How to pitch an idea to Discovery channel?

Discussion in 'Professional Video Production' started by PTravel, Sep 10, 2006.

  1. PTravel

    PTravel Guest

    Those of you who know me, know that I'm a video-obsessed amateur who makes
    his living in a relatively non-creative but well-compensated profession.
    I've got an idea for something that I think I could be of use to one of the
    Discovery channels, and I've got enough well-produced material to provide 3
    or 4 examples (I don't mean a demo reel, but full-length, fully produced
    "pilots"). My projects are shot in SD -- HD isn't a possibility unless the
    idea sells, in which case I would invest in HDV (but not HD) equipment.

    I was wondering how best to pitch this -- would a DVD with a cover letter to
    who ever does development at Discovery be the right approach, or would this
    mark me as a hopeless amateur? I'd assume that, at this point, 3/4" is
    obsolete. Do I need to get the projects transferred to Digibeta or
    something similar, just for the purpose of pitching?

    Any suggestions (other than, "leave it to the pros") would be appreciated.
     
    PTravel, Sep 10, 2006
    #1
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  2. PTravel

    Larry in AZ Guest

    That person, whomever it is at Discovery Channel, probably receives 50
    pitches per day in the mail, all accompanied by DVDs, VHS, etc. You'll be
    hopelessly lost in the clutter.

    My advice is to use whatever friendly connections you have in the business.
    Surely, you know an entertainment lawyer or three..?
     
    Larry in AZ, Sep 10, 2006
    #2
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  3. Indeed. Dunno how any "over the transom" projects ever
    get seriously considered. Take full advantage of any
    contacts (or friends/associates of contacts). That seems
    to be how the business works. And if you look at it from
    their perspective, it forms a sort of "vetting" process to
    filter out the flack.

    In the last year or two there was an article about a guy and
    his girlfriend who pitched and sold a travelogue (French
    wine country or somesuch?) The magazine piece discussed
    how he pitched the project, and then how it was shot, edited,
    getting sponsors, etc. Recommended. If only I could remember
    which magazine it was...
     
    Richard Crowley, Sep 10, 2006
    #3
  4. PTravel

    PTravel Guest

    I do, but it undercuts my attorney credibility if I try to peddle my
    non-lawyer skills. ;)
     
    PTravel, Sep 10, 2006
    #4
  5. "PTravel" wrote ...
    But surely *they* (fellow attorneys) should understand that
    you (lawyers) are not single-dimensional beings? That they
    may have diverse talents. I doubt that you are the first IP
    attorney to venture into prorgram production. Go for it.
     
    Richard Crowley, Sep 10, 2006
    #5
  6. PTravel

    Frank Guest

    Indeed, there was. It appeared, on pages 34 thru 40, in the July 2005
    issue of a certain magazine.
    Would you settle for the Tuscany region of Italy? :)
    Correct, it did indeed.
    I have a memory like a computer, especially for stuff that I read.

    It was DV magazine and the article can be found online at
    http://www.dv.com/features/features_item.jhtml?category=Archive&articleId=163105722
     
    Frank, Sep 10, 2006
    #6
  7. I had a friend try to pitch a show to them. Discovery has a small
    number of "favorite son" production companies that feed product into
    them. Your only real hope is to go thru one of them, and once you do,
    they basically make you sign over the idea and most of the control over
    the idea to them (as well as most of the profits). You get a small
    piece of it unless you can retain some producer credits on it.
    Discovery and TLC get many more pitches than they know what to do with,
    so they cherry-pick the very best packages, those where the production
    values will be the highest, where the visuals will be stunning, where
    you can get celebrity hosts or narrators, that sort of thing. On the
    reality show front, they look to over-hype the interpersonal conflict
    aspect, what I call the "American Chopper Effect". It's not enough to
    have a story full of heroism, adventure, personal sacrifice, high-tech
    and science, the principal characters involved have to drop everything
    and get to a near-fistfight at least once an episode, or Discovery
    isn't interested.
     
    nobody special, Sep 10, 2006
    #7
  8. PTravel

    PTravel Guest

    I don't want to say too much about what I'm doing, but it's not full-form
    series format -- it's something else that I haven't ever seen used on
    Discovery but that I suspect might be useful to them. I read the article
    cited in the other posts -- rather depressing, but encouraging at least to
    this extent: my production gear is directly comparable to the article
    author's.
     
