Q+A with the gatekeepers


If you had 20 minutes to pitch your short documentary to the BBC, what would you say?

For any ambitious filmmaker, the opportunity to have 20 minutes of undivided attention from a commissioner is a dream come true. However, it’s not always easy knowing how to approach the pitch: what to include, what to avoid and what materials to show.

At last year’s Global Short Docs Forum, we sat down with representatives from The Guardian, BBC Arabic and LUSH Film Fund to find out the sort of stories they are looking for, what they expect from a pitch, how they work with filmmakers and their thoughts on the event.


Erica Edwards & Matthew Shaun, LUSH Film Fund

How has it been going today?

M: It’s great, really interesting. It’s amazing to see such a diverse group of filmmakers at various different stages with their projects, but the calibre and the level of the films and the ideas that we are seeing is amazing.

E: Their projects are really inspiring and the determination of the filmmakers to get their films made, the way they are presenting themselves, so articulately, it’s just been really wonderful to see, it’s really exciting.

What are you looking for at Lush?

M: Something that has got a purpose to it or a call to action. And we are seeing that, we are seeing films that have really strong social conscience, we are seeing things that could create change and that’s really one of the things we are most interested in.

E: We are also interested to meet filmmakers from all over the world… so to have this network globally is really important to us to help us tell stories all over the world.

How do you think you benefit from these kinds of collaborations?

M: The format for me works really well, it’s a good way of seeing a lot of work in a very short period of time, and it’s nice to see things against each other to see what common trends there are coming out as well.

Any expectations from the rest of the day?

E: I’m really looking forward to it, the morning really exceeded my expectations in terms of the pitches and the filmmakers we were meeting, so looking forward to hearing about more amazing projects and stories from all over the world.

M: The fact that you set up this program where people can get some great advice from some very experienced people. I think that’s really interesting and important in filmmaking today – in terms of how do you develop less experienced filmmakers – so I’m really excited about that side of the program.


Rosie Garthwaite, Digital Documentaries Editor, BBC Arabic

How has it been going so far this morning?

It’s a pleasure to sit down and have somebody pretty much have everything that you need, they have answers to all the questions I have. The trailers seem to be really well crafted. You guys have done a really good job working with them. They also seem mainly quite confident with their subject matter which is really helpful, and they have done the background research so when I ask them a difficult question they know what they are talking about.

What are you looking for at BBC Arabic?

We are particularly interested in stories about women, young people, hard to access emotionally or hard to access physically. Stories that other channels may not have the ability to access, either for political reasons or for financial reasons. So that’s very specifically what BBC Arabic wants but across the BBC we are just looking for really innovative story telling techniques and just really good stories that deserve to be told.

How do you usually reach filmmakers?

There is no limit to the numbers of new people that we need to be accessing. People for one reason or another move on through and it’s really hard to keep the talent pool fresh in digital docs. […] That’s also been a lovely thing today to see the variety of approaches that people are taking because it’s not a cliché approach, it feels fresh and interesting.

How do you think we mutually benefit from these kinds of collaborations?

Independent filmmakers in the global sense are usually alone and unsupported, so it’s so fantastic to know that they have got a little bit of hand-holding before they are coming to us. I hope that the feedback I have given, which has gone beyond just who would be useful for them to know in the BBC, [has been useful] in terms of the grants they can be applying for and other things.


Charlie Phillips, Head of Documentaries, The Guardian

Why were you interested to be a part of the GSDF?

I think it is brilliant that there is a pitching forum for short documentaries. I think it is long overdue. I think it is really exciting that there is a forum that is all about the short documentary because it’s a growing and exciting format.

How do shorts differ to feature docs, as a form in their own right?

I think the short documentary is a format in and all of itself. It is not a reduced version of a feature doc. It is a format where you can tell an entire story and you can take people into a totally immersive world. It is a thing in and of itself.

Can you tell us about your commissioning process?

Almost all our films are original commissions and they come from people pitching us new ideas in early stages. So it is really good meeting people here who are at a relatively early stage in their productions, because we can start having conversations with them, we can help develop their ideas, and then if we do end up getting involved with them then we are properly coming in as exec producers and collaborating with them.

How do you feel about the filmmakers that you met today?

I met some really great filmmakers today. It is really nice having people pitching me shorts because you can immediately get into a really great conversation about the content of the films. Their pitches and their actual delivery of the projects have been really really lovely and it is really nice doing one to one meetings. I always prefer that to being on a panel for a public pitch. So just having that personal connection is really ideal.

What was the best or nicest thing about today for you? The best thing about the Forum.

I think the best thing about the Forum was speaking to people who felt really practiced in the presentation of their projects and who were using the opportunity to really communicate clearly and with real passion about their projects. The fact that they had a few days of prep really showed because it was a genuinely really interesting conversation with everyone.


The Global Short Docs Forum was created to bridge the gap between short doc filmmakers and digital platforms. Over a 4 day residential workshop filmmakers will benefit from pitching training, mentoring and masterclasses from industry experts, culminating in a day of one-to-one meetings with digital platform decision makers! Click here to read more about last year’s event.

Applications are open for Global Short Docs Forum 2019, hosted by Docudays UA Film Festival. Deadline Friday 23 November!
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