Some Like It Short Panel – at Sheffield DocFest 2019

Are you are preparing a short documentary pitch and unsure of what it should contain? Look no further! 

The Blueberry team attended Sheffield DocFest in June and had a very inspiring time! 

A number of editors and filmmakers we work with are pitching their own projects.  Anna was super inspired attending the ‘Some like it Short’ panel, and together with Zsofi created this guide to share learnings, encouragement and tangible advice on what some of the key players in the short form world are looking for.

The ‘Some Like It Short’ panel had participants from OpDocs, Vice, BBC3, Nowness, Guardian Documentaries, Docsville, Little Dot Studios – some of the leading companies commissioning, producing and platforming short form content currently out there. 

Enjoy our summary of this amazing panel!

OpDocs – Lindsay Crouse – Coordinating Producer 

OpDocs is the Times’ editorial department’s section for Short Form. They showcase opinionated documentaries, produced by independent filmmakers and artists with wide creative latitude.

What they are looking for
They are looking for films that are going to change the conversation. The films need to offer perspective or angle on particular topics, relevant issues. It needs to be non-fiction, emotional, experimental, something that aims to get a reaction from viewers rather than only strives to inform them.

At what stage:
The filmmakers can go in with a project at any stage, but better if they have a rough cut, it makes the commissioner’s life easier. A festival run is fine for a film before it comes to OpDocs – the films can’t be online before though, as OpDocs keeps them online forever and don’t geo block them.

Advice on the pitch: 
The pitch needs to showcase the filmmaker’s own style.  It should contain previous work examples to back the idea and show the commissioner that the filmmaker can achieve the style and tone they have in mind. OpDocs don’t commission as such but can offer exposure for the film and filmmaker.

Little Dot Studios / Real Stories – Alex Hryniewicz – Head of Owned Content 

Real Stories started as a doc channel on YouTube and was built on acquisitions back in the day. They evolved to also have a presence on Facebook, Snapchat and so on, but YouTube is their main platform. 

What they are looking for:
Their biggest genre is CRIME, true crime, the world of everyday criminality, investigations. Also interested in human interest stories, someone’s story showing global problems, how climate change influences this particular person/community. However, films must be targeted at and speak to US audience, nothing high brow or too academic, it is for a mass market. 

At what stage: 
18 months ago Little Dot Studios started to commission themselves, determined to develop their own exclusive content and IP.

Commissions currently go into 3 buckets: 

1 – commercially viable content, entertainment, noisy topics, aim is to get views and make money;

2 – is it going to win an award or win global recognition? They have an ambition to be in the mix of the awards, Oscars;

3 – (biggest one) films that will lead to something bigger, is it a pathway to a feature, full series, a pilot for something? 


Advice on the pitch: 

The usual pay is around £1k for a minute and they are interested in films that are between 10-25 mins long. Please note, that when they commission films and pay money for them, they expect to own the film, so they buy out the IP – rights, music, all content needs to be cleared for usage. Therefore, filmmakers must be ready to ‘let go of their baby’. If third party funding is involved, rights are more flexible and on a case by case basis. They tend to work with individual filmmakers, new talent and small production companies and agree on budget in advance.

Guardian Documentaries – Charlie Phillips – Head of Documentaries 

Guardian Documentaries is the Guardian’s online video outlet that commissions about 20 ambitious visual documentaries each year that are in dialogue with news agenda, observational films, pieces that discuss contemporary story with actuality rather than voiceover, something that fits in with news agenda in a broader way, yet not a so-to-speak, news film.

What they are looking for:
Stories that tap into the zeitgeist and that will remain relevant in 3, 6, 12 months – any story that is not going away – such as refugee crisis, racism, conflicts! What is important however, that stories have to relate to a wider audience, and have an appeal globally. It can be a personal story as well, but the core of it will have to represent wider social and political relevance. Films based on and about local communities filmmaker has personal links and access to are most welcomed.

