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Second Lives Club documentary

INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

Identify your biggest challenge - 

I think the biggest challenge with proposal writing is putting yourself in the reader’s shoes and trying to figure out what information would be the most compelling to start with.  It’s all compelling to us because it’s our idea and we’re passionate about it.  But trying to figure out what will hook the reader and then writing it up in a dramatic way to get their full attention, get them excited and ultimately their approval, that is the real challenge for me.

GOOD PROPOSAL, BAD PROPOSAL

Showgirls is an example of a “good idea, bad proposal”. At first glance, I’m put off just by the formatting. There are (1)no headings, such as the hook, introduction, format or style. This makes the proposal harder to read and eyeball by a busy media executive. There’s a (2)word spacing problem making some sentences look like a big word and (3)no spacing around the border. Again this makes it more challenging to want to read. There are no (4)program lengths given or number of episodes in the series. You don’t know it’s a (5)series until the very end.

The (6)hook – that the main character is going to restage the first topless show in Las Vegas and the women he’s hiring and that we will be following don’t know that they will be required to dance topless – is too far down in the proposal and lost in the explanation of the format and style, which again should be highlighted under separate subheadings. Instead in the first paragraph we have the price of a shrimp cocktail, which is (7) extraneous information. There might be a connection there to what else was happening in 1959 but it’s not made very well.

There is no (8)contact name or information given. A (9)production company is credited that specializes in an entirely different type of programming, which will not make the reader feel confident about their ability to successfully produce this series. Also being a cost efficient producer is a plus but using the phrase (10)“low budget” conjures up another less professional image. And lastly we have to ask is this proposal for a series on topless showgirls in Las Vegas being pitched to the (11)right network. DIY seems to be the name of a company that would have Martha Stewart type programming unless they want to feature how to sew with feathers and dress like a showgirl!

Depending on how you count, there’s at least 11 flaws with this proposal.

TARGET AUDIENCE

I am writing a proposal profiling 50+ women who are reimaging their lives with all the ups and downs. The obvious TV outlets for this type of programming would be women’s networks and those featuring documentaries. I looked at Oxygen but it seems to skew young. Lifetime’s programs are lighter family, romance and other dramatic themed features, nothing on the more serious side. WE does not accept unsolicited submissions nor does IFC that pulls exclusively from film festivals. Sundance of course gets its programming from its own film festival. I looked at some Canadian (Zoomer, etc.) and British channels but got the sense that they favored proposals coming from their own countries. That left me with RLTV, a relatively young network targeting boomers and older. I am not thrilled with this choice for a number of reasons, one being their name is rather lackluster and misleading, but have emailed them requesting their submission proposal guidelines as is stated on their web site.

In the meantime, I have looked through the channel’s programming schedule and made an assessment. As they state online … “RLTV is the only media network designed and built specifically to engage today’s 50+ audience — one of the most important, influential consumer groups in history.” So the target is right and reaching both male and female audiences is not a bad thing. The half-hour and hour programming is varied ranging from general news, to health and home segments, travel and celebrity focused shows and only one or two mentions of documentaries. There is some programming that wants to showcase boomers following their passions and living their dreams but it’s packaged within a standard TV format or cluttered with celebrities. Consequently the angst and emotion and overall drama are missing. What I want to propose to RLTV is something that is less TV fare and more feature film oriented with amazing and engaging talent who are everyday people. Because they are still a growing network and still getting their legs so to speak, they could be open to testing the waters with different TV fare. There is also the possibility that the profiles I capture could be packaged into half hour programs if that approach is more appealing.

Postscript:  RLTV has just responded to my query for submission guidelines.  When ready I am to sign and return their submission release form and then submit my proposal and/or materials.  They will review it in 6-8 weeks from the date they receive it and will respond either passing on the idea or requesting a phone conversation to discuss the project further.

