else have ideas for Beverley? Leave comments below.

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