Happy 4th of July to U.S friends out there!
The third episode of my web series,The Secret Lives of Public Servants will be screening on television this Saturday, July 6th and I wanted to reflect back on this experience and share what I have learned to demystify the process.
How It All Began
I got connected to the broadcaster through a friend of mine last year; they were looking for pitches and I had a couple of ideas to discuss, including Secret Lives. I submitted a proposal, we had several conversations during the year, met in person, played phone tag, but I never got a clear answer on anything for several months. Or if I did, what was being requested was not feasible for me, based on my work schedule.
So I actually didn’t think anything was going to transpire out of these exchanges since it had now been a year and a half since our first encounter. About two months ago, however, I got an email asking if I had anything to pitch. A bit cynical at this point, I offered up Secret Lives again, thinking it was unlikely because I lacked E&O insurance or the subject matter would not be a fit. I still did not know if anything was confirmed, actually until even a few weeks ago, when I finally signed the licensing contract (woo-hoo!).
As you will gather watching the episode, there are lots of elements in this episode that would make a broadcaster nervous. It all revolves around cosplay, specifically a Marvel character and there are scenes at Toronto Fan Expo…where there are children sometimes on screen. For several weeks I was answering phone calls/emails on which release forms I had and just when it seemed resolved, there would be another outstanding element that would have to be accounted for, where I didn’t have the necessary paper work. Luckily in those cases I was told that they would make the change in the edit suite.
So, what do I have to consider for next time? When you’re at a place like a comic con, get everyone to sign a release form, even when your DOP says not to worry about it since it’s a crowd and people are expecting to be filmed. I am so relieved that I also wrote notes to myself on the release forms to tell me who was who (ex. “little girl asking for autograph”). Two pivotal scenes include children and I thankfully still had the release forms on hand. Also, keep all your paperwork organized! I had a brief panic, wondering if I had all necessary forms in one spot, but thank goodness I had thought in advance to store everything in a folder labelled “contracts”. I was not so great with organizing my email folders, though, and had the unfortunate experience of realizing I had not paid Getty Images for some stock footage. This set me back $3000, one of the many joys of self-production.
Broadcasters also always prefer that filmmaker have E&O insurance (errors and omissions), but I am still on the fence about that one when it’s an independent production. However, I also wouldn’t have had to go through all of the above rigmarole if I had had it in the first place…
Always negotiate the pay being offered in a licensing contract and aim for non-exclusive deals. The worst can happen is they say no.
Be organized, dot your i’s and cross your t’s, because you don’t want to have it all come back to you later.
Be patient and realize that sometimes a “no” just means a “maybe later”.
Get to know broadcasters, they are more likely to respond to your emails once they know you and trust you.
Happy filmmaking and independent producing!
Amen Jafri spent 10 years in communications and HR in the federal public service, before pivoting into film and television production. She is currently an Associate Producer at The Cable Public Affairs Channel. Her first film, The City That Fun Forgot?, was made without any prior experience and it had a sold-out premiere in 2014, garnering local and national media coverage. Since then, her other works have been shortlisted for the TVO Short Doc Contest and screened for TVO, the American Documentary Film Festival and more. She is the creator of the seven-time nominated web series, The Secret Lives of Public Servants, and the director of Creatorland, a Wingd/Bell Media series on entrepreneurship. In 2018 she won for Best Directing in Non-Fiction at the IAWTV Awards and participated as a fellow in Hot Docs’ Emerging Filmmaker Lab.