We want to make programmes that not just get reviewed but create headlines, not just explain but reveal, not just show but challenge, not just follow but lead. But let’s be clear, we are a broad church in Factual – we commission around 250 hours a year, everything from 24 Hours in Police Custody, First Dates, Grayson Perry’s Art Club, The Dog House and SAS: Who Dares Wins to Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain, Undercover Police: Hunting Paedophiles, Barrymore: The Body in the Pool and 100 Vaginas. And let’s not forget our short form strand, True Stories, and for the first time, we have more than 20 hours on E4 with Teen First Dates being a smash hit, especially on All4.
Everything we do, we aim to innovate – in storytelling, use of technology, authorship, form, POV. We know – when we get this right – we can bring big, broad audiences. More than ever, the performance on All4 is very important. This is a growing audience and we urge you to consider with most ideas about whether it could be a boxset, how bingeable is it, can it grow over time online?
Across Factual we will continue to commission Documentaries, History, Arts, Science and Natural History. And whilst we will be working more closely as a team to build a clear strategy, every commissioner has a particular focus on an area (more about this below). This means every aspect of the Factual is covered and you should find it easier to identify the person best positioned to get your idea onscreen.
We are lucky to have huge returning brands but it’s worth noting that we are looking to commission potential new returners that we can take to scale. We are also a department that is remembered for piercing the schedule and we want to do that more. We want new audacious ideas that break form (we were of course the department that commissioned Plane Crash, Gogglebox, The Family); we want more provocative filmmaking like Barrymore; we want more revisionist history that challenges the received wisdom like The Massacre That Shook the Empire and Diana In Her Own Words; we want documentaries that explore cutting edge science and ethics; we want to regain the mantle of being the home of the authored doc. And we want to be more representative - new experts, new voices, new POV. Diversity of thought and opinion is a big part of our strategy.
9pm documentary series
We broadcast a significant number of major 9pm returning series, such as 24 Hours in A&E, Custody and First Dates Hotel. We are now looking to break new territory for 9pm that form part of a succession plan and/or part of these huge successes. We are looking for new police series - in both the limited and high volume space, and we would really love to hear ideas that are more based around the family, community, work, holiday, business and education. The ideas may come with access or they could be a format but ideally they would be anchored in the real world (as opposed to a hugely constructed precinct which is more Fact Ent). Story, character and contemporaneousness are key and an entertaining/ humorous approach should always follow.
Increasingly we are commissioning 3 or 4 part series. These are often true crime (Murder in the Outback, Murder in the Car Park) or a new approach to contemporary history (Jade: The Reality Star Who Changed Britain). We have also commissioned two series that looks at cutting edge medical science. These increasingly form part of our key strategy for several reasons - they could become longer running, returning series, be attractive as a co-commission with another broadcaster/ platform and they can often get big audiences, especially when stripped.
We have had huge successes recently with Murder in the Outback and Murder in the Car Park series. We are now keen to hear more ideas in this space. However it’s worth saying that we always try to have a new angle, new evidence, new testimony, a potential miscarriage of justice. The story has to have new revelation and a distinct approach in story-telling. The stories should either be a reasonably well known story (like Peter Falconio) and/ or resonate with a younger audience (think Fyre Festival territory). True crime doesn’t have to be a murder, it could be more in the Fyre Festival, Tiger Kings space.
One of the areas we are keen to commission more in is the ‘investigative’ space. Barrymore: The Body in the Pool and Leaving Neverland were very successful films for us and we are looking for other stories. They should normally shine a light on a well known person, company or group of people that offers a new angle on their often well-reported life. Sometimes there might be unanswered questions, or a complex life that had a big impact on the people or world around them that deserves a new look at their influence, negatively or positively. The approach or angle in the storytelling is almost as important as the subject so please bear this in mind when pitching ideas.
