Before You Sign | Working with TV Producers

15 October 2019 Before

If you are a non-fiction writer, you may find yourself approached by a researcher or producer, working on behalf of a television production company, inviting you or asking for your work to be included within a piece of factual TV programming. This could be either during the initial research and development stage or in the preparation of a commissioned programme.

This can sound pretty enticing – but before you say yes, make sure you know what you’re getting in return. Last year, we teamed up with PACT, the association for independent TV production companies, to agree a set of good practice guidelines for authors and producers when making programmes together. Authors should familiarise themselves with the principles outlined in the code and tell us of any issues arising.

A few key areas are outlined below.

Hold back on your best work

A researcher or producer will likely want to schedule a telephone conversation so that they can brief you on the nature of scope of their project and discuss the nature of your involvement. You should take care to limit the amount of information that you share at this initial stage and be clear that the initial discussions shall not be the contribution itself unless you expressly agree to this.

How will your work be used?

It will be important for you to understand the context in which your contribution is to be used in the programme and how substantial it will be to the finished work. You may want to clarify that if there are any significant changes to that context resulting, for example, from any editorial changes affecting the narrative arc of the programme, you would want the producer to come back to you to clear further consent.

Negotiate a fee

It may be appropriate to negotiate a fee with the producer, or at least the reimbursement of any travel and subsistence expenses that you might incur in preparing and delivering your contribution. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the producer will be able to guarantee that your contribution will be used in the programme, and so this should be considered when agreeing an appropriate fee. Where there is to be a high degree of reliance on your written work then it may be appropriate to negotiate an option agreement. Contact us if you need further advice on a case-by-case basis.        

Make sure you are credited

You don’t want your contribution or work to go unnoticed – or uncredited. Always seek assurance that your contribution will be accompanied with an appropriate credit, although you may have to accept that the producer will be bound to some extent by the requirements of the commissioning broadcaster. 

Every effort should be made to resolve any issues arising under the code with the relevant producer, but these can be escalated to the Head of Production at the company as may be appropriate.


What was your experience?

We are very keen to hear from writers on their experiences working with factual TV to help us to ensure the code remains fit for purpose. Please contact us with any feedback.

Read the PACT guidelines here

Find out more about the SoA's Scriptwriters Group (SWG)