At what stage:
The Guardian doesn’t have development funding. The commission budgets vary from £5k to £15k depending on the film and the time of the year. If needed Guardian Documentaries can help raise the rest of the money. They are also happy to help with post using in-house resources, but rather wouldn’t as they don’t want films to look the same. However, when filmmakers approach them with an idea it shouldn’t be too locked in as they will help to shape it; it also can’t be too much in the early stages, has to be a completed pitch.

Advice on the pitch: 
Guardian Documentaries receives around 1500 submissions a year and commissions 20 out of them. Primarily, they want to know the filmmaker can pull the idea off so the treatment should contain trailer/reel demonstrating strong sense of visual style and flair; couple of minutes of good footage, along with examples of previous work and proof of access. They give more freedom to filmmakers they have worked with before. Important to note, that the films stay on the platform forever and they are not geo blocked. Festival run is fine, however they prefer to have an influence and help shape the film before it is finished.

Vice – Alex Hoffman – Head of Video

Vice is a platform and production entity for alternative TV and online channels, covering topics that traditional channels don’t.

What they are looking for:
Vice is not strict on length and subjects. They do not generally commission traditional arts, no straight profile themes, they prefer something that is feeding into another topic (for example.: ballet in favelas). At the moment they are developing an array of different short series ranging from topics dealing with people on the fringes of society, drugs in high society and a global rap series.

At what stage:
Vice doesn’t necessarily have a big commissioning budget so it’s always good if you come with a project that is already half finished – even better if you have your own team in mind for this, like your own DOP or a shooter; and then Vice can offer post-production support in-house, such as editing, grading, mixing; also exposure to the audience with their YouTube channel and TV channel. They are happy to help set up Go Fund Me pages to help with funding as well – a few filmmakers have done that before and got the budget they needed.

Advice on the pitch:
Long Form for Vice is 30 mins, they commission and deliver one long form film every month. They are usually in a hurry to put something out there, so if the film is great they will not be waiting for its festival run to finish before putting it out. When starting a collaboration, it is important for Vice to make sure working together is comfortable for both Vice and the filmmaker in terms of style. 

BBC Three – Jo Smith – Executive Editor at BBC3

BBC’s online channel is aimed at young audiences (16-34) across the UK. The channel’s priority is to reach a range of new and dynamic audiences from different regions and diverse backgrounds across the UK.

What they are looking for:
No niche themes, films have to relate to the youth of the UK from the whole range of backgrounds, have to resonate with many. 

At what stage:
BBC 3’s favourite format at the moment is 3 x 20 mins series united by the same theme. For example, the subject of early marriages among young people and each episode will show a story from a different part of the country. They are happy to help the project using in-house resources. 

Advice on the pitch:
The most important advice to filmmakers pitching new ideas is to make sure they know what is already out there – a lot of pitches repeat topics and material that’s already out there. The films have to stand out on Iplayer. BBC 3 prefers to work with small indies and love to help nurturing new talent. We heard through the grapevine that there will soon be an announcement about a new scheme for young directors, it will enable them to pitch via regional hubs – so watch the BBC3 space carefully! And for the time being all pitches can be send to Jo directly.

Nowness – Gavin Humphries – Managing Editor

Nowness is a global video channel screening the best in culture, while portraying a distinct visual style.

What they are looking for:
The films Nowness are looking for are aimed at international audiences, they are interested in are niche stories from around the world; films that would give an insight into a person, a place or a process. Series that are connected by a central theme, films about culture and creative people, portrait pieces. Films that have an element of discovery, are both timeless and timely with uncompromising aesthetics and have highly authored, powerful storytelling at their heart.

At what stage:
Around 18-19 of their own editorial films are commissioned each year, and as a general guidance the pay is somewhere in the region of £1-2k a minute. Series are usually made of profile pieces and they do around 8 series a year (for example on architects and photographers). They also do thematic series, where they work with familiar directors and give them the freedom to experiment on the topics. Also do films with cultural partners – galleries, museums, brands.

