Key takeaways from Together TV’s webinar with BFI Network Live and The Doc Society
The BFI Network Live and the Doc Society hosted a webinar with us to discuss Together TV’s Diverse Film Fund as well as diversifying the industry and a Q&A for applying for the fund. Together TV’s Diverse Film Fund is a unique opportunity for emerging filmmakers to create a short doc reflecting diverse communities. The 2021 theme is black British lives today and we are offering £10,000 to five filmmakers as well as mentoring and a TV broadcast. The deadline to submit applications for the Diverse Film Fund is midday 31st March 2021. Get your applications in ASAP; more information and the application form is on our website.
The BFI Network live webinar with the Doc Society was mediated by the BFI’s Jessica Loveland, and the speakers were:
- Satmohan (Sat) Panesar, Commissioning Editor at ITV and Together TV Trustee
- Janet Olaofe, Head of Content and Scheduling at Together TV
- Cal Turner, Head of Factual Entertainment at Naked TV
- Loraine Blumenthal, documentary filmmaker
Thoughts on Diverse Opportunities
Many of our panelists shared how as diverse initiatives emerged there was an initial hesitancy. But, they have since concluded there needs to be more encouragement to introduce and focus on diverse initiatives.
In particular, training for creative roles needs to be funded. To make the industry more inclusive, we need to make sure that creatives aren’t thrown into the deep end because of lack of training and struggle because of it. The idea that to get into this industry you need to start as a runner isn’t financially sustainable. Senior staff members need to dedicate time to train people and allow for training on the job.
The Diverse Film Fund came about in a time when there was a lot of unrest about racial justice. Together TV has championed raising awareness and offering opportunities for diverse communities. The Diverse Film Fund and similar schemes are positive ways to offer tools to distribute to a wider audience to gain experience.
Filmmaker Loriane Blumenthal, who directed The Mayor’s Race which recently premiered on Together TV said she’d definitely sign up. “As someone from a diverse background, there are pros and cons but generally for me we need to be more ruthless. We need door openers. Wherever it comes from you need to grab it. If your application is successful, it's important to surround yourself with a team you can trust and diverse voices. Don’t end up in a frustrating environment where you’re the only one in the room.”
Sat commented what great advice it is for a young diverse filmmaker: Be the architect of your success by surrounding yourself with people that will help you achieve what is important.
Making factual content for television
When making factual content, do you want to make something that resonates with a wide audience i.e. popular? Or are you looking to do something powerful and unique that would appeal to a bespoke audience? Factual entertainment tends to feel like a construct of the real world but wouldn’t exist without TV, and a documentary would naturally happen and as a filmmaker you’re following it.
The tone is important to bear in mind when developing factual content. Will it land with people because it’s funny or because it’s moving or serious and thought provoking?
Most importantly, your production needs to have a strong story, or more simply a problem. And how you go around solving the problem is the story you’ll tell. It may seem over simplified, but as a director you can get lost in your concept. Remembering the problem is a good place to go back to when you’re coming up with your idea because when brainstorming it’s easy to identify the people you want to interview and the information you want to gather, but it’s not a story. A story is a person with a problem and how to solve it.
Making of The Mayor’s Race
It’s about Marvin Rees, a mixed-race person who grew up in poverty in Bristol with a single mum. Despite his circumstances, he decided to run for mayor. The story here is a mixed-race man from poverty wanting to apply for the highest position in his city - the mayor. Is he going to become the first black mayor in Europe? Throughout the documentary, we discover the history of Bristol, why it's hard for him to run there and put himself in the public eye because of the Bristol bus boycott and riots.
Mayor’s Race was [Loraine’s] first feature length documentary. I was a student when I found out about the Bristol boycott. That was already a story for me, a glimpse of history that shadowed the Martin Luther King movements. However, Bristolians didn't find the boycott interesting enough. I wanted to figure out how to make that bit of history into a film without making a historical documentary. Luckily, Marvin Rees was on the brink of deciding to run for mayor, so we followed his journey. We all thought it would be a no-brainer, our film would end with him winning, but he didn’t. Which is a significant difference between documentaries and non-factual entertainment.
My biggest problem making the documentary was finances. For the Diverse Film Fund applicants, you should be wise about what's doable before the deadline. Something happening now with a foreseeable time scale but stay open minded when things don’t go as you expect. It might end up being your best scene.
Are Together TV looking to support more working class voices?
Janet: Based on the success of this scheme, we hope to run more schemes like this and we are planning to create more opportunities for all social backgrounds.
Cal: Yes, both in front of the camera and behind. Working on the apprentice has had a diverse staff at all levels both on and off screen. Until we have programmes on all channels that mirror our society, we need to mirror back who we are as a country.