    PTravel, Sep 10, 2006
    #8
  9. PTravel

    Steve Guidry Guest

    I haven't done this, but here's my best guess . . .

    Find someone who's done it, and get some advice. I think that once they
    realize how good it would be to have a guy like you as a friend, you'd have
    no trouble getting them to open their rolodexes to you and maybe even
    helping you pitch it. Emal me privately, and I will give you a

    The same goes with the guys evaluating the show. Your position in the
    industry - - even though it's in an allied part of the biz should be a real
    asset. While I understand the "lessen my stature" argument, but you can
    probably minimize this (or even turn it to a plus) by characterizing it as a
    midlife fling or saying something like "I decided to do something like this
    for FUN, instead of just working all the time - - it was either that, or
    take a year off to sail around the world ! You should do the same thing,
    Bob." I suspect that your colleagues will admire you for it, and wish they
    had the guts to do something similar. You can spin that part of it, trust
    me . . .

    Steve
     
    Steve Guidry, Sep 11, 2006
    #9
  10. PTravel

    Bryan Heit Guest

    This is probably the only route to go, but I don't think it is the
    "death sentence" you make it out to be.

    Firstly, if you look at what is needed to make a documentary of the type
    which appears on Discovery, National Geographic, etc, its pretty obvious
    you need a full production team. For the "average" documentary of this
    quality you'll need:

    Film crew(s) + audio crew
    Researchers
    Audio technicians/editors
    Video technicians/editors
    Host(s) and/or narrator(s)
    Script writers
    Animators
    Lawyers (for licensing, releases, and so forth)
    Music composition (or licensing)
    Someone to keep everything on track (Producer)
    Plus directors to keep all of the sub-groups organized

    Although one person can do all of these jobs (I've done all of this for
    some of my own work) it is doubtful one person could do all of these
    jobs well enough for Discovery-level production. Not to mention the
    vast amount of time it would take to make a single episode.

    But this doesn't mean that you'd have to give up control, or make very
    little $$$ from it. For example, if your documentary involves a
    technical field you could easily work not only as a creator, but as a
    researcher/consultant. If you're decent at writing you may also be able
    to do work as a writer. Any stock footage you may have may also be used
    - either for the planning of the footage they shoot, or used directly in
    the production. All of these would give you additional input into the
    work, and probably get you a little more $$$.

    Another option to consider is approaching a smaller (i.e. local)
    broadcaster first. This would give you the opportunity to develop the
    show, be it with fewer resources, but this would give you greater
    control over the project. This way you have the opportunity to develop
    the show, work out the bugs, develop a small team, etc, before you
    approach discovery or a larger production studio. You're far more
    likely to be taken seriously if you come to them not with an idea, but
    with a project that has some history - even if its just a small show
    which runs on a local station.

    Bryan
     
    Bryan Heit, Sep 12, 2006
    #10
  11. PTravel

    PTravel Guest

    I appreciate your taking the time to post this, but to pull it back on track
    (and as I posted originally), this is not an idea for a full-length episodic
    program, nor is it something that requires a full production team. I don't
    intend to say any more about it because I don't wish to disclose the idea,
    but I'm perfectly capable of executing it myself (in SD, for which my
    prosumer gear is completely adequate) and without additional crew (beyond
    what I already use). As for clearances, I only need music, I have a source
    for that, and I'm a lawyer who does licensing, so legal formalities are not
    a concern at all, as I will handle them myself.
     
    PTravel, Sep 12, 2006
    #11
  12. PTravel

    Spex Guest

    He gave you good advice. I bet my mortgage that you don't get anywhere
    close to getting your programme made and aired on Discovery. Without
    wishing to be rude I've seen your travel videos on your website and I
    don't think that level of quality should ever be seen on TV. You cannot
    edit for toffee. If you show any of those videos you'll be shown the
    door. I promise you that.

