Break It Down: "Bridge" on Nat Geo
With lots of help, I produced an independent 1-hour HD documentary on the demolition of a historic bridge in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our show was picked up by National Geographic and premiered domestically on Nov. 1, 2007. From the thread in another forum, Ron Lindeboom and ChicagoShootr asked that I post a bit in this forum about how I successfully created and sold the show.
Funny timing, I just watched that show 2-3 hours ago. It was very well laid out, interesting to watch and looked great.
Could you tell us more (if you know) about the actual process of selling your project to NatGeo? Creating spec, original content is very compelling, but there is very little info out there on how to sell the project.
Fortunately for us, my co-producer had strong ties with Nat Geo, having done a couple dozen shows with them over the past several years and our subject just happened to fit right in with a new series they had already planned, so once we hooked up, the sale was not a problem.
I was not directly involved in the sale process, but as with most stuff in the Business, I suspect who you know, and who knows you, is probably the most important thing. Keep networking!
It looked great. For a rookie producer, I think you hit one out of the park.
I really liked the use of time-lapse for this show and it showed good planning. You really needed them to help tell the story in the time allowed. I was particularly impressed and somewhat puzzled by how you guys did zooms in time-lapse. Perhaps John Chater would consider sharing that secret with us.
As you said in an earlier post, the finished product may not have been exactly what you originally envisaged, and it was definitely in the current NatGeo "style." I found it to be entirely watchable and entertaining. My wife said it's a total guy show and went and read a book. There goes that demographic.
I can understand any reluctance to share specifics on the business aspects of your production, but would I be wrong in assuming that if you can "make your rate" during the course of a project like this, and cover your post-production costs, you've done ok? The reason I ask is that I'm involved as a DP/Director with a large ($3.5 million) self-financed HD series for a Catholic organization starting up early next year, and I'm struggling to understand how we might do in recovering some of our costs if we manage to sell the show for broadcast. Complicating matters somewhat is a desire by my client to maintain at least primary editorial control over the series. But it's a good problem to have...I just want to be a little smarter than I am now when we get to that point.
Anyway, thanks for sharing your insights and nice job to all involved! I look forward to seeing your next project on the air! Let us know when it happens...
Thanks for your kind words. We had a lot of fun and are pretty pleased to see our show get aired!
Regarding the time lapse: (this may really belong in another forum - Cinematography? Final Cut? please help with suggestions if this needs to be copied somewhere else)
We originally planned to use the HVX-200 for time lapse due to its interval shooting capability, but we loved the versatility of the unit so much we used it for a B-roll camera extensively and shot all our time lapses with still cameras. Most of the time lapses in the final show were shot with a Canon D20 and a supplementary intervalometer to trigger the shutter. The individual frames were downloaded and assembled into a QuickTime movie with QT Pro. We also found a point and shoot camera from Pentax, the W10 (now replaced by the W20 or W30) which had the plus of being waterproof, having the ability to take interval shots with its own timer @ 10 sec to 99 min intervals, and would go to sleep between shots. We could leave the camera locked off and unattended for up to about 500 shots before the battery died, and if clamped to a solid structure (not on a tripod) we could replace the card and battery without disturbing the framing so we could get shots over longer periods (up to two weeks - see the sequence at the end of the show). For a $300 camera it was a find! Unfortunately, I've looked lately and can't find any more locally.
As far as the zooms, since we had large still images of 3-8 megapixels, we could tell QT Pro to make a larger than HD resolution movie (our show was shot 720p24) which we could then import into Final Cut Pro and use Motion to create pans or zooms.
I think it was helpful to have the time lapses. They're a fair amount of work and sometimes something failed (battery died, out of memory space, unknown glitch) but we got a number that were useable and several made it into the final show.
Hope that helps. This is getting pretty long so I'll stop here and gather my thoughts...
Wonderful tale about the time lapse using still cameras and QT Pro, Rob.
I wondered how you accomplished the time lapse, thank you for taking the time to lay it out.
But one of the questions that I know readers here are interested in, was how did you originally go about pitching your idea to the people at National Geographic Channel?
Thanks again, Rob.
