Generating and nurturing ideas is at the heart of the development producers role but they also need business nous and drive, as they pitch to commissioners who are often hard to please and always short of time.
Development is the very first stage in the life of any programme idea - it’s the point where ideas seeds are either germinated (ie. green lit for production), shelved or turned around and given another angle. The development producer is at the helm of the development team (or they may be on their own at a small independent company). They have a duty to bring stories to life, and generate revenue for the company by securing commissions with broadcasters. As well as the creative side of generating and nurturing ideas, the development producer needs to have a lot of business nous and drive as they pitch to commissioners who are often hard to please and always short of time. In a pitch meeting - the development producer has to be focused, know the idea inside out, (being prepared to answer any question/queries the commissioner may have) and ultimately sell the idea.
If they don’t sell the idea in the pitch meeting, the development producer will have to think on their feet and present alternative ideas, and if none of the pitched ideas sell, then they arrange more appointments with other commissioners at other broadcasters to keep the ball rolling. If ideas don’t get green lit, then the idea will not go into production, and the company risks not making any revenue.
A verbal pitch is not enough to sell a programme idea, so a pitch package will usually also include a treatment (a short one or two page document outlining the idea in a succinct and compelling way - this may include some visual references too), and a taster tape (also know as a sizzle reel) - which is a short video that will give the commissioner a flavour of how the programme would look and feel if it were to be produced. For example, a documentary sizzle reel may include 2 or 3 minutes of key contributor interviews and some action sequences. The taster tape should include the juiciest bits of footage, in order to wow the commissioner.
As well as keeping across the practical elements of selling programme ideas, development producers also need to be aware of what commissions their competitors are winning, and to keep up with topical TV trends, while also trying to predict new trends. They work with executive producers (who maintain relationships with the commissioners and represent the company when liaising with the movers and shakers in the industry), and sometimes have assistance from development assistant producers or development researchers. It is a job that involves a lot of writing, research, business acumen and trend forecasting - and it helps if a development producer has experience in production too - because you need to know how a programme is put together and the financial implications of making TV content. It’s the producer’s prerogative to know what it’s possible to achieve within the constraints of the programme’s finances.
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