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.