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Masterclass Series Highlights: Getting Access to a Decision Maker Case Study: NHK with Ken-ichi Imamura and Sein Lyan Tun

Masterclass Series Highlights: Getting Access to a Decision Maker Case Study: NHK with Ken-ichi Imamura and Sein Lyan Tun

September, 04 - 2022

Ken-ichi Imamura (Producer at NHK Enterprises) and Sein Lyan Tun (Myanmar filmmaker) talk about approaching broadcast companies, specifically studying NHK in this private Masterclass. This webinar was part of Docs by the Sea Forum 2022, an opportunity for filmmakers from Storytelling Lab and Editing Lab to meet with international producers, commissioners, distributors, festival/market programmers, and sales agents.

Ken-ichi Imamura has been involved with NHK since 1983. He was the commissioning editor of the slot “World Documentary” from 2009 until 2012. Since 2012 he has been working with NHK Enterprises and is in charge of co-production, pre-buy, and commission of TV programmes mainly documentaries. He is one of the founders of Tokyo Docs which started in 2011. Sein Lyan Tun is a Myanmar documentary filmmaker, whose three works—Border Boy (2016), Dream Over Monsoon (2017), and We Are Nuns (2019)—have been selected to broadcast on NHK. 

How to approach NHK

There are three different kinds of decision makers: producers working with broadcasters; producers working with Netflix or similar streaming platforms; and producers working with funds (Sundance, Nordic Fund, CNN Korea). The very powerful sales agents are decision makers because they can help you access the budget.

Ken-ichi Imamura’ insights on one-on-one meetings with decision makers:

  • First of all, the relation between decision makers and filmmakers are equal, because we need good projects and you need support.
  • In NHK, facts and new findings are very important. Prepare fact sheets relating to the project, where the background of the social issue or current affair is explained in detail. 
  • Usually in Asia, all the filmmakers want to make feature-length, but there are not many slots for that in TV channels. Usually it’s 1 hour, 42 minutes, or 30 minutes. Then the audiences are also totally different, so you have to understand.
  • Filmmakers sometimes want to make certain versions of their documentary (for example feature-length). But if you want to access the audience of NHK World, in Japan, you have to think about the audience. Be flexible in making different versions for TV documentaries.
  • If you are still adamant in making a feature-length, in the case that you’re able to finish it, you can show it to the producer, then they will see if they can fit it to the TV slot or not.
  • If you want to work with broadcasting producers, think about the audiences. Like Sein said, you can check the channels, and the slot. For example, Arte France has many different broadcasts, so each decision maker has a different genre. Address them specifically when you pitch.
  • In NHK, most of them can take anything, because it has many slots, and producers can connect your project to other producers in NHK. But you still need to check the broadcast producers. This is generally the rule in the industry.
  • Be curious to work with broadcasters!

Importance of one-on-one meeting

Sein shares some tips based on his experience:

  • Before going on one-on-one meetings with decision makers, do research on: what kind of programmes do they have; what kind of landscape they’re producing; who are you going to talk to. Understand the person and what they want to produce.
  • Talk about your project in a very short form, like logline and synopsis, and very precise. You have to be able to explain the background and situation. They might not ask or have the time for it, but you need to prepare in advance.
  • Before you meet this person, you might want to email them beforehand. Send them an introductory message such as: I’m going to see you in Docs by the Sea, maybe you have some time to read the dossier. So when you meet one-on-one, you can talk more.
  • Prepare a dossier. It’s also a good idea to tailor the dossier depending on who you’re going to see, or what you want to acquire from a certain decision maker.
  • In one-on-one, often you have new ideas, but it’s important to be very honest about what you can do, what you can’t do, and what you have.
  • In one-on-one you’re not selling your project, you’re selling yourself: you show your personality, show your heart, show you’re willing to work on this project.
  • During or after the one-on-one, if the people don’t seem to be interested in your project, don’t be upset. Keep working on your story, keep finding new ways of telling your project and send it to them.
  • In one-on-one, decisions might come very unpredictably and quickly. Keep communicating with this person if you really like to work with them.

In general, preparation and knowledge (which can be achieved through research) is the key in one-on-one meeting. Communication is also crucial. Be patient and don’t be afraid to reach out.

Quoting Ken-ichi: If a project is that good, we don’t forget. We’ll reply to you eventually.