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Ron: No pitch. We did this show totally on spec. No contact or commission from anyone. We had all primary shooting done and a 45 minute rough cut (the result of about 6 months of editing) before we got in touch with them.
The show sold on its merits and the fact that it fit well with their needs. This was for us, and I suspect for them, a fairly unique arrangement. Don
From what I can tell, it seems WAY easier to have a show "picked up" if it is already complete and pretty much "ready-to-air" (or at least a substantial portion of it is complete and ready for viewing before it is sold.
I'm guessing that like most other industries, it's more attractive to a broadcast or cable network to purchase a known product (meaning a tangible video that is at or at least near completion) versus an unknown product (e.g. an idea, concept, treatment or script for the show, but with no tape for anyone to see yet.)
This is also why networks tend to go with directors that are proven to be able to bring a quality show to completion - on time and under budget. They have a better bet than they would have investing in an unknown.
Licensing rights to air a show, or financing production on a program seems to be just as much about minimizing risk for the network as it is about providing programming that resonates with the audience.
It appears that you were able to offer them that combination of minimal financial risk and compelling content.
Congratulations! Very well done!
[Timothy J. Allen] "From what I can tell, it seems WAY easier to have a show "picked up" if it is already complete and pretty much "ready-to-air" (or at least a substantial portion of it is complete and ready for viewing before it is sold."
Tim is correct. Pitching ideas about future projects in general only works for those with an existing relationship with the broadcaster. There are exceptions, such as when they've seen something else you may have done recently on TV or in a festival, but often, no matter how good your idea might be, pitching those ideas can be exceedingly frustrating for both newcomers and experienced producers alike.
In my case, after risking life, limb and a pile money to film a hard-hitting investigative expose about the commercial fishing industry, I did have good success getting airtime in some pretty lofty places, including: National Geographic Explorer, Discovery's Shark Week, PBS, and the BBC.
I pitched Nat. Geo. and PBS early on, before much of my film was in that can, but neither were keen on the subject--the story, about the overfishing of sharks, was completely virgin territory at the time. Even the folks Nat. Geo. had never seen or heard about that subject before. So, because my idea was so fresh I was on my own. This is the Catch-22 of TV production... Pitch the old familiar stuff and that may get you a fast "we've already seen that a thousand times," but show them something brand new and innovative, and you may get an even harder rejection. As I said, it can be very frustrating...
After completing an abbreviated 30-min. version of my project, with my own funds, I premiered the film as the show opener at the San Diego Underwater Film Festival, to a very simpatico audience of 800 underwater enthusiasts. They loved it, and the ball was rolling... Then, a week or so later the film won "Best Professional Film" at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Montana, and that really did the trick, because representatives from all of the big documentary broadcasters were there in the audience.
The next morning, at 8am, Nat. Geo. acquisitions called me. They absolutely had to have my film. From that point on it was easy, at least for that film. International distributors were calling, people wanted stock footage, and I made deals all over the world.
Whoopee!!! It should have been smooth sailing from that point on, right??? Nope, sorry to disappoint, but because the pitching process is so darn difficult, its never easy. When someone figures out and easy way to get someone else's money in your bank account, please, tell me about it, I'd like to be the first to know the secret...
David Roth Weiss
David Weiss Productions, Inc.
POST-PRODUCTION WITHOUT THE USUAL INSANITY™
A forum host of Creative COW's Business & Marketing, and Indie Film & Documentary forums.
Perhaps this should be a new thread or maybe it's been done to death before I came along...but I'm curious about the editorial process that takes place between the filmmaker and the network after a project has been accepted.
Earlier in his original thread in the P2 forum, Rob mentioned that his "Bridge" program had basically been re-cut to make it more into a "NatGeo Style" which I assume means a total re-edit for pacing, drama-injection, segment timing and technical quality. So what happens during that process? Do they assign you a segment producer to oversee the re-cut with your original editor or do they the do it elsewhere with a new editor? Are there endless tweaks and fixes and re-do's done by committee over time? And who picks up the tab for all that? Can you pretty much plan on completely handing over any artistic control in a program that you sell?
David, I have to think what you showed at the Wildlife festival probably looked quite a bit different from what eventually aired...or not?
Anyone out there that has been through the process care to share their experiences? Just how painful can it actually get?