Advice on the pitch:
A way in for the filmmakers is to first work with them on smaller editorial pieces and then they will bring people in to bigger projects. The fiilms don’t necessarily have to be shiny but have to demonstrate high quality filmmaking – look at the films they have on the platform to see their distinct visual style.

DocsVille – Holly Whiston – Producer, India Woods – Acquisitions & Development

Docsville is a specialist subscription streaming service funded by Nick Fraser, former editor of BBC’s Storyville documentary strand – and they are only streaming Doc! They are also a production company.

What they are looking for:
Docsville is looking for films that are the catalyst in opening a conversation rather than being a meditation, something that stands out in the search engines; quirky stuff. Think about Storyville style films. Funny films, human stories that hit a sweet spot between the stories that feel important but also maintain a sense of humour, narrative-driven films, feature docs in a miniature. Nick Fraser participates in commissioning discussions. They have some new things coming up next year – so keep a close eye on the news section. 

At what stage: 
Filmmakers can come at any stage, ideally treatment stage or when you have secured access but haven’t shot anything yet. Idea has to be developed, they do like getting involved at the later stages as well, happy to help if filmmaker needs an advice on how to cut or finish the project off. Flexible on length, Short Form for them is anything under 30 mins and since it’s going to online platform there are no particular slots. Open to wide variety of subjects and forms, commissioned projects from animated essays about Donald Trump and the sociology of madness to observational docs about sex shops in Japan.

Advice on the pitch: 
As Docsville is getting into producing their own content for broadcasters and their platform, they are becoming a more traditional production company. They have a large catalogue of docs on their platform – familiarise yourself before pitching. Docsville is non exclusive, so they don’t mind if the content is on other platforms. Regarding pointers on the budget, it varies greatly from partly to fully funded. Initially they commissioned £2.5k for every 5 mins but things might be changing in the near future. 

Blueberry at Sheffield DocFest – 2019

Sheffield DocFest occupies a special place in our hearts and calendars at Blueberry. Each year we attend to learn about and enjoy the latest films, talks and initiatives in the world of Documentary filmmaking.

This year, alongside Irantzu, Bhavinee, and Kirsty, we took some new members of our team on the trip to Sheffield; Zuzka, and Giusy (long form), Anna and Alise (short form) and Zsofi (marketing and PR).

The resounding feedback was that everyone Loved the DocFest and came back inspired and energised. Indeed, it’s always and inspiring, surprising and moving in so many ways. We’ve put together some of the films and talks we most enjoyed – because we also want to tempt you to come next year!

Most of these films – and more – will appear in the cinemas over the coming months.  If you love documentaries too and want to catch them on the big screen, then we recommend checking these listings – some include Directors Q&As too! Keep an eye on these cinemas, institutions and companies for information regarding screenings nearby: DocHouse at Curzon Bloomsbury  //  Dogwoof  //  Barbican //  ICA //  BFI //  Frontline Club.

AND – we would love to bump into more of our community at Sheffield DocFest 2020. Lighting passes are on sale now. and cost £202.80 (£169+VAT) for an ALL ACCESS PASS. It might seem like a long way away right now, but if you’re interested in going, it’s definitely worth booking before 31 August 2019 – after this, prices increase and reach double the cost by the time of the event!

Blueberry Team’s TOP 10 FILMS – catch them in cinemas!

 

1. Don’t Be A Dick About It

In affluent suburban Maryland, teenage brothers Matthew and Peter while away the summer days, alternatively bickering and bonding, while their cousin Ben Mullinkosson films them. When they aren’t winding each other up, Peter stages endless dramatic recreations of Survivor evictions while Matthew hangs the park a lot, determined to overcome his profound fear of dogs. A funny and astutely observed foray into brotherhood.

