In late August, realscreen will present its Global Pitch Guide, featuring valuable intelligence from commissioning editors and factual programmers from around the world. In this preview, Murray Battle (pictured), director of independent production and presentation for British Columbia-based Knowledge, discusses the channel’s first year of original commissioning and the best way to pitch to it.
Room for docs on the channel: In the fall of 2008 British Columbia’s the Knowledge Network rebranded as Knowledge, a 24-hour, publicly funded arts and culture channel, consisting mostly of documentaries and children’s programs. Last year was the first year the channel was lead commissioning documentaries and Battle says he has a lot of freedom when it comes to the types of docs he programs.
‘When I speak to commissioning editors around the world they’re quite surprised at the freedom I have to program, because strands tend to get very specific,’ he says. ‘Because we’re arts and culture, and culture is broadly defined, it’s a really interesting mix and I think the audience has really responded to it.’
As for the space on the channel for documentaries, the six doc strands include feature strands ‘Storyville’ (name borrowed with permission from Nick Fraser and the BBC) and ‘Route 66;’ the one-hour artists-doc strand ‘Masters;’ ‘East is East,’ which looks at Asia Pacific nations; performing arts strand ‘Radio City’ and cinema and photography doc strand ‘Aperture.’
‘From a commissioning point of view, everything comes in here through [our] ‘Storyville’ and then it has the ability to migrate to other strands later,’ he explains. ‘Which is why you can see there is certainly social documentary in there but there is also arts documentary.’
Target audience: After the rebrand, the demo is generally the Boomer generation, aged 45 and up. However, Battle believes the documentaries Knowledge airs can reach a wide audience. ‘What we’ve discovered with documentary is it goes across all demographics compared to other things,’ he offers. ‘For example, on weekends we run a lot of British drama, which is more for a mature audience, but I think documentaries speak to everybody.’
Where you’ll find him: Battle and his colleagues, CEO Rudy Buttingnol and assistant programmer Caroline Coutts, regularly attend conferences such as Hot Docs and IDFA, both to help find partners and additional funding for filmmakers working with the channel, and to make themselves visible and accessible to filmmakers.
How to pitch: ‘To a great degree we like to see something on paper and usually we ask for a page or less about the project and intended financing scenario, just to see if the filmmakers have an idea of where they can find the money,’ he says. ‘We really encourage our filmmakers to be entrepreneurial. It’s getting very difficult in Canada to find second windows on projects…so we’re always encouraging filmmakers to bring as much as they can to the project and to a certain degree it affects whether we can go ahead with it or not. Our envelope has gone up for the CMF [Canada Media Fund] this year, so we expect to see a fair amount of production out of B.C.’ Also check Knowledge’s producer site for more pitching information.
For more on what Knowledge and other channels are looking for in documentary programming, keep an eye out for the realscreen Global Pitch Guide, coming later this summer.