Persuasive Proposal Writing for TV Producers and Documentary Filmmakers

Nicola Lees, Founder/Editor

Play Speed
  • 0.5x
  • 1x (Normal)
  • 1.25x
  • 1.5x
  • 2x
12 Videos (1h 44m)
    • Introduction and Overview (6.56)

    • Good Proposal, Bad Proposal (10.38)

    • Target the Audience (6.37)

    • Your Creative Brief (1.50)

    • Genre (9.50)

    • Title (10.26)

    • Structure and Duration (6.54)

    • Synopsis (12.47)

    • Constructing Your Narrative Outline: Story, Episode and Character Detail (21.19)

    • Approach and Style: The How of the Narrative (4.04)

    • Editing: Perfecting and Polishing Your Prose (5.33)

    • Next Steps (7.27)


About This Class

Do you have a documentary or reality TV idea that you want to pitch, but don’t know where to start? Or have you tried to pitch your ideas but failed to get any traction? Perhaps you are working in TV Development for the first time and no-one has explained what a good proposal looks like (and you are too embarrassed to ask)? Or are you unsure about the difference between a proposal and a treatment?

Whether you are working for a global ‘super-indie’ production company or are an independent filmmaker with a passion project there are some simple proposal writing principles that will increase your chances of attracting channel executives and investors. These principles are the same wherever you are in the world, and whichever TV commissioner, funder or buyer you are pitching to and the examples I use are international.

This course will show you, step-by-step, how to craft a compelling one-page written proposal that will catch the eye of executive producers, commissioning editors and other funding bodies.

According to TV executives and other buyers of documentaries, producers and filmmakers consistently make elementary mistakes when pitching their ideas. This course reveals what they are and how you can avoid them. The key steps are simple to follow and implement – once you know what they are.

Once you've learnt - and practiced - the key principles you will be able to adapt and apply them to any kind of proposal you need to write.

You’ll learn the:

Three-Ps of the pitch and where the written proposal fits in Purpose of the written proposal Difference between a proposal and a treatment Essential elements of a successful proposal Structure that works for different types of TV show/documentaries Key mistakes that producers make when pitching - and how to avoid them

This course is based on what I've learned over 10+ years experience of writing and pitching science, history and arts documentaries, and travel and lifestyle formats in the UK and USA. My proposals have won commissions on the BBC, TLC, Discovery, Science, History, Sky Arts and Travel Channel.

The course is stuffed with practical tips, resource lists, sample proposals and exercises designed to boost your skills and help you write your own commission-winning proposals.

As part of the class you will receive a detailed project brief and you can choose to write a one-page proposal for one (or all) of the following, or a different genre of your choice:

  • An issue-driven documentary
  • A character-driven reality/observational documentary series
  • A landmark specialist factual (art, history, science,religion, natural history) series
  • A lifestyle / competition format

3 of 3 students recommendSee All

The class was exceptional in terms of taking you through the proposal writing process step by step. Interaction with Nicola is priceless. She was very supportive and provided honest and helpful feedback every step of the way. I am proud of the outcome and feel prepared to pitch. Thank you!
This class was GREATLY helpful in writing a proposal. I used this course to write an actual proposal and each section taught me something new that helped me carefully shape the way in which I presented my idea on paper.
Christian Medina

Hiya! I'm a creative entrepreneur





Nicola Lees


Hi, I'm Nicola.

I have developed hundreds of documentaries and lifestyle shows for network and cable channels in the UK and USA, including the BBC, Sky Arts, Discovery Channel, Travel Channel and TLC.

Here's the trailer for the very first documentary I got commissioned - The Guinea Pig Club. It was shown on BBC4 / BBC2 and TLC. And here's the trailer for the most recent commission I helped to develop - Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice for Sky Arts.

When I started working in development no-one taught me what to do; it turned out that no-one else really knew what they they were doing either, so I decided to find out as much as I could and to try to demystify the process.

I interviewed 90+ top industry executives about the development, pitcing and funding process and distilled my personal experience and their advice into two books that aim to explain the whole process. Hopefully other people won't have to make the same mistakes that I did.

Over the past decade, I have written more than 400 factual television programme proposals, and have been directly involved in originating, researching, writing or pitching more than 80 commissioned programmes, including Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice (Sky Arts), Moms on the Road: Africa (Travel Channel), How Not to Be Shark Bait (Discovery), Desperate Midwives (BBC3) and the BAFTA nominated Earth: Power of the Planet (BBC2/Nat Geo).

Every year I attend several film festivals (Sheffield Doc/Fest, Cannes, IDFA)  and conferences (Edinburgh TV Festival, Realscreen) and immerse myself in watching documentaries to see what works - and doesn't work - in today's overcrowded market.

People often aske me to help them develop their ideas, but I just don't have time to take on extra work. This course gives you all tips and tricks that professional development producers and successful filmmakers use to create documetnary films that  funders want to fund and audiences want to watch.

I am the Founder/Editor of, a website that provides industry intelligence to help TV professionals and aspiring filmmakers get their programme ideas commissioned.

Here are my two books: Greenlit: Developing Factual / Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch (2010) and Give Me the Money and I'll Shoot! Finance Your Factual TV/Film Project (2012).

And this is what people in the industry say about my classes and books: Greenlit trailer

"I am really glad I went to Nicola Lees last year when I was writing a one page proposal to submit to the World Congress of Science and Factual Film Producers.  After having done over a year of research and having got excellent access I was having trouble streamlining my content into a compelling and snappy proposal. Nicola’s tips and input really helped shape it and it was shortlisted to be pitched to the Senior Science Editors at the US broadcaster PBS NOVA and the German broadcaster ZDF /3sat, which I was targeting. The pitches went really well and both broadcasters asked for a more detailed proposal. I can honestly say my session with Nicola was really useful in helping me sharpen the angle of the story and in prioritizing the content for both the initial proposal and pitch." - Amelia Vale, TV Producer, London

Find me on: