On Tuesday 19 September, Information & Cultural Exchange (I.C.E) hosted the SBS ‘Meet the Broadcasters’ event at I.C.E, Parramatta. The event introduced local screen content producers to the SBS commissioning team for an evening of information and networking. The SBS team, including commissioning editors from SBS, NITV, SBS On Demand, SBS Viceland and Food Network, presented an overview of their current commissioning slate, future ambitions, and met with local emerging and establish screen creatives from Western Sydney.
Over 100 filmmakers, screen content producers, writers, artists, and journalists attended the event. Attendees had an invaluable opportunity to hear about the broadcaster’s future programming decisions, content trends, and most importantly, the opportunity to network with the commissioning team in person.
The event kicked off with Marshall Heald, Director, Television and Online Content Head SBS, welcoming guests and outlining the objective of the night.
John Godfrey, Head of Unscripted at SBS, followed with a brief history of the requirements of unscripted content on the SBS/NITV broadcasters. SBS Unscripted, said Godfrey, is looking for strong personal narratives, factual entertainment, food, and cross-platform events. Godfrey advised the audience to think about social issues that haven’t been covered. Their focus, he said, is to display content that informs the audience of uncommon issues and inspires change in their lives. This objective has been achieved with the issue of homelessness through SBS’s ‘Filthy Rich & Homeless’ program. SBS research revealed that one in three viewers donated money and engaged in conversations with the homeless after the program was aired.
Commissioning Editor of Documentaries SBS, Susie Jones provided an overview for all those interested in documentaries. All documentary proposals, said Jones, must be able to play at 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm slots; half-hour slots are not available. Jones described how SBS is seeking more contemporary approaches including multicultural histories and single documentaries which are vital to their plans. SBS is seeking submissions for Untold Australia which explore hidden multicultural worlds and subcultures that are not typically explored in contemporary Australia. “We need untold stories that can surprise or shock an audience” Jones reaffirmed. For interested documentary-makers, submissions are due by 6th October, with details available on the SBS website.
Also, among the commissioning team was Head of Scripted, Sue Masters. Scripted are looking for distinctive and thought-provoking ideas that reflect the SBS charter and explores multiculturalism and diversity in ways rarely seen on Australian television. Drama and comedy remain the predominant areas of interest.
“SBS Scripted is not just about reflecting diversity, it’s about focusing on big themes and issues that are affecting Australia and the world today. At SBS we want to see ideas and themes that no other Australian network can commission” – Sue Masters
The SBS charter allows screen content makers to look at the fault lines in society, to focus on misunderstood communities, the disadvantaged, the dispossessed, and find stories that help promote social cohesion.
“We are particularly committed to telling stories about communities that we rarely see on our screens. We want to nurture, showcase and promote the best talent from Australia’s creative community,” said Sue Masters, who added that SBS offers a rich development slate and a healthy budget exploring many charter themes for development.
“We’d love to merge genres and see supernatural themes, high actions, ghost stories, biological thrillers, family mysteries, intergenerational, tensions, sexism, disability, ageism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and (stories from) those who particularly come from Arabic backgrounds as well as cultural celebrations, joy through food, faith, rituals and many more” – Sue Masters
Sue explained that they’re actively encouraging relationships and partnerships with international broadcasters, production companies, and distributors so that they can find ideas and stories which can travel on a large landscape with like-minded partners.
They’re also seeking rich creative, innovative and culturally involved short film series for SBS On Demand. SBS On Demand has a significant appetite to produce comedy and encourages projects that bend genres and explore rich cultures. “We’re seeking stories and ideas that you will never expect to see on other Australian networks” said Sue Masters. Sue invited attendees to have a chat with her after the session to discuss their potential ideas; “We must be bold and fearless, so come to me and our wonderful commissioning editors with those bold and fearless projects.”
Amongst the team was Rhanna Collins, project manager of National Indigenous Television (NITV), who was representing channel manager Tanya Orman on the night. NITV is a channel made by, for and about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The kids’ space is a key priority for NITV. Collins sees an urgent need for the Indigenous community to be active on screen.
“Indigenous kids deserve to see their lives and faces on screens, to be represented is to be included” – Rhanna Collins
NITV continue to give opportunities to those pursuing their first credits in the TV industry; ultimately, this opens up a world of unique stories and storytellers. If you’re an emerging indigenous filmmaker, be sure to look out for those opportunities.
“We want to showcase indigenous talents and expertise in a variety of disciplines opening up a new world of experience, inside activities and genres we already know and love” – Rhanna Collins
In summary, NITV looks for content to suit all audiences, however, children’s content, culture, and interlanguage content is a very high priority for NITV. Indigenous voices, ownership, and perspective is a driver for all content.
“We care about our audience; they are a community and deserve their stories to be told” Collins asserted. There are strict commissioning guidelines, which require at least three creatives in to be Indigenous. NITV will offer license agreements and post license agreements to successful commissions. They want to work with industries that share the value system that NITV portrays, and look for practitioners that understand the unique position of NITV, and who would honour it.
The evening concluded with a Q&A session. The commissioning team concluded by saying they are currently at record levels producing local stories. Multicultralism is predominant in SBS On Demand with 80% of its content in languages other than English.
After the Q&A, everyone made their way to the dining area for light refreshments, to network with the commissioning teams and other industry stakeholders.
Image: Ludwig Haddad
Words: Yusra Hadi
Yusra Hadi is a multi-media journalist based in Sydney. She is currently studying a bachelor of Communications at Western Sydney University and is undertaking an internship at Information & Cultural Exchange (I.C.E)