Can you apply as an Asian?
Janet: Everyone can apply, we only ask that the story is about black British lives today.
If you have key talent attached in your short doc but they still haven't confirmed, can you mention them or should you leave them out?
Cal: Mention them, but tell us in the treatment where you are in the conversation with them. That's how it works in the industry.
Can you raise match funding?
Sat: From a business affairs point of view, it might get complicated. Where’s the other money coming from? Where does that leave the rights of the documentary? Best to work with the £10,000 on offer.
What budget did you have for The Mayor’s Race?
Loraine: I was very lonely with my small team, and only until the end of filming/beginning of post-production did we get funding. I got a little over a grand from an organisation (the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation) and we did some crowd funding and it was another grand, so we had £20,000 and most of it went to post production and the archive. After the film, we had a lot of interest from festivals and people wanting to buy the film on VOD and now it’s on TV. So, distribution wise we got a lot more money coming back in.
Would a historical event qualify for the black British lives today theme, or does it need to be present day?
Sat: from my perspective, history is about the present day as well. How do you find the connection with the present day? Why is that moment connected to present day lives? How is it relevant to today? Loraine’s story was a great example of telling lots of historical stories through a present-day narrative. Don’t rule it out, but think about it in today’s context.
I’ve submitted my application, but without a budget plan. Will this impact your decision?
Janet: We’d love to see a budget plan so if you’ve already submitted a plan, we’re happy for you to resubmit if you want. We’ll take the most recent application. Please get in touch ([email protected]).
Can I apply if I’ve directed something that's been in festivals but not broadcast?
Janet: Yes, you can, even though we’re appealing to emerging film artists. If it hasn’t been broadcast you don’t have credits, so you can apply.
If you’ve already started shooting, can you apply?
Cal: If you’ve already started filming without funds, I think it’ll show initiative and you can still apply. But if you have gotten funding, like what we mentioned earlier it might get confusing.
Janet: Definitely, if you’re already shooting something about Black British Lives Today without other funding please apply.
Jessica: So long as you’re still in the filming stage and the funding doesn’t go to post-production feel free to apply.
I think I‘ll miss the deadline. What about other opportunities?
Janet: From Together TV, keep looking back at our website. Any schemes or opportunities we’ll offer will be there. Feel free to email us too, we always reply.
Sat: Generally, all broadcast channels will have their information online about commissioning.
Is it possible to use archive material if you can get it for free?
Cat: Free archive material is great, make sure copyright is cleared. For the successful candidates, we'll be providing some documentation about archiving and for example you will need to make sure you have a material release form signed by the owner of the material.
Sat: 90% of making a film is paperwork!
Can you submit more than one idea?
Janet: Yes, but don’t apply too often. Try to keep it to 2 maximum.
Sat: Choose the one you’re most passionate about!
During production as the filmmaker, can I be a presenter?
Cal: Absolutely, but you really need to think about what your idea is, what you’re storytelling and what your role is. If you just want to be on screen, and it's the right thing for the idea then go for it. But think about why they are presenting it and what they are bringing to it. Think clearly about the role of the presenter and its importance to the story telling.
Can you apply if you’ve directed a promo with no credit?
Janet: Yes, you can apply.
How long should the documentary be?
Janet: The film will need to be a total of 10 minutes.
Jessica: It will need to fit into a broadcast slot.
I haven’t written a budget plan. Help please!
Cal: We’ve pulled together a tool about industry standard rates for skills we need to bring it. They will be sent to the short list before we go to the final stage. But as a tip for those new to budgets, think about who are the people you need to pay to get it over the line.It’s like budgeting your life, when you step out the door what might I have to pay for. Planning: can I do all the planning or do I need to spend money on help? Filming: camera, location fees, do I need to buy lunches and other hospitality? After filming: can you cut it? Or will you need to bring in an editor to help you? Kit too? Don’t worry if your budget doesn’t marry with the treatment of your application it won’t be dismissed. We will only be concerned if there’s a significant difference. Our experience as a judging panel will evaluate whether your idea fits a £10,000 budget.
Can you pay yourself a salary as part of the budget plan?
Janet: As long as the budget covers paying everyone who contributed fairly then it should be okay.
Sat: If you’re paying yourself £9,000 and only have £1,000 for the rest, what kind of film are you going to be able to deliver?
Cal: Just remember you final film will be subject to OfCom compliance, you will sign a contract to say you’ll deliver the project within compliance and budget so it’s important to see it as an opportunity and a real business undertaking. Think seriously that you’ll have to deliver the 10-minute project at a good standard. How much would you invest in your salary?