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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, May 2004

By Richard Propper

Dear IDA Members,

There are a number of excellent conferences worldwide devoted to the documentary. A notable one here in the US is the RealScreen Summit. I usually encourage new and even well seasoned producers to attend this event at least once. For the past few years it has been held in Washington, DC. Many of the world's top broadcasters attend to discuss the business and creative direction of the factual program market.

If you're going to be in this business and you intend to sell your film, you had better know what the buyers are looking for. This is one event where you can find out. For two days the buyers break off into 30-minute sessions to discuss exactly that. HBO, National Geographic, Sundance, Discovery Communications, Court-TV, MTV, ZDF, France 5 and many more are in attendance. After the session, the executive representing the broadcaster is usually mobbed with business cards and proposals. But I know a number of people who have succeeded in getting their projects off the ground from their work at this conference.

I always find it funny how timid some producers become when they have the opportunity to meet a development or acquisitions person from a broadcast network. It takes guts to know that you will hear "No" many times before you get to "Yes." The first "No" probably is the hardest, and it only gets a little easier after that.

While at the RealScreen Summit, upstairs away from the main conference floor, you could find a bar area teeming with activity-all devoted to documentary projects. Many producers set up shop here, and the broadcasters meet them because they need programming. Perhaps 150 people chat away, but it sounds like a roar. I hear this "roar" at the big festivals, too, but here everyone is either looking for or pitching documentaries.

I think these are good times for the documentary business. The good thing about the smaller conferences, anywhere in the world, is that you can catch the people you need and really hold their attention. After I encouraged a few younger producers to go over say hello to so-and-so, they couldn't believe how "nice" that person had been. Well, well, well.

Put yourself into a broadcaster's shoes for a moment: you need programming, and it's your job to find it. You will probably have to watch 50 tapes before finding one that may fit the one slot you have open. The buyers need us—and we need them. It is a relationship.


Until next time,

Richard Propper
IDA, President