SBS Documentaries is looking for distinctive, creatively ambitious ideas based on content that emanates from our charter. It’s absolutely crucial that your ideas demonstrate how they explore Australian multicultural issues.
Making Distinctive Documentaries- Our Charter and Commissioning Values
We define distinctive SBS Documentary content in two ways: through our Charter and through our Commissioning Values. Everything we do in SBS Documentaries must reflect our Charter in terms of exploring Australian multicultural issues. But that doesn’t mean worthy or niche – we are looking for creatively ambitious ideas based on subjects that will engage and entertain a broad audience.
Our Commissioning Values are:
* Push Boundaries
* Provoke Debate
* Surprise Audiences
* Inspire Change
Every commission must address these values. These values define SBS Documentaries as different to anyone else in the Australian broadcast landscape, because we want to be known for ideas that other broadcasters wouldn’t consider, we want our documentaries to be talked about, and we want to encourage innovative approaches to documentaries.
This means pushing boundaries in terms of both form and subject. We want to tackle issues from unpredictable angles, we are not afraid to explore taboo subjects, and we want to go where no other broadcaster would dare to go. In terms of pushing boundaries with form, there’s probably no better documentary series that illustrates this than Go Back To Where You Came From. It was a series about asylum-seekers, that 5 years ago, Australian documentary-makers would have tackled differently. But SBS was specifically looking for a new approach to a core SBS subject. We wanted to generate debate, push boundaries, and get talked about.
It’s quite simple - we’re looking for provocative ideas that can become “water cooler TV”. Immigration Nation - The Secret History Of Us brought a skeleton out of Australia’s closet in the form of the White Australia Policy, and made Australia engage with its racist past, provoking debate with historians, in newspapers, and online. Go Back To Where You Came From made the most noise – making headlines around the world in the New York Post, the front page of the International Herald Tribune, and BBC News. Once Upon A Time In Cabramatta created a huge discussion within the Vietnamese Community and throughout the wider Australian population. First generation Vietnamese started talking to their children about their experiences for the first time. In newspapers and in the Senate, the series was referred to as a hugely important lesson in issues that still dominate the multicultural discourse today.
We are looking for documentaries that challenge people’s preconceptions, make people look at things in new ways that are not predictable. We want people to watch our documentaries knowing that the documentary is going to surprise them.
SBS is always seeking documentaries that can challenge and inspire. Our documentaries should inform and influence national discussions, challenge the status quo, and provide alternative perspectives.
What are we looking for?
Big Bold Series
We want high concept documentary series, big in scale, that generate public debate with opportunities for cultural exchange. These are statement-making series, ‘talked about TV’, returnable series concepts, fostering deeper engagement with our audience. These can be landmark history series such as Immigration Nation or Once Upon A Time In Cabramatta, or constructed documentaries such as Go Back To Where You Came From. Minimum 3 x 1 hrs, but can be longer. Issues to focus on are multicultural history, race/racism, health, the immigration/refugee debate, and the Australian Muslim community.
Single Documentaries and Seasons
We commission single documentaries but require them to have high impact. In today’s competitive multichannel environment, it is important for single documentaries to have the ability to punch through and find an audience. We are also building seasons as a way of scheduling single documentaries. We are building a season around Race/Racism, and will always try to build science seasons.
With our indigenous documentaries, we are looking for documentaries that tackle big subjects and can make a difference, like our recent commission, The Tall Man, which focused on indigenous deaths in custody. Character and emotional engagement are qualities that are vital. We want you to surprise our audience with our content by challenging us into new ways of thinking about indigenous Australia. Think differently. Think outside of the traditional observational documentary. It can be more constructed, more thesis-driven, a ‘what if’ drama doc, a swap format, or with an advocate presenter. But the most important quality here is to surprise our audience.
We encourage Production Companies to be on the look out for fresh, new documentary onscreen talent. They should be a provocative multicultural voice who would appeal to our core documentary audience. We are looking for people in both specialist factual and contemporary documentaries – people who can explore Australia from a multicultural perspective with intelligence and a playful nature.
What we don’t commission
We don’t commission arts, natural history and documentaries that don’t have significant Australian content. Our Acquisitions department buy international stories, we commission Australian stories. We also don’t commission half hour documentaries, simply because we don’t have any half hour documentary slots. We do, however, commission feature length documentaries.