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21 June 2012

Channel 4 First Cut Pitch (Sheffield Doc/ Fest part 1)

Sheffield Doc Fest logo

Last week I went to Sheffield Doc/Fest, one of the UK's leading festivals for documentary film makers. As well as showcasing some of the best documentary talent around, it provides an amazing opportunity for networking and fundraising for doc makers (there was over £175,000 up for grabs).

One of the things I love about this festival is that the activities are all held within a mile radius in the centre of Sheffield so you really get a feel for the city. I popped into a few events, including the nail-biting Channel 4 First Cut live pitch.

Five finalists had one minute each to describe their idea, play a short trailer, followed by five minutes of Q&A. The finalists had really varied topics: finding out if you have Huntington's disease, reasons for tattoo removal, the story of a prolific streaker called the ‘Bare-devil’, pet weddings and a dance bootcamp for ex-offenders.

The slightly cringeworthy part came when we listened to the panel decide which one should win the prize – a commission with Channel 4, or second prize, some cash to develop a film. The winner (Bare-devil) is going to work with Channel 4 to develop a 60 minute, post-watershed programme. The panel had to stay on their toes to make sure that they were as fair and clear as possible in their feedback, but it was really useful to hear their decision making process.

A few themes emerged from the panel about the mistakes you can make in a doc pitch:

•   Not enough information about the characters that will feature in the film.
•   An inadequate taster tape.
•   Topic not original enough (pet weddings fell into this category).
•   Not enough narrative and a journey.  Will the characters be in a new place by the end of the film?



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