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The Program Proposal

When doing longer format productions, it's important to write up a proposal. These documents state clearly to readers what your show is about, its message, its target audience and even provides an estimated budget. In fact, the proposal is a key factor towards getting your show funded and, ultimately, distributed.

The proposal format may vary, but at minimum the document should contain these elements:

  • Program or Series Title - the title says it all. Keep it short and simple, but write one that is memorable, that piques curiosity and motivates
  • Objective or Process Message - a brief statement about the desired message that you want the audience to get from watching the show
  • Target Audience - a well-defined process message helps determine the target audience. Be specific about the intended audience, whether it's pre-schoolers or pensioners, men or women, etc. The temptation is to say 'general audience' but shows are defined in terms of their demographics such as gender, ethnicity, religion, geographical location, even consumer buying habits. Demographics are used widely by advertisers and this may also help you determine where to distribute your show, i.e., NBC, National Geographic, PBS, etc.
  • Show Format - are you producing a stand-alone show or a series? How long is the show? The format helps you know how you want the show to be distributed and is also vital for planning the budget.
  • Show Treatment - a narrative description of the show, that could take up several pages. But start out with a brief treatment that helps readers get a sense of what the show will look like when finished.
  • Production Method - will the production be shot ENG or EFP style, or a combination of both field and studio? Will you shoot live or will there be heavy emphasis on post-production? You also need to determine the need for costumes, props and other additional materials under production method.
  • Tentative Budget - an estimate of your budget is made using the latest rates available through independent production and post-production houses. A budget reflects the costs associated with the production services, equipment rentals and wages. Budgets also include travel expenses, food and lodging, gratuities and even legal services that include liability insurance. Usually insurance is calculated to be about 20 percent of your total budget.
  • Timeline - come up with an estimate of how long it will take you to achieve certain tasks. Usually the timeline includes how long you can expect to work on pre-production, production and post-production. It often takes less time to do the production work (camera and lighting) than it will doing post-production (editing, marketing and distribution). A timeline is helpful in determining the budget.