Briefing Notes: Unreported World
Monica explained that UW has no set agenda. It has two runs a year and will do a mix of stories but the key is finding good characters and a narrative that shed light on an issue that has not hit the news. The character should come from the country itself and not be a westerner. There needs to be something to film which takes place at the appropriate time. Counterintuitive stories work well – for example rising property prices in Gaza or a British Somali running a successful restaurant in Mogadishu. They tend not to go to the same place (city) in consecutive series but otherwise they’re quite flexible. Ideas for stories set in Europe are particularly welcome.
The main challenge is the schedule. The series is not filmed on an ongoing basis. Instead there are two cycles. The first is in December when they start researching and setting up stories. These are filmed in January/February for transmission in April/May. The second cycle starts in June when they work on the next series. They film in July/August for transmission in October/November. If you have a story you want to pitch, the key is to pitch it either in December or June. There needs to be something that can be filmed in January/February or July/August. They have no flexibility with the schedule. If you have a brilliant idea for an event that is taking place in November for example, it simply won’t happen.
Monica.firstname.lastname@example.org Series editor on maternity leave – back next spring.
Suzanne.email@example.com Series editor, covering for Monica. I’ve had a word with Suzanne and she’s happy to receive story suggestions in December.
Shaunagh.firstname.lastname@example.org Associate producer – she’ll be working on the long list of ideas for the next series but she is currently on another project and won’t be back on UW until December so don’t email her now, wait until December.
Eamonn.email@example.com Eamonn is the Executive Producer at Quicksilver. The company specialises in international documentaries and current affairs. He’s great. He’s worked with IBT in the past. Don’t send UW ideas to him but if you have suggestions for investigations for Dispatches or that would make a good This World then he’s definitely worth making contact with.
Monica said that the UW team are very happy to work with NGOs but she warned that the relationship can be difficult on both sides. If you come with the expectation that you will be able to control what they film then things won’t work out. She gave the example of working with BRAC. BRAC gave UW access to one of the schemes it runs in Bangladesh but when the riots broke out and the film crew wanted to film them then BRAC was very nervous and felt that such filming might damage its reputation/relationships. She also warned that relationships could be complicated and gave the example of a recent film in Yemen which looked at lawyers who were being persecuted. The initial conversations were with Oxfam but when none of the cases which Oxfam came up with worked out, then the UW team went to Amnesty and it was an Amnesty case that ended up in the film. Both NGOs were happy that the film was made but in the end there was no mention of Oxfam’s work. This is the sort of thing
that happens – you can’t predict how the working relationship with the NGO will develop – the priority for UW will always be getting the story. It’s important that NGOs who want to work with UW go into this with their eyes open.
Monica described the way the pitching process works. The AP and series editor will draw up a long list of perhaps 30 ideas in December and June. These will then be discussed with the Channel 4 Commissioning Editor, Siobhan Sinnerton. After this discussion, the ideas will be whittled down to the final 8. It’s always possible that if one of the 8 falls through, another idea will be needed urgently. This happened with the current run. The team had access to film in Bagram prison but when they got to Afghanistan they found that the access did not happen so they quickly searched for another story and came up with the film about violence to women (which goes out tonight).
If you’re pitching to them, they don’t need much detail on the initial pitch. If they’re interested, they will come back to you for more information. Monica also said that a list of possible ideas was welcome rather than just one. A list of 10 will increase your chances of success.
The current run includes the following: kidnapping in Venezuela, looting of artefacts in Egypt, a children’s newspaper in India, treatment of the mentally ill in Mexico. As well as producing UW, Quicksilver also makes films for the BBC strand This World and for the US channel PBS. They have just won an Emmy for their Japanese nuclear film. Quicksilver has a mailing list and they have added the names of everyone who attended the briefing to the mailing list. So you will all receive TX cards for future Quicksilver programmes.
There was a discussion about social media and how effective UW were at publicising programmes. Monica said they could do better but there were time and money constraints. She did, however, say that they were happy to provide clips of their programmes for anyone who wanted to use them. They have an open access rule and past episodes of UW are available on YouTube long after transmission. Channel 4 has also ungeoblocked the show so that programmes can be watched anywhere in the world.
Ratings for the programme vary a lot – on transmission anything between 300 and 900,000. There is a 25% lift from video on demand. Some reporters have a following and their shows tend to get bigger audiences – for example Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Jonathan Miller.
Monica also suggested a good outlet for NGO stories was the Channel 4 indie fund which commissions 10 minute films for Channel 4 News. The commissioner is Job Rabkin who is based at ITN firstname.lastname@example.org We hope to do a briefing with Job and the Channel 4 News Foreign Editor later this year.