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How to sell a documentary to television stations

Updated April 17, 2017

In today’s television market, with so many stations designed for specific audiences, it has become far easier for documentary filmmakers to find carriers for their films. The market is flush with numerous local stations and cable stations, and worldwide networks. This does not make searching for a station to carry your documentary any easier. On the contrary, it requires you to put your best foot forward, essentially using your independently made documentary as a resume for your talents as a documentary filmmaker.

Film your documentary. At this stage, create the film you want. As an independent filmmaker, you have zero restraints, with the exception of a budget. Make it good and make it professional.

Research the various television stations that you wish to solicit your documentary to. Be sure that the topic of your documentary matches with the themes and beliefs of the television stations that will receive a copy of your work.

Show your documentary to the television stations that you have narrowed down as ones that will mesh with the themes of your documentary. Be sure to include cable and satellite television. Look into overseas markets, too.

Follow up with the stations that have seen your documentary. Often a station or cable outlet will receive so many solicitations that yours may get lost in the shuffle. Let the managers know who you are and what your work is. This may encourage them to look at your film again, or it may remind them of your work.

Certify that you have the legal right to distribute the documentary. When a television station accepts your documentary to air, it will require paperwork proving that you are the sole legal owner of the documentary. Make sure you have this information, otherwise, you will risk losing the chance to air your work.

After your film airs, search for a distributor so you can sell your work on DVD or via streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix.

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About the Author

Travis Ames has written for numerous publications since 2007 and has been writing instructional articles online since 2010. His areas of expertise are wide and include travel, politics, arts and entertainment, technology and finance. He currently lives in Portland, Oregon where he will begin teaching in the fall of 2011.