THE CREATIVE BRIEF

One could spend hours and an endless number of episodes just exploring the beautiful Walthamstow Marshes, Lea Valley and River and the result would be most satisfying. However, what I find most interesting is the area’s history as a lammas land or common land used for cattle grazing and growing crops. After the Norman Conquest of 1066, the land was divided and brought and sold, but the common right of pasturage was left intact up until today. This season of free grazing rights began on or about Lammas day, around 1st August, through to Lady Day around 25th March. In a one hour documentary:

I would like to explore:

  • how the land was used for this purpose over the centuries
  • how did this ancient custom originate and endure
  • who were the folks who took advantage of it
  • how did they compare to private land owners
  • who still takes advantage of this right today

I would like to interview:

  • Families whose ancestors made use of the land
  • Families who currently make use of the land
  • People who live on the house boats in the area
  • Officials who manage the rights to the area

I would like to also include several sidelines on:

  • Local boathouse lifestyle
  • Canal/locks boat tours
  • Comparison to other similar common areas, especially Boston Commons

WHAT'S YOUR GENRE

Upon further thought, I would like to use Walthamstow Marshes as a starting point to explore three to five other examples of common land still being shared today by local inhabitants. Ideally these examples will be from different parts of the world to show how universal the practice was and possibly still is. I can show how the concept travelled to the USA by focusing on the Boston Commons and then use current day examples of where this concept is still in play. I suspect community gardens or food cooperatives will have some importance here. This could change the arc of the story to one encompassing environmental and food industry issues.

There is a hybrid of genres that could be employed here: verite documentary, place as central character, specialist factual/history, archive-driven, historical re-enactment. Re-enactment could be expensive to capture and may not mix well with the current day examples. I would like to avoid using voice over and an on-set interviewer. I could start with a Walthamstow Marshes family currently using the land whose ancestors date back a few centuries. Using family portraits, Ken Burns style, and video verite and dialogue of the family’s present day use of the land, I could communicate the history of the common lands and their persistence today.

It’s easy to understand how the idea would travel to America. From there I would use video verite and archival materials again to show its breadth across the globe. The program will naturally have to take a bit of a turn when we get to present day. Here I believe I will need to film some on camera interviews intercut with scenes of the land in question to clarify how and why the common lands are still in use today when agriculture has moved to rural farmlands and common city areas have turned into parks.

I live in a tall hi-rise building on the Hudson River facing the Empire State Building and we have two herb gardens residents can pick their parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, etc. from. The farm to table concept is getting popular with many restaurants. Are private homes far off? See how easy it is to go off into several more topics?…for another documentary. SecureBuy SLC Hybrid: verite documentary, quest, personality driven, Tongue and cheek, Humor, Chapters, ex. “Why does FB not advertise to people over 65” each chapter highlighting one of the falsities of aging, Talk about how our bodies have to change to accommodate the same tasks and others we do in our older age

The following is a discussion on genre for my own project. I know we are suppose to guard our work but I would really like at least Nicola’s input.

THESIS:

Women aged 50 and above are at a crossroads in their lives due to an empty nest , loss of parents or spouse, company downsizing, relocation or just plain boredom. They are in relatively good health with some wealth, are living longer and are reinventing the concept of retiring. Instead they are starting new companies or careers, going back to school, traveling and with a purpose, buying homes and giving back. Some know what they want to do next, others have some ideas and the remainder haven’t a clue or have just realized the have 30 to 40 vital years ahead with less pressing family and work responsibilities. No matter which of these three phases women may be in there is a lot of emotion and angst that goes into this decision-making and much satisfaction and joy at the end.

Possible GENRES:

1) I was thinking I would like to produce a roughly 90 minute verite documentary that is character/personality driven and that certainly presents a quest each featured woman would be on. It will inform and inspire this audience with views of what constitutes a second life and how we arrived at this time and place that make it feasible. It will do this primarily by characterizing different second life styles within different contexts. Six or so women in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s will be interviewed and followed with the video camera as they go about living one of three stages of this period of recreation. The production can be broken up by each woman’s story or by the stage of the reinvention process she is in. Their stories will inspire and offer ideas on how to jumpstart one’s own reinvention. This was the most obvious approach to take but depending on the personalities selected, it could turn out to be repetitive and less informative and entertaining.

