Meet the experts

Phoebe Fleming reports on DocLab's industry masterclass day

Phoebe Fleming

This year’s Grierson DocLab trainees attended a jam packed day of talks and presentations from some of the UK’s leading commissioners, producers, distributors and post-production facilitators, run in partnership with the BFI Doc Society Fund.

Starting at the BBC, we met with Grierson Trustee and BBC Head of TV Commissioning, Tom McDonald and his team of commissioners, who cover specialist factual, history, science and natural history. Tom began the session by having each of his team explain how they got into commissioning and their career to date. An equal spread across production and development experience made it evident there is no set path to becoming a commissioner. This comes as a relief for many of us who are undecided exactly what we want to do, and therefore which path to take. As Simon Young said, try different things, and you will learn something new on every job.

We then headed over to Clear Cut Pictures. First we were joined by another Grierson Trustee, Simon Chinn, Co-Founder of Lightbox and double Academy Award winning producer. He talked us through the pre-production of one of his most famous films Man on Wire. Simon’s advice was to always keep other ideas on the go, even when engaged in a long term project.

Daniel Green from Dogwoof explained marketing and distributing for docs. A technique he said to be useful was keeping an eye out for fiction films with the same theme as documentaries, and trying to engage the market for the fiction film as part of your strategy.

Lawrence Elman from Docsville talked about funding for docs. Partnered with The Guardian’s documentary division, Docsville, co-founded by Lawrence and Nick Fraser, former Editor of BBC Storyville, is both a platform and funding partner. Commissioning editors ‘need you, almost more than you need them’, Lawrence told us, ‘you just have to let them know that you’re here’.

Jo Dunscombe from the British Council followed, explaining the support the British Council can offer if filmmakers would like to go to festivals where their film has been nominated. A list of eligible festivals can be found here:

Finally, Rowan Bray, Managing Director of Clear Cut Pictures and her team joined us to discuss the issues filmmakers can often face if they haven’t considered their post-production workflow before shooting.

Our thanks go to all the speakers, and to Clear Cut Pictures and the BBC for kindly hosting us for the day.

Former DocLabber (2017), Phoebe is a camera operator, photographer and editor working in documentary, music videos and commercials. You can read more of her blogs at

Published: 12 December 2018

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