This is a key strategy for us because often we get a good young share at this time and we are increasingly commissioning series as well as singles, which we aim to be better curated so we can strand a collection of films. When thinking about 10pm, always think ‘would this do well on All4 and/ or as a binge-watch’. Crudely we are looking in 3 areas to commission for this slot. 1. Character-driven, docu-soap territory series. We recently transmitted Inside Missguided which had a high young share and did well on All4. We are keen to find new spaces occupied by younger people - a work space is good, or could be a particular community. Characters must be big and feature across a series, there must be story and the tone should be anarchic, entertaining, aspirational or funny. Ideally all three. 2. Crime/ night singles and mini series. Bouncers is the perfect reference here - nightlife, partying and bad behaviour. 3. Tabloid headline, broadsheet story singles. We have a strong history of films that pop the schedules - Women Who Kill, Human Pups, Dogging Tales, Shut Ins: Britain’s Fattest People and Our Baby: A Modern Miracle. We have recently had Swingers and we want more in this space. Films about sex, identity, crime, drugs are territories that can get a strong young audience for us here. But it’s not always sex and crime. We recently had great success with The Talk, which attracted a strong young share and did very well on social. We are keen to return to these areas at 10pm made mostly by underrepresented directors and producers as well as indies in the nations and regions.
This is an area we’ve had success in with The Secret Life of Zoo. We had relative success with Secret Safari: Into the Wild and the return of The Dog House. We are looking for a few things at 8pm - high street/ household name access (think Poundshop Wars) and something akin to Life Of Grime, so an access series that is character driven, a story engine and says something about the world we are living in/ how we live our lives.
We want to cement our reputation as the home of the filmmaker, established and new. We want to commission films that really pop - they create a headline, reveal something, capture something about the world or profile a person. We are especially keen to hear from underrepresented voices to direct - female, black, Asian and ethnic minority are a priority for us.
We are keen to receive fresh, surprising format ideas that feel they are served by a documentary approach to filmmaking. We are the unit that developed some of the most long-running C4 formats like Wife Swap and Secret Millionaire, and commissioning a new generation of these series is a serious ambition for the department. First Dates and Hunted are now well established, but we are keen to expand this output. Our strong note is to think about ideas grounded in the real world – for example The Great British School Swap was a real-world project we made into a format and absolutely hit a note that felt very contemporary.
We are looking to commission at least one ‘event’ a year that creates waves. It could be a live event, a huge experiment, a stripped piece… innovation should be at the heart of it and feel so special that it can only be an ‘event’ piece. Historically we have commissioned Plane Crash, Our Gay Wedding: The Musical, The Battle of Orgreave or The Seven Sins of England. It could be connected to a moment in time (like Our Gay Wedding) or could be a factual drama that captures a very contemporaneous subject.
We are increasingly looking to experts for the answers in a hugely complex world that is littered with fake news, untruths and spin. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic what will our audiences want answers to? Climate change, advancement in medical sciences and ethics are all areas we are keen to commission. We have commissioned two series around new medical procedures and looking for more. We are missing subjects in the ethics space, think Simon’s Choice, or when medicine meets crime. We are also looking for a popular science series at 8pm that could be fronted by a new face in science. Format and tone are crucial here. We’re looking for fun and informative, not something that feels like a dry school science lesson.
We are keen to divide History into four different areas.
Returning Popular Series
We want to find a returnable history series. We have My Grandparents’ War which was a hugely successful series and would like to find at least one more. This series could feature famous faces or be something that transports an audience to a different era using technology perhaps. What is our version of living history?
We had great success in the Jade series and have recently announced a series about the impact The Spice Girls have had on British culture. We are in the market for more in this space. What are the moments, people, or products that have had huge impact on British culture, society, politics…? We would love to expand our search and think about more diverse subjects and people
Putin: A Russian Spy Story and the upcoming Paul Dacre / Daily Mail series are good examples of series that explore a well known subject but offer a very very different, alternate view on the world we think we know, want to know or chose to ignore. We want to hear of more in the space but it's important we tackle different subjects and have a pokey or counter intuitive approach.