    Climb down off your high horse and listen to Bryan's advice.

    Have you even rung Discovery Channel to ask about submissions? A simple
    phone call should be sufficient to determine how a pitch or submission
    should be made. You should be aware that Discovery has some extremely
    fierce requirements you have to adhere to.

    The best advice anyone will give you or should have given you is to
    leave it to the pros.

    Take the idea to a production company and they'll be honest with you as
    to whether the idea is a goer or not. They may even be able to run with
    the idea, come at it from a different angle, sell the idea to Discovery
    and get it aired. You play a part in the making of it, get a broadcast
    credit and paid. Otherwise the idea however good it is may never reach
    the screen.

    I've never seen a credit roll with one person's name on it. Its for a
    reason.
     
    Spex, Sep 12, 2006
    #12
  13. PTravel

    PTravel Guest

    Neither he nor you know what the project is. His advice is completely
    inapplicable.
    Quite likely. This is a long shot.
    No offense taken. My travel videos on my website aren't the project.
    Perhaps, perhaps not.
    I'm sure you're right, which is why I have not intention of showing any of
    those videos.

    So many assumptions, here. So many of them wrong.
    Bryan's advice is inapplicable to my project. Even if I wanted to, there
    simply isn't anything for all those production people to do. One of the
    first things a lawyer learns is, before giving an opinion, find out all the
    facts. That's good advice, too.
    No, I thought I'd start here.
    An a simple post is simpler.
    Which you could have shared with me, I suppose, in response to my post.
    Instead you chose to lecture me about my project and my talent, neither of
    which you have sufficient information to judge.
    What should I leave to the pros? What was my project again? Oh, yes -- you
    don't know have any idea at all.
    As I said, you don't know what the idea is -- it is not suitable for taking
    to a production company.
    This project isn't one that entails credits. However, please feel free to
    keep making judgments based on assumptions and no information whatsoever.
     
    PTravel, Sep 12, 2006
    #13
  14. PTravel

    Steve Guidry Guest

    I'm a lawyer who does licensing, so legal formalities are not a concern at
    Isn't there an old saying about a lawyer representing himself ?

    (grin)

    Steve
     
    Steve Guidry, Sep 12, 2006
    #14
  15. PTravel

    Steve Guidry Guest

    Awwww, Paul, go easy on the guy. (grin)

    He's just giving you a bit of what we all go through when we "have an idea".
    Everyone weighs in, and most of them are uninformed - - even some of the
    folks who might be able to give the project the go-ahead.

    Steve

    P. S. Email me prtivately, and I will give you a name of a guy at a
    ewll-known prod. co. who might know who you can pitch this to . . .
     
    Steve Guidry, Sep 12, 2006
    #15
  16. PTravel

    Spex Guest

    Didn't he make himself clear? He doesn't need any help.
     
    Spex, Sep 12, 2006
    #16
  17. PTravel

    Spex Guest

    I wish you all the luck. You are clearly an ass.
     
    Spex, Sep 12, 2006
    #17
  18. PTravel

    PTravel Guest

    "If it is true that one who has oneself for a lawyer has a fool for a
    client, then make no mistake -- I am that fool!"

    - Raoul Julia as Gomez, in The Addams Family
     
    PTravel, Sep 12, 2006
    #18
  19. PTravel

    PTravel Guest

    I never said anything of the sort.

    Reading. It's fundamental. ;)
     
    PTravel, Sep 12, 2006
    #19
  20. "PTravel" (Paul) wrote:
    Congratulations Paul.
    I have found that when you get called an ass, or better yet....... an
    asshole....... its because the labeler is also an ass....or asshole,
    butt ..... not quite as good at being one as you are.
    Welcome to the club.

    Bill F.
    www.billfarnsworthvideo.com
     
    Bill Farnsworth, Sep 12, 2006
    #20
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