Guest Blog: Pitching to C4 Random Acts with Pegah Farahmand

Posted February 26th, 2016 by Matt Turner


Pegah Farahmand is the Editor of Channel 4’s short film strand Random Acts. Dedicated to the arts, Random Acts was created in 2011 to “escape the conventions of arts broadcasting and to expand its possibilities.” Pegah joined them last year, and in this guest blog tells us about her experiences with shaping a new direction for the platform, as well as offering advice to SP members about how to pitch films to her.

Channel 4 were looking to relaunch the Random Acts strand, having broadcast more than 500 short form artist driven films from the likes of Marina Abramovic, Ai Weiwei, Gillian Wearing and Wolfgang Tillmans, amongst others. It was a really amazing opportunity to take the strand and its incredible heritage and amplify the brand and make it even bigger than before.

When the strand relaunches this spring, it will take a completely new shape compared to what it looked like before. I’ve been focusing a lot on our digital strategy and distribution which will give us a much stronger presence online where i believe the heart of the strand really is. The channel will no longer broadcast the individual films on their own, however an original half hour TV series will bring together a collection of the Shorts and present them (with a host) to a much wider audience – giving them the context and impact they really deserve.

As well as that, a major new partnership with Arts Council England means that Random Acts will become a point of entry into filmmaking for young (16-24yr old) artists across the country.

The films on Random Acts are commissioned in various ways. We’re always open to submissions and gratefully receive a lot of those, although we receive far more submissions than we have Random Acts slots available so its difficult when you have to turn down ideas that you actually quite like. I also reach out to filmmakers who I think are making interesting work and would be great to have featured on the strand. This could be anyone from a production company, an arts institution, a well established filmmaker, or even someone completely unknown whose work I’ve come across on Vimeo or YouTube. I meet a lot of talent at film festivals too. The challenge is that we do have a finite amount of commissions available every year so we can’t commission everything but we have a pretty damn good go at trying. We’re open to co-productions too and often that works quite well for us as its means we get the best films possible.

When pitching to us, keep your treatment simple, no-one has time to read an 18 page document with scripts and frame-by-frame shot lists! It’s an amazing thing to have but it doesn’t necessarily result in a better chance of winning a pitch. My motto has always been if you can’t sell the idea in a sentence then it’s probably going to be difficult to sell in thousands of words. I am a fan of clean, simple treatments that outline what the idea / concept is, what we’re going to see and then any interesting facts about the film.

I don’t expect to see footage but visual references in the form of images and video are often helpful. Additionally, it definitely helps if the artist has examples of their previous work to show. I’ll often check out Vimeo to see what their stuff is like so if your best work isn’t online you should make that a priority!

In terms of content, usually when an idea is bold, original and innovative it stands out. I like seeing something I’ve not seen before, either as the basis of an idea or the execution. That doesn’t necessarily mean really niche ideas, i’m a big fan of populist subjects, but I like seeing those subjects tackled in new and interesting ways. An idea could be incredibly simple and beautiful or it can be a visual slap in the face. Ideas aren’t judged by how shocking they are, but more with what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

Another thing worth noting is that we don’t commission documentaries or profile films for Random Acts, and we very rarely commission scripted narrative shorts too. I get far too many pitches for those sorts of films. I would suggest filmmakers take a good look at the sort of films on Random Acts (and those linked around this blog) to get an idea of the sort of flavour of films we like, and also read the brief ahead of pitching. Random Acts will be relaunching in April, with a host of new content, so definitely check back then to get a better sense of where we are at and the direction we will be going.

Once a film is completed we’ll decide whether we place it online or whether it will be used for online and broadcast too. We’ll be uploading all the films onto the Random Acts YouTube page and then feeding the films onto our new website, to then seed them out onto our social channels and give other video content sites exclusives and features. The process will probably happen quite organically – all the films are so diverse in style and tone, our content manager will really treat each film uniquely and think about how they’re distributed and what partners to work with on them to give us an exclusive feature.

Success is measured in so many ways and i think it’s often subjective what makes a successful film. It could be pure hits, or it could be less hits but more shares. It could be picked up and talked about by opinion formers, or it could be the film that helped to jump start an artist’s career. For us, the most important thing is impact. We want to get the best films out to the most amount of people. We want to strengthen the brand, help it to grow as one of the most powerful online platforms, and to introduce the films on television to a completely new audience.

Over the years, Random Acts has opened the doors to many new artist filmmakers, as well as giving a platform to well established artists to premier their work on TV. It’s incredibly exciting to get films of this genre on TV again after the internet took over for so long and became the hub for this kind of content. We recently gave our audience a sneak peak of what’s to come where we quietly released a claymation film by artist Nicos Livesy online, and it quickly became a viral success, landing a Vimeo Staff Pick and being voted one of the best music videos of 2015 by Rolling Stone. (Beaten only by Drake and Missy Elliot, whoever those guys are, they sound boring).

Lastly, my advice to emerging filmmakers is to watch stuff, be inspired, and stay curious. The world is a bit bonkers so find the space within the insanity and make your mark. Think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. It can be overwhelming how many filmmakers are out there but there’s never been a better time to be making work and getting it out there.

Random Acts will be relaunching in April. Follow them on YouTube.

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