Very well-made, feel-good Comedy Documentary. After the screening we had a great Q&A with the Mullkinson brothers, who are the cousins of the film’s protagonists, Matthew and Peter.  – Alise

2. Midnight Traveler 

When the Taliban puts a bounty on Afghan director Hassan Fazili’s head, he is forced to flee with his wife and two young daughters. Capturing their uncertain journey, Fazili shows firsthand the dangers facing refugees seeking asylum and the love shared between a family on the run.

This moving, close up story touched everybody so deeply, particularly at the end when the father took part in an audience Q&A over Skype from their current safe place in Germany. How fortunate we are, how bold and persistent love and the human spirit are. – Irantzu

3. One Child Nation

With chilling clarity, Wang’s new documentary reveals how relentless propaganda brainwashed and terrorized countless Chinese citizens into committing unspeakable crimes against fellow villagers and family members. Through interviews with both victims and instigators, along with revelatory data regarding the sheer number of abandoned children (nearly all of them infant girls), One Child Nation breaks open decades of silence on a vast, unprecedented social experiment that shaped—and destroyed—countless lives.

Shocking to see how almost everyone from the generation who first had to bow their had to this policy haven’t even questioned the establishment, and were almost offended by the suggestion to think about the consequences. Even more shocking to see how the current political establishment is almost erasing all evidence of it and seamlessly putting their propaganda machine into action in order to establish the two-child policy.  It was such an honest and powerful work, it made everyone cry in the auditorium! – Zsofi

4. Once Aurora

Aurora is a pop music sensation from a small town in Western Norway. She was discovered at the age of 16, dropped out of school, and spent the next years touring the world with her first album. At the age of 20 she is at a breaking point. Is this really what she wants, and if not, does she have any other option but to continue?

An endearing film, which follows the highs and lows of Aurora’s progression as an artist – starting out at age 16! after a friend posted a video online of her singing. It follows the highs and lows of her progression as an artist. An insightful and endearing film with an amazing soundtrack too! – Kirsty

5. Tiny Souls

Marwa is nine, and like any child, her concerns revolve around school, and her interests around playtime. Four months into camp life, Marwa expects that they’d likely stay there for another week, maybe two. Over the ensuing four years, the director follows Marwa’s day to day life in the camp, where she blossoms from a child to a young woman.

Fantastic film about Syrian kids in a refugee camp. So moving, it left me speechless for hours. – Zuzka

6. Untouchable

The inside story of the meteoric rise and shocking fall of movie titan Harvey Weinstein, Untouchable reveals how Weinstein acquired and deployed his formidable power over decades, exploring both the method and the collateral damage of his alleged abuses. A haunting parable for our times, the film is also a beacon call for future generations.

Powerful film about Harvey Weinstein. It raises relevant questions in the current climate and with the mogul’s impending trial leaves them perhaps unanswered… – Zsofi

7. Reconstructing Utoya

A feature documentary where four survivors from the Utøya massacre of 2011 reconstruct their memories in a black box studio together with twelve young participants in order to share and remember their experiences.

The way this film dealt with the tragic topic that has been highly publicized and turned into an award-winning, Hollywood story last year is enviable by any filmmaker. It’s connections with the participants of the documentary and the high-level of sensitivity everything was handled resulted in one of the most powerful and moving stories I’ve seen this weekend. – Zsofi

8. While We Are Here

Lamis and Wilson are migrants in New York. She’s a Lebanese that just arrived, and he’s a Brazilian that has lived there illegally, for 10 years. A hybrid narrative constructed with a poetic approach and a travel diary that takes us into the essence of human micro-politics in times of globalization – an uncertain kingdom of desire, hope and fears.

A powerful story about love which connects people even if there are walls and borders that divide the world. The directors show how two people can be part of a society, live in a foreign city for many years and then suddenly feel entrapped. The film makes the audience that kind of feeling of isolation and the lack of freedom that goes under the skin. A piece of shocking and very worrying information was that in the last 10 years the number of border walls has increased a lot. We had in the world around 20 walls and now there are more than 70. – Giusy 

9. Hi AI 

Hi AI is a creepy mediation on the topic of robots and AI slowly becoming part of our lives – imagine the Joaquin Phoenix film, Her as a documentary and REAL! In the centre there are stories of two households – a Japanese family of 3 generations bringing home a robot-boy Pepper to keep grandma company, and Amercian sex trafficing survivor Chuck purchasing a perfect robot-girlfriend Harmony.


