Our trainees cover their experience of the mid-section of the online residential training



The third day of DocLab was crammed with engaging information and encouraging talks. Grierson DocLab Alumni Holly Lubran spoke to us; it was great to hear from someone previously on DocLab speak about their career. We also ran our pitch ideas by her, and it was motivating to get some feedback from her.

In the afternoon we had a talk from Ed Barlow from the BBC. Ed was extremely engaging and pleasant to listen to, he presented us with several clips and spoke about what was ‘real’ within them. It was fascinating to get further insight into editing and manipulation within documentary. I enjoyed seeing how specific techniques within programmes evoke additional emotion for audiences.


We started Wednesday off with an exercise which taught us about the scheduling of programming and what a typical week of evening broadcasting looks like. I found this both useful and engaging as I had never really thought about the impact of timing on programming. We discussed Channel 5’s input specifically, as I had never noticed that the channel has a different theme to each night of programming (e.g. Monday’s output was focussed on police, Tuesday’s on animals, and Wednesday on the Royal Family).

This was a useful exercise, as it made me think more about the broadcaster I would pitch my own idea to, as well as what time-slot my programme could potentially fit into. We also each looked at one of the programmes within the 7-12 time slot and analysed the genre and format of the programme. This further helped with my knowledge of factual television and made me think more about the thought behind the filmmakers’ choices. It was a great way to start off the day before we heard from the day’s speakers.


After the scheduling exercise, we pretty much immediately started work on our pitches so that they would be ready for the big day on Friday. This was a good chance to overcome some nerves by saying your ideas out loud for the first time. Mainly though I just liked hearing the other trainees’ amazing ideas for documentaries that I really hope get made.

Afterwards, we spoke with former DocLab trainee Holly Lubran, who now works in development and has been involved with a huge number of TV shows. I’m sure everyone in the group would agree that Holly was fantastic. Not only did she really help to explain what developmental departments do (and how fun they can be) but she was really nice and took a lot of time with each of us individually to listen to our pitches, give specific advice on formatting ideas and answer any other questions we had! It was a great opportunity to start thinking about where the first steps may be in our own career post-DocLab.

Grierson DocLab 2020 trainees with Jonny Taylor



Thursday Morning began with fascinating insight into the world of Netflix documentaries with Jonny Taylor. We learnt about his career path and what Netflix looks for in a pitch, as well as how they navigate developing content after commissioning.

Carol, our trainer, opened our minds to a range of film and programming of different sub-genres. They explored interesting and different perspectives, some were author lead while others were developed from archive footage, simultaneously expanding our technical vocabulary.

We then went into breakout rooms to speak to talent managers Tamara Durnford (All3Media) and Debbie Hartley (The Garden). We learned about their careers and got a chance to ask questions in smaller groups. This was great as we were able to discuss certain subjects more in depth and from the view point of those hiring people, so found out what they look for in a good CV and the best way to approach entry level roles.

Thursday also saw us preparing for the big pitch coming up on Friday! We began to practice pitching and helping each other's ideas develop in breakout rooms. This was really helpful because getting another person's fresh perspective on your idea encourages you to think about it in terms of the audience, and it was fun bouncing ideas off the group while also getting the chance to mix with different participants.


The residential had reached just over the halfway point, and symbolised a point of no return for the week. As we had been incrementally adjusting our documentary pitches, the Thursday afternoon activities provided us with some tools for developing our story telling. Immediately after lunch, we were siphoned into breakout rooms to lift us from a food induced dip. With only a minute, we had to list all the alternative uses to an object assigned to our room.

The lesson I took away from rethinking a sieve as a fishing net, or as an exfoliator (for some particularly rough skin) was that we always have the ability to shift our perspective. So, when stuck in a creative rut with factual ideas, or if you are working with a contributor who suddenly wants to drop out of the production, how can you change the situation with a shift in viewpoint? A simple but poignant exercise gave a pearl of wisdom we could bring to every working condition we will be facing throughout the traineeship and beyond.

Dispersed throughout the day we were gifted with highly informative and enlightening talks from Johnny Taylor of Documentary Commissioning at Netflix, Tamara Dunford a Talent Manager at All3Media, and Debbie Hartley Head of Talent at Garden Productions. This provided so much brilliant insight, however a highlight for my day came from our valiant and sage trainer Carol Nahra. Managing to provide some balance to the industry knowledge our guests had shared, Carol guided DocLabbers on an excavation of factual narrative forms.

The exercise of analysing how access may be agreed on a high stakes and potentially fatal situations of an intensive care ward featured in Channel 4’s Bring me to Life, gave a great tool kit for considering the best types of footage for programming, whilst still trying to balance a duty of care to contributors (conscious and unconscious). By looking at simply the narration of a programme, we can see a lot about the possible relationship between the directors and crew, with the families and loved ones who had people they cared for undergoing intensive medical treatment. I loved hearing the feedback from my fellow trainees and discussing how questions of consent and the power a camera has over people, often allowing them to feel free to speak their thoughts and foster a full-flowing stream of consciousness.

Grierson DocLab 2020 trainees with Tamara Durnford

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

Published: 27 August 2020

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