2) I want the documentary to also tell the truth about aging, bypassing the stereotypes and digging down to the inspiring and sometimes upsetting stories of real women. These women may also be dealing with corporate downsizing, forced retirement, financial setbacks, aging and ailing parents, divorce hood or widowhood, boomerang children, downsizing and relocation, technology challenges, failing minds and bodies but despite that they have endless enthusiasm and passion for what will happen next. The goal is to illustrate that 50+ women are resourceful and not afraid of change or challenges and that they believe their next life is the best, aging never gets old, and happiness and fulfillment have no expiration date. So while verite may still be the genre, reality comedy/humor may be how to approach the dilemmas of aging. In this case chapters each can break up the video wittily headlining one of the quirks of aging. Within each of these chapters though you would still learn the second life choices each woman has made but coupled more closely within the context of reality she is living. For example, Chapter 1 – When boomerang kids return and invade your home office, Chapter 2 – Lift or sag, dye or gray, date or not?, etc. So in a way this tongue-in-cheek approach highlights the obstacles to living one’s second life.

TITLE

I thought these title categories were the best ones to consider for a documentary on common land usage staring Walthamstow Marshes:

Common sayings/Play on words, Double entendre, Statement, “Ronseal”, Promise an answer, Juxtaposition, Famous name/place, Twist on an already title, Intrigue

I looked up frequently used phrases with the words “common” and “collective” for some inspiration:

 - Common core, bond, sense, denominator, ground, good, law, market, stock, wealth        - Collective good

Here are ten plus titles, some are descriptive and some are a play on words:

Common Land Marriage

Common Land Usage

Farming on Public Land

Global Communal farming

Communal Farming around the Globe

Common Sense Land Use

Farming on Common Ground Common

Ground Common

Good Food

Collective Food

Collective Farm to Table

Social Farming

Social FoodWorking

I’m favoring “Common Ground” at this point. It’s of course a catch phrase that pretty much sums up how these lands are to be used by a community.

The working title for my own documentary is “Second Lives Club”. That’s the current name of my web site and startup business. It’s a play on the title “Second Wives Club”, a film about characters that are also starting anew. Club denotes community, which is what we are building online. Our title tested well in small groups I think because it doesn’t mean the end of something but the beginning. So many of the words used to describe mid to later life are offensive and demeaning in the sense that they imply a phasing out of society and value. A number of books and web sites catering to my same audience have titles with the word “age” or “mid-life” or an actual number (40, 50, 60). These are too limiting and too focused on age and not how women are living their lives at this stage. And we need to stay away from the “R” word…retirement. Although “reinvention” and “reimagination” are a start in a better direction.

Since my documentary will profile women’s lives, I need to consider adding something to the title that clarifies that but without greatly lengthening the title. Maybe a tagline is the way to go. This has potential: “Second Lives Club: Profiles of women with reimagination”

STRUCTURE AND DURATION

“Ancient Discoveries” is an hour long series on the History Channel that covers a range of topics, one per show, from Chinese Warfare to Ancient New York. I think the topic Walthamstow Marshes and common lands would fit in here. I don’t believe there is enough intrigue with this topic to keep it going over a shorter series unless we were to find some interesting characters to feature the entire show around. (Are there any swamp people living on the outskirts of London?) An hour is enough time to trace the history of common lands starting with Walthamstow and a few other locations. There were no program submission guidelines on the History or A&E web site so the exact length will still have to be further investigated.

For my own project, Second Lives Club, as I have already discussed above RLTV appears to be the only channel that truly targets the audience my documentary is about. (I have looked further at the OWN network and was really disappointed to see that Oprah has basically copied what everyone else is doing…. nothing terribly original or with any depth.) However, I could look further at HBO and PBS who have a more general audience but do feature documentaries on a regular basis. And the PBS audience does skew older. Their POV documentary series has an open submission process each year. Having said that I would be just as interested in a theatrical release, which could involve various film festivals or further investigation of other distribution channels.

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