Our trainees cover their experience of the final two days of the online residential training



This has been such a packed week, filled with amazing information, conversations, talks and tasks - although we had all been nervously waiting for Friday to finally pitch our own ideas to the DocLab group. I did my 3-minute (or so...) presentation in the morning and once the initial fear passed it was so fun to do!! But an even better experience listening to everyone else's; high on adrenaline the morning had such a buzz as we pitched, fedback and applauded one another. The most common comment being “I CAN’T WAIT TO ACTUALLY WATCH THIS”.

Everyone's feedback was incredibly supportive and critical. We are lucky to have been able to create such a constructive space, where we want to listen and be with each other, really keen to get into the nitty-gritty of everyone’s ideas.

The morning was followed by a lovely 11am chat with Tom McDonald (BBC Studios director of Factual) who spoke about supporting diverse voices and new talent. Tom’s talk was so generous, supportive and frank. For instance, it was really refreshing to hear him raise questions about how to approach British stories that are not mediated through the middle-classes and which reflect as many stories as possible from Britain. Also asking how we can continue to tell the most global stories which don’t feel like a university lecture! Both of which are really important challenges. Alongside this, we talked about the reality of trying to make cultural changes within the industry and Tom’s realisation of how long this journey may be, but also how important it is to see this through.

It was really nice to talk to Tom and then Abigail Priddle, who was the next speaker of the day. Abigail (BBC Commissioning Editor) spoke to us about demystifying the commissioning process. Both Abigail and Tom made their way through the industry from very different places and positions, but it was nice to map the crossovers in their experiences.

I think one main piece of advice I have taken from the day is that it is OK to have a variety of experiences, you will always learn something relevant from radio, ob-docs, to factual entertainment - and often you cannot predict where it may lead you. This is really reassuring to hear, as someone who is interested in a range of factual content.

Through Abigail’s discussion we learnt about the reality of what a commissioning editor does, and it was also great hearing her talk about what makes a pitch sing. Having just pitched our own ideas this morning, her tips really resonated with the questions we had; reminding us that we often forget TV should ultimately give us pleasure, “like going on a school trip with your favourite school teacher” - a great line I will keep with me!

All in all it was a great day and so nice to be able to practically apply what we had learnt throughout the week to the pitches that took place in the morning and afternoon - I really do hope that everyone’s programs will make it on TV at some point. Keep your eyes peeled!


Friday was probably the most intense day of the residential, from hearing all the pitches, pitching my own and listening to our guest speakers Tom McDonald and Abigail Priddle - it was a wonderful end to the week. Hearing everyone’s pitches was so inspiring, it was so great to see how our confidence grew so much since the first day and I feel newly inspired to take my pitch forward and continue developing it.

Hearing Tom talk about bridge funding and how there is going to be support in place for freelancers was a very interesting talk especially as we are entering the industry. Both Abigail and Tom talked to us about the process of commissioning and how they decide what gets put on our screen. Hearing them talk about their careers and how they got to where they are today was so inspiring and they were very gracious with all the questions we had.

The final part of the day was pitch feedback from Yen, Carol, Jane and Hannah. Their detailed comments really helped me shape my pitch going forward and understanding what makes the perfect pitch.


On Friday we kicked off the morning with half of the group’s pitch presentations that we had been developing (and dreading) throughout the week. It was a fantastic opportunity to put all the tips, tasks and advice we had gained into practice, and build up our confidence in pitching to an audience.

Following this we had guest speaker Tom McDonald who recently joined BBC Studios in 2020 as Director of Factual and oversees the Natural History Unit, The Science Unit, The Documentary Unit and Factual Salford. Prior to this Tom was Head of Commissioning Natural History and Specialist Factual for BBC Content. Later in the day Abigail Priddle came to speak to us about how she got into telly and gave us tips on how we can do the same. Abigail is BBC Commissioning Editor in Factual commissioning for BBC One, Two, Three and Four. Both Abigail and Tom gave very inspiring talks on how they worked their way up to the positions they currently hold.

Lastly, we had the rest of the pitches - the pressure was on as the morning pitches were a tough act to follow. We went from hearing snippets of everybody’s ideas in the Zoom breakout rooms to listening to well-structured and formed presentations. The pitch feedback was really valuable and it was great to hear such a diverse range of ideas.

Grierson DocLab 2020 trainees with Tom McDonald



Following what was an intense but entirely inspiring week of guest talks, pitching, industry breakdowns amongst a plethora of other training, we had the pleasure of meeting former DocLab trainees to gain an insight of life post-DocLab. The trainees quite clearly were set to go far in their respective career paths and to learn from their experiences of first trying to break into the industry was hugely beneficial and a great way to round off the week.

Although this was the final day in the week, it was not the end for us as we’re all still very much in touch, sharing ideas, job opportunities and are continuing to build and support each other in reaching our goals. On reflection, I don’t think there are many other schemes quite like this in the film industry! I have never felt so inspired, confident and believed in more than I have since completing this week, and I can’t wait to start my career with the backing of these brilliant people.

Grierson DocLab 2020 trainees

Read about the beginning and the middle of the Grierson DocLab online training week.

Published: 27 August 2020

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