While access-driven observational documentaries are our heartland (24 Hours in Police Custody, Baby Surgeons, Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles, 24 Hours in A&E), we have also led the way with archive-led contemporary stories (e.g. the multi award-winning Jade: The Reality Star who Changed Britain) and hard-hitting investigations with a documentary sensibility (e.g. the critically acclaimed Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on Daytime).
At the more light-hearted end, we make character-led documentary formats such as First Dates and the joyous The Dog House, and we are keen to commission more in this pleasurable space.
We’re excited to be launching our ALL4 Documentary Originals fund. This is a brand new, sizeable pot of money for the Documentaries Department to commission films and series that will premiere on All4 before going onto linear - a fertile ground for experimentation and young-skewing docs. We have also launched another exciting new initiative where we jointly invest in cinematic-release documentary films with Film4.
Finally - before we detail our needs - we're acutely aware that the best ideas are often the ones we don't know we want yet. So please don't let the following list limit your imagination.
OUR COMMISSIONING NEEDS
In terms of what we're looking for, breaking things down by linear TV time slots may feel like an antiquated way of categorising our needs, but we're using them here as a familiar shorthand for the industry. However, please note that everything we now commission is green-lit with its potential performance on ALL4 front-and-centre.
1. Pleasurable series in non-flashing blue light spaces
Our current priority is to find new returnable brands in pleasurable, entertaining, character-led spaces. We used to have Educating..., Royal Marine School, One Born Every Minute, The Hotel and Secret Life of 4,5 and 6 year olds - all broad spaces that can touch on serious themes but have a sunniness at their heart.
What are the new or experimental ways of looking at these types of spaces? What aspirational precincts should we be in that hit this tone? We are particularly interested in the luxury, holiday and leisure spaces - done in a contemporary way. And what can we do that feels new or surprising with military or school access, or subject matters of family, kids or the workplace?
2. Schedule-piercing moments
We are looking for high-impact films like Jeremy Kyle Show: Death on Daytime - bold, original, challenging programmes that only C4 could make. Think Leaving Neverland, My Son the Jihadi or Barrymore: The Body in the Pool, the latter of which ended up as front-page news and helped reopen a police investigation. The notion of taking risks is overused telly rhetoric, but we genuinely do want to do this, supported by a world-class Legal and Compliance department.
These can be singles or limited series. They might have seemingly un-gettable access at their heart (like our upcoming Real AC-12 series), be a talent-led polemic or simply a jaw-dropping human story like For Sama. We’re also interested in the definitive re-telling of events with top-level access (e.g. the BBC’s Inside the President’s War Room).
We have a particular interest in noisy, investigative films with original journalism at their core, but told with a documentary filmmaker's eye, rather than a current affairs one. Please do bring us ideas in this space. Who or what should we be investigating next? What stories have never been told before because we can't get access? Can we think of new and original ways to tell these stories?
3. Medical, Police & True Crime
We're looking for a new returnable medical series to complement 24 Hours in A&E, and while we have quite a few new police series in the pipeline, we are always on the lookout for distinctive ideas or access that could become the next blue-chip returner.
In terms of past tense crime stories, these can do very well for us, but before you bring us an idea, please ask yourself: (i) are there new revelations to this story? (ii) am I proposing to tell it in an innovative, original way? (iii) will the production values be very high end? We need to set the bar high in this crowded space, so if one of these three factors does apply to your idea, do bring it to us.
Historically, C4 Documentaries was the pioneer of closed episode ‘social experiment’ formats such as Faking It and Wife Swap. We want to revive this heritage by asking what these sorts of formats would look in 2022?
Look at how Married at First Sight has been transformed into a hugely popular hit by taking the (arguably) small, old-fashioned feeling closed-episode original version and reimagining it as a big, glossy, arced, reality event.
Could we do something similar with the traditional documentary format mechanisms (e.g. swaps, transformations) and tropes (e.g. culture clash and fish-out-of-water scenarios)?
In addition, we commission big, high-tariff, experimental constructed series through the Contestable Pot (funded by Motion Content), such as Murder Island. We’d also like to do more constructed series in the vein of The Great British School Swap, based on real-world social experiments.
We’re looking for a new animal-focused brand (The Dog House and The Secret Life of the Zoo have worked well for us at 8pm) and we are also keen to find a series with military access that would work at 8pm, preferably with a soapy feel. Please bring us any other access you think would work in this slot - not too gritty, easily digestible and broad viewing that can hold its own against the soaps in this slot.
In terms of series, we're looking for a new character-led, pacy police show (without the tricky compliance associated with our 9pm police series), a young-skewed medical returner and a number of series with escapism at their heart, e.g. young people having fun (think Dubai, Monaco, Kavos).
Regarding 10pm singles, we’ve always got an appetite for shock-docs e.g. Dogging Tales, The Paedophile Hunter or Secrets of the Living Dolls. These films create ‘water-cooler’ moments and generate brilliant headlines, but they need to feel privileged rather than grubby. Experience has taught us that these films don’t come along very often, but we’re always keen to hear of anything that might fit the brief.
ALL 4 ORIGINAL DOCUMENTARIES
This is a new pot of money for us to commission singles and series that will premiere on All 4 first (before a linear transmission at a later date). We want documentaries that allow audiences to escape and be immersed in mind blowing stories; in short - ideas that are big, bold and bingeable. We want these films to appeal to 16-24 year olds, but we know that this age group simply like good stories, brilliantly told.