It’s funny and sad at the same time to observe these people wanting to interact and connect with robots and how it’s not quite working, whether its Harmony replying amiss or Pepper not recognising the words grandma uses. The film brings this eerie feeling of isolation and loneliness, what happens when we start seeking company from robots rather than humans? How is it going to change the society we live in? – Anna

10. The Great Hack 

The Great Hack by dirs. Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim present a detailed account on how Cambridge Analytica uses personal data to create personality profiles and determine the “persuasibles” to be targeted for seamless propaganda. Data is the most important commodity in today’s world and it is the most powerful weapon, and if you are not thinking for yourself someone does it for you.

We all know it’s happening and our phones are listening to our conversations but the implications are far more serious than sneakers ad in your Insta. The film shows the real scale and global impact of such manipulations that is impressive and terrifying at the same time. – Anna

Top 5 TALKS

1.  Meet The Sales Agents and Distributors

International sales agents can help a film find distribution partners in markets worldwide, often inputting into marketing and festival strategy. In this session, executives from a range of international sales companies will introduce themselves, explain their approach to acquisitions – what they’re looking for – and share examples of films they have recently worked on. Following the presentations, there will be time for delegates to connect with sales agents and exchange business cards.

The single most useful event of the festival to all filmmakers who have a project either film or TV, in the UK or outside and are looking for ways to get it to an audience. – Zsofi

2. Imaginary Friends: Short Stories From The Loneliest Generation
In 2018, the UK’s Ministry of Loneliness was installed to combat the issue of isolation. Generation Z has been singled out as ‘the loneliest generation’, with social media’s effects often receiving the blame. However, it’s online that young people can find a sense of companionship: a recurring theme in this year’s shorts programme. Online personalities offer a tailored experience, creating the illusion of intimate relationships. How can the Film and TV industry cater to the needs of an audience craving personal connections if social media is already their bff?

A panel that discussed how we are the loneliest generation – especially amongst young people.1 in 4 people experience loneliness. Very telling and relatable. – Bav

3. Channel 4 First Cut Pitch

The Channel 4 First Cut Pitch is back! Once again Channel 4 will be offering five new directors the chance to pitch in front of some of Channel 4’s factual commissioning team and a live audience. One winner will walk away with a commission from Channel 4 for their first 60’ film and one months fully-paid development and mentorship with an indie to support the development of their idea.

If you have something to pitch next year – make sure to keep an eye on this, as they will be opening up a doc series spot as well! – Zsofi

4. Funding and Commissioning: Podcasts and Audio Documentary

Earlier this year Spotify paid a reported $230m for Gimlet – a US Podcast business. It was a jaw-dropping valuation by any standards. However there’s no question that podcasting continues to grow – both in terms of audiences and content. More and more talent is turning to the medium to tell stories and reach audiences direct. Audible, Spotify and the BBC are pushing into the market, as are numerous advertisers. We explore how podcast ideas can get to market, the different funding models and what audiences they can reach.

Podcasts are one of the fastest-growing sectors within our industry and many of the popular pieces are representatives of the documentary sector. Very useful and informative panel. – Zsofi

5. Commissioning: Factual Entertainment
Factual Entertainment sits at the heart of the TV schedule but with budgets, ratings and platforms more challenging than ever, how does terrestrial fact ent punch through? We ask our panel of commissioners whether the big plays are only for the big players or whether a small indie can still have a shot at the main prize?

Go to this one next year to learn about funding! Unmissable! – Anna

BONUS

Some Like It Short (Short Form Commissioners session)

This talk was so informative that we came up with a bonus content and you can read our full summary of the panel here!