Cannes, France: It was appropriate that the first MIPDOC conference session held on Saturday 5 April kicked off with the topic “How to Pitch’. There was much wise advice from Paul Pauwels, director of the France-based European Television Management Academy (ETMA). Pauwels lead the life of a successful documentary producer for many years before moving to a more academic role within the production sector.
For a producer who was at MIPDOC for the first time to sell her or his documentaries, Pauwels’ opening remarks must have had a reassuring ring. Pauwels said that for three years he felt miserable attending MIP markets. “I got the impression that I was the only person not getting the meetings I needed. But my problem was I had set my expectations too high and had not done my homework.’ He then passed on some of his hard earned experience to the documentary makers in the audience.
Here is some of the advice he offered: It takes time to build up relationships with buyers/ commissioning editors who are very busy and are at MIPDOC to watch hundreds of programmes (there are screening booths open for them from 9am to 7pm). When you see commissioning editors are not under pressure (that is not being badgered by producers), go up to them and introduce yourself by telling them a little about yourself. Do not try and sell them your project. They are more likely to remember you that way. Producers are always queuing up to see them and those they don’t know will be ignored.
Pauwels suggested producers try and engage in conversation with the commissioning editors to find out what they are looking for. If they feel they can have a conversation with you, then that’s the first step crossed. But is extremely important for producers to do their homework before hand.
When Pauwels first started out he limited his selling to only one project. Later he would come with 10 projects and present a one page sheet which included a synopsis of the film, the budget, some of the key people involved if that was lined up, one good picture and contact details. It gave the commissioning editors the opportunity to flip through the proposals and indicate which one raised some interest. At a later stage, he would remind them of the “maybe’ and that way manage to get a meeting.
Don’t bother with handing out DVDs was Pauwels’ advice. The commissioning editors would probably discard the DVDs in their hotel bedrooms when leaving Cannes. Possibly 10% may take the trouble to watch the DVD.
One also needed to build relationships with other producers in other countries who would know their commission editors. He would some times even introduce a producer to a commissioning editor if he thought the producer’s project was suited to that channel. He stressed it was important for producers to network and share information.
He warned that the commission environment had changed over the years and that a commissioning editor no longer had a say in the final decision but often had to propose the project to colleagues who then took the decision on whether the programme fitted in with the broadcaster’s profile. It was therefore important that the champion (commissioning editor) of your project had a clear idea of the elements involved.
You need to stay in touch with the commissioning editors but as they do not have time keep your email to three lines.
If you have a co-production concept it needs to look ahead to 2009. It is far too late, for instance, to come with ideas for the Olympics.
For your research you need to find out which broadcaster is interested in your genre of programme. The MIPDOC and MIPTV catalogues will assist in achieving this.
It can be useful to work with a credible distributor as he will have good contacts that you do not have.
He reminded producers that most commissioning editors prefer to acquire completed programmes as these are cheaper than investing in a co-production from scratch.