Radarscreen 2011 online exclusive: MSNBC Documentaries

In an exclusive online installment of realscreen's Global Pitch Guide, Elise Warner, senior producer and director of development for MSNBC Documentaries, explains what she's looking for and how to get in touch.
October 3, 2011

Over the past week, realscreen.com has featured content from Radarscreen 2011, our Global Pitch Guide, published just in time for MIPCOM and an important year-round tool for producers looking for the right commissioners to pitch their projects to.

Here, in an exclusive online installment, Elise Warner, senior producer and director of development for MSNBC Documentaries, reveals what she’s looking for and how to get in touch.

What’s the preferred approach for pitching to you? Do you want brief outlines, bibles, or one-pagers? Is tape a must-have?

Pitches can be sent directly to me. What’s most important is to demonstrate extraordinary access to a story that has high stakes and is something our audience would not or could not see on its own. Our stories tend to be edgy, sometimes dark. I am happy to look at a full pitch, or even just a one-line idea… because if you don’t have the essentials, a glossy packet won’t get you in.

Tape is highly recommended. We haven’t greenlighted anything without tape in years. Elise.warner@msnbc.com is the best way to reach me. I am happy to take a call once you introduce yourself via email but we generally only do meetings when we know there is a viable product.

What can you tell us about your target demo? What tone of programming is connecting best with it?

I like to tell producers that anyone will watch a great story. Lockup is one of our key programs. We’re also finding success investigating the sex trafficking industry and have had many standout one-offs including a recent program about a skinhead who undergoes a year of painful laser surgeries to remove his racist tattoos.

We are looking for great one-offs but would love to find something that could become a series. All that said, we don’t want to see pitches on prisons and sex trafficking and skinheads. Been there. Done that.

What are some pitching “don’ts” that you can warn us of – what shouldn’t people do when trying to pitch to you?

Please don’t pitch something that makes no sense for our network. Watch what we do. Look at our webpage. I’ve said publicly for years that agents, producers, directors, your mother can call or email and talk to me at any time about what we’re looking for. I’m very easy to contact and I always respond, good or bad.

But still I get pitches on the mating habit of honey bees after I’ve spent 30 minutes on the phone explaining we don’t do natural history. That’s frustrating.

Are there any elements that you believe need to be at the core of programming for MSNBC? What makes a concept a good fit? Conversely, what aren’t you looking for?

At the heart of our programs is a journey. The viewer should be able to go along for the ride and want to stay to find out what happens. We aren’t looking to retell great stories. We’re not looking for topics. Or characters. Or talent. We want access into a world where the viewer can take an active part in watching what happens next.

The topics tend to be dark and while there is crime involved in many of our programs, it’s not a necessity. We don’t do talent-based shows, or sports, history or pop culture. We’ll consider anything, but the story has to be new and the access has to be something we could not have secured with our own producers.

What markets do you hit over the course of a year?

Realscreen Summit for sure, it’s been very successful for us. We often have members of our development team at IFP, MIPDOC and Hot Docs. The markets are great places to meet filmmakers, but can be overwhelming in terms of the amount of material pitched. A simple introduction there can be the best way to move forward with a meeting later on.

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.