Wildscreen ’12: The golden rules on how not to pitch

Heads of natural history strands for the UK's BBC and America's PBS laid out some major mistakes to avoid while pitching to networks, including bad titles and ob docs on dead people, at the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol, England.
October 17, 2012

Heads of natural history strands for the UK’s BBC and America’s PBS, as well as former channel exec Phil Fairclough, laid out some major mistakes to avoid while pitching to networks – including bad titles, ob docs on dead people, and more – at the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol, England.

BBC NHU’s Steve Greenwood, series editor for the pubcaster’s ‘Natural World’ strand, admitted that commissioning editors don’t know what they want, but they do know what they don’t want. He led ‘Nature’ executive producer Fred Kaufman and NHNZ’s exec VP of development and marketing Phil Fairclough in a Wildscreen panel entitled ‘How NOT to Get Your Film Commissioned’ yesterday (October 16).

Outlining the golden rules of how not to pitch, Kaufman said doesn’t want to hear the phraseĀ  ‘tell me what you’re looking for’ from a producer. “By the second day [of a festival] and 16th meeting, it says to me you haven’t done your research,” he said.

Fairclough, a former senior VP of production at Discovery Channel, detailed what a producer should know about the network before going into a pitch meeting: the age skew, if it is down-market or upmarket, skews male or female, and if the network acquires or commissions. “If you don’t know these, you shouldn’t go into the office,” he said.

He also offered that it is crucial to give commissioning editors something new and shiny, because they’ve pretty much seen everything. It can be a new camera angle or speed, access to a new talent or discovery, or a new quest.

Kaufman said that he stays away from anything with a really bad title. “If you have a really good title, I don’t care what it is, I want it,” he stated, adding that sometimes its easier to work backwards.

Additionally, “there’s one word left out of a pitch every time and it amazes me: ‘audience,’” said Kaufman. “You never talk about the end product, don’t know who they are or how to engage them.”

Greenwood’s next rule of thumb is you shouldn’t pitch an ob doc on people who are no longer living. He also advised against saying this to him in a pitch meeting: “‘Nobody’s every pitched this animal before,’” he offered, adding: “There might be a reason for that.”

The session ended on a hopeful note, however, with Kaufman saying that he had made great films based on bad pitches, since “pitching is not a perfected art.”

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