We have four key priorities:
1. Tabloid-y yet authentic stories
These are all stranger than fiction past-tense narratives, which don’t always have to be crime, but must come with plenty of twists and turns. We are after jaw-dropping stories that take our viewers on a journey into worlds we can never imagine. We’re open to international stories, but they must be told in English.
These can be either single films or box-setted limited-series. For series, it’s important that the end of each episode encourages bingeing and creates a sense of urgency to finish the series now. For instance, High: Confessions of an Ibiza Drug Mule, Tinder Swindler.
Who are the next generation gonzo film makers in the vein of Michael Moore and Chris Morris? How do we get back into this space and make it feel fresh and modern? What is the next Seaspiracy, Supersize Me, The Great Global Warming Swindle? Think classic Channel 4 polemics.
We are looking for ideas that experiment in storytelling and form. Think Flee, Married to a Paedophile, Dogging Tales and old type classics such as Waltz with Bashir or The Act of Killing, which allowed us to tell stories or gives us access to stories that otherwise would be difficult to tell.
We’re also interested in short and snackable series that give eye-opening, factual takeout. This type of content could be more experimental, e.g. using animation and graphics. Most importantly, these ideas should lend themselves more to our audience on All 4, perhaps feeling unfamiliar on linear.
4. Young-skewing access
We want present tense observational documentaries with privileged access to worlds that young audiences want to peak into. This can include big known brands that feels un-gettable such as Nandos and Primark, or super-aspirational access. Most importantly, territories must feel broad and unmissable. Ideas that are series or limited-series must be boxsettable.
Important things to note:
With these All 4 Original Documentaries we are interested in breaking free of the traditional linear durations and experimenting with shorter durations/lengths of episodes.
Although most ideas will be fully funded, we’re also open to co-productions.
With All 4 being the UK’s largest free streaming service, it’s key for the idea to standout in particular for audiences acting on impulse viewing. Therefore, all proposals must include a killer title and a ‘billboard’ image to demonstrate its ability to cut-through in a vast library of content.
SINGLES AND CINEMATIC-RELEASE FILMS
Some of Channel 4’s most distinctive documentary moments have been large noisy single films which punch above their weight. Think Three Identical Strangers, For Sama, Barrymore: The Body in the Pool or the current film that current affairs are doing with Nazanin.
We’d like to ensure that these films can still punch through the busy schedule and have noise around them to stand up and bring an audience. This is heartland Channel 4 – a noisy tabloid headline and entry point but enough nuance, content and narrative drive to make any broadsheet glow with pride. These are also filmmakers’ films which could win awards and perhaps bring a notoriety and human emotion to a topic which we might feel that we know but haven’t properly got to grips with.
Although some of these stories may be retrospective, they’ll rarely stick to the rigid the SVOD methodology of master interview/archive/recon. We’d want a more immersive present-tense feel that sticks to core documentary principles.
Some could be overtly splashy entry points that would appeal to our younger demographic. Crime has also been a fruitful place for us here with the True Crime on 4 brand on All4 securing great figures, but the story needs to be bold and captivating and the approach filmic.
Others might be better suited to a new scheme we’re excited to announce where the Docs department is collaborating with Film 4 to find the next raft of cinematic docs that could sit in the cinema before coming to Channel 4. The budgets will match the ambition here. Although there’s no constraint on subject matter, it’s worth thinking hard about whether a member of the public would shed money and choose this film over the latest drama adventure on offer. Filmmakers will either be internationally well-known names or else fresh new voices with an emphasis on diversity.
First Cuts exist to launch the careers of new factual directors with this career-defining strand.
We feel it’s particularly important that the subject matter is not too niche – but rather noisy, warm and fun – don’t be afraid to tackle big mainstream subjects. Recently we’ve seen success with films like Sun, Sea and Surgery (Lyttanya Shannon), The Real Eastenders (Ashley Francis Roy) or The Millionairess and Me (Martin Read). Long-term, high-end access can be challenging on the budget but we are not afraid to tackle the difficult subject matter.
The films are commissioned for a one-hour slot, usually for 10pm. We want to provide emerging directors a platform to showcase their directorial authorship and we are especially looking for new voices from diverse backgrounds.
If you are interested in the Channel 4 x Sheffield DocFest First Cut Pitch, please click here.
We're looking for high-volume, low tariff series. These ideas should be in precincts that serve up larger-than-life characters and generate story, for instance Tattoo Fixers. The territory must feel pleasurable in order to compete against heighted reality shows such as Married at First Sight. We want audiences to come back for more at the end of every episode and they can be arc narrative or closed episodes like Teen First Dates.
We launched Yinka Bokinni who won a Grierson Award last year for Best Presenter for her film Damilola: The Boy Next Door. We are currently doing more films with Yinka and we’re always looking for new, on-screen documentary talent, so please do bring us any ideas.
Our commissioning editor team is pan-UK, and our output reflects this.
Senior Commissioning Editor: Madonna Benjamin
Madonna Benjamin delivers across the entire slate, with a particular emphasis on constructed and formatted documentaries.
Based in London.
Senior Commissioning Editor: Anna Miralis
Anna Miralis commissions across the entire slate with a particular focus on 9pm series, our All 4 Original Documentaries and 10pm.
Based in London.
Commissioning Editor and Head of Bristol Hub: Sacha Mirzoeff
Sacha Mirzoeff looks after Bristol, Wales and the South West and commissions across all of our slate for these areas. Nationally, he has a particular focus on single films, feature-length docs and 9pm series.
Based in Bristol.
Commissioning Editor: Will Rowson
Will Rowson looks after the north of England, the Midlands, Scotland and Northern Ireland and commissions across all of our slate.
Based in Leeds.