Format advice from the pros

Chris Grant, svp of international distribution and creative affairs, Reveille (la)
September 1, 2006

Chris Grant, SVP of international distribution and creative affairs, Reveille (LA)
When looking at a format and judging its international potential it’s important to consider several factors. Given the success of The Biggest Loser format, I will use it as an example:

1) Relatability: does the theme relate to audiences everywhere? When looking at Biggest Loser, we are clearly dealing with obesity, a problem that affects people worldwide.

2) Formatability: does the show have a definite and specific format? This makes it attractive to international buyers as there is a blueprint plan to follow.

3) Title: not enough can be said about a great title.

4) Success: this is clearly important. People are for more likely to try a show if others have liked it elsewhere.

We firmly believe in a format’s ability to travel. Whether it be bringing shows to the US à la The Office or Betty La Fea, or taking formats overseas à la The Biggest Loser or Date My Mom, we believe that a good idea translates.

Mike Morley, senior executive director, commercial and creative affairs, Endemol (London)
The Endemol recipe for format success: start with a big new idea that’s bold and dramatically different. Make sure there’s a good mix of drama, excitement, jeopardy and a clear final outcome. Make sure you’ve got the right amount of structure, pace and style, and leave room for the presenters/contestants to show their talents. To top it off, add a great hook at the front of the show and make sure your audience is very clear about what you’re giving them. Finally, turn up the heat with some terrific pilots and hot marketing. Sit back and enjoy the sweet taste of success.
Max Oliveras, sales executive, Canada and Latin America, Distraction Formats (Montreal)
While there is no single recipe for an international hit, a successful format needs to have a clearly defined structure in order to work elsewhere. Ideally it should not be host-driven. A good format will also touch upon universal themes and avoid cultural particularities.
Finally, the foreign producer should be allowed reasonable freedom to adapt the show locally.

About The Author
Andrew Tracy joined Realscreen as associate editor in 2021, following 17 years as managing editor of the award-winning international film magazine Cinema Scope. From 2010 to 2020 he also held the position of senior editor at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he oversaw the flagship publication for the organization’s year-round Cinematheque programming and edited its first original monograph in a decade, Steve Gravestock’s A History of Icelandic Film. He was a scriptwriter and consultant on the first season of the Vice TV series The Vice Guide to Film, and his writing and reporting have been featured in such outlets as Cinema Scope, Reverse Shot, Sight & Sound, Cineaste, Film Comment, MUBI Notebook, POV, and Montage.