We are relaunching this strand. At their heart these films need to have revelation or revisionist history. We want to challenge the received wisdom regarding many aspects of our British History. We will be focusing on untold moments of history from a strong, unique POV that offers a different, new truth. We also want to unearth real discoveries and capture moments that reveal something new about history. Richard III: The King in the Car Park, The First Brit: The 10,000 Year Old Man, Sathnam Sanghera’s The Massacre That Shook the Empire and David Lammy’s Unremembered: Britain’s Forgotten War Heroes are good examples in this space. We are especially keen to commission these films underrepresented producers and nations/ regions companies.
From terrifying tasks on SAS: Who Dares Wins, to Guy Martin risking life and limb, or Ant Middleton nearly dying on Everest, Adventure is as popular as ever on Channel 4. Now, as well as continuing with these adventure favourites, we’re also looking for the next generation of hit shows too. We get a lot of pitches about hairy men doing tough things. But what are women, families and young people looking to do to push themselves out of the everyday? Race Across the World and New Lives in the Wild are softer takes on the adventure theme that have proved hugely popular on other channels. What’s our next big adventure returner?
We have been looking for a popular returning arts series for the last 18 months and hope we’ve found one in the fantastic Grayson’s Art Club. We would also like to commission one big arts event a year. Be inspired from our past successes like Our Gay Wedding: The Musical, The Death of Klinghoffer, Battle of Orgreave and Hunger. These big pieces will need to be co-commissioned with a partner or come with significant financing.
We have had big successes in our mini series like Artist in Residence and singles like Superkids: Breaking Away From Care, 100 Vaginas and Akram Khan’s The Curry House Kid. We are looking for a handful of provocative films that will punctuate the schedule. They could be with known talent but they should all feel revelatory and say something strong about the world we are living in.
First Cut and new directors
We are committed to finding and nurturing the next generation of filmmakers. First Cut is a brilliant opportunity but we are also keen to commission outside of this strand if the idea is right. We are particularly focused on finding new, underrepresented voices – black, Asian and minority ethnic, disabled, lower socio-economic and females are all underrepresented in the directing space.
First Cut exists to launch the careers of new factual directors with this career-defining strand.
The films are commissioned for a one hour slot. We want to provide emerging directors a platform to showcase their directorial authorship and we are especially looking for new voices from diverse backgrounds.
Prospective directors need to show that they are hugely creative and are passionate about pushing the bar of factual tv and making programmes that audiences will want to watch.
We often match directors with ideas and production companies so directors should feel comfortable in sending across CVs, work samples and coming in for a coffee to introduce themselves (eligibility details below). Equally, indies should feel free to pitch ideas without talent attached and prospective directors can of course come with ideas they want to see on screen. We are obviously keen to see classic observational documentaries and access pieces but we are also very much on the lookout for entertaining formats, inventive cross-genre approaches and new takes on narratives or how we use on-screen talent - but each hour in its finished form should demonstrate a confident directorial perspective.
Traditionally, First Cut directors have been Assistant Producers who have worked on a variety of factual programming or be recent film school graduates but we are now more open to people who come through a different route. However, it’s worth noting that the standard for entry is now typically at the level of a highly reliable DV Director with great references from established execs and series producers but we are aware this may not be the case for everyone, so please get in touch.
New directors should be able to articulate and explain their vision and approach to an idea or give a distinct sense of what they would bring to a project. Those not on the traditional directorial trajectory, but with significant experience and talent in other genres should consider the door open – particularly talented photographers or editors for example who would like to make their first broadcast film.
We are looking for a couple of series to commission for E4. The series have to be entertaining first but grounded in the real world. Access into the worlds of money, fashion, work and love around the subjects of identity, sexuality and race are good territories.
We are always looking for new faces especially from underrepresented groups to front single films, mostly in our Secret History strand. We are also keen to hear ideas with new talent for the True Stories short form strand where we can test people first.
We are strengthening our relationship with partners – international networks, streamers, SVODs, advertiser funded… It would be very good to be thinking about this at the point of pitching an idea but please don’t worry if you don’t have experience in this area. We can tell you more and introduce you to the right people. We often work with Europeans, US and Australian networks and streamers. We also work with AFP more and aim to commission more co-financed programming in the future.
For the Factual True Stories brief, please click here.