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How Do You Get on the Discovery Channel? 62

Posted by Cliff
from the breaking-into-broadcasting dept.
Anonym1ty asks: "My group of Amateur Radio Operators is planning a DX-Pedition in 2005 to an Island in Alaska. We are planning on operating a station for a few days to become the rare ham radio contact from the island. We already have sponsors, but we want to showcase this event and Ham Radio in some way to the public and were hoping to find some way to get PBS, The Discovery Channel or some other network to tag along with us and showcase what Amateur Radio is. In researching how to contact these I find a sea of red tape. The Discovery Channel Networks only take suggestions from scientists or production crews. PBS seems interested but the few stations I have actually received a response from seem to just mention how they have no budget. How do I find a production company and convince them this would be a good idea? It is important to note that we Ham Radio operators cannot make any money on this and any pecuniary gain would go to the production company."
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How Do You Get on the Discovery Channel?

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  • Easy, DIY (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HuggybearVT (576997) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:38PM (#8526059) Homepage

    Just film it yourself. Buy a digital video camera, get lots of footage, and edit a demo tape. If it's really that interesting, National Geographic, PBS, Discovery, or someone might buy it. They would likely reedit your footage with voiceovers, etc., but expecting them to foot the bill of sending a crew, etc. is a longshot.

    You mentioned that Discovery is only interested in talking to Producers... there you go. Become a producer.

    • Re:Easy, DIY (Score:4, Insightful)

      by 91degrees (207121) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:52PM (#8526211) Journal
      I'd agree more or less, but would suggest finding someone with a little training to produce a good quality documentry. There have to be plenty of budding producers who would love to get some decent experience, and will have the training to know what makes a good documentry.
      • I'll take this a step further [as an avid viewer of these television channels]. As the British say, you need to "sex it up a bit".

        I suggest adding a tan, leggy co-ed to your cast.
    • Easier still. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Look into leasing DV cams, or institutions that might even loan them out for projects such as this, or even local sponsors such as a Good Guys or what not who have already restocked product to lend.

      Put an ad in local art school newspapers and contact them about the opportunity you're offering, and how far you're willing to go. (No money, but free transportation and boarding.) Even your local TV station might help you out possibly by loaning equipment, possibly with interns, or someone else who gets the s
    • Just film it yourself. Buy a digital video camera, get lots of footage, and edit a demo tape.

      And watch out for ghosted signals. This is, after all, the Ham (sandwich) Project.

    • Re:Easy, DIY (Score:4, Informative)

      by pherris (314792) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @07:23AM (#8530623) Homepage Journal
      As someone that use to make a living shooting video (all news) I'm both in agreement and little bugged by the parent posting. While HuggybearVT brings up a very good overall point but there are a few details missing.

      Just film it yourself. Buy a digital video camera, get lots of footage, and edit a demo tape.

      While high quality, easy use, low cost gear has allowed many more people to shoot video (a very good thing) the quality has really sufferred. If you really want to shoot someone for resale then I'd suggest:

      Practice with your gear. Shoot, shoot and shoot. Unless you have at least a few hundred hours shooting usable footage your stuff will look like typical amateur crap.

      Hang out with other shooters. Talk to them and look at their stuff. There are just some tricks that only experience will teach you.

      Watch well shot ENG/EFP video. Check out CBS Sunday Morning. While the quality has dropped over the years it's still one of the best shot weekly news shows. There's a lot of good stuff on PBS but editing can hide a lot of mistakes. ENG work allows you see what can be done when time is everything.

      Find an experienced producer you can trust. Interest in radio and the project first, experience second. Only work with those that have actually sold a completed project to a broadcast outlet (if that's your final goal).

      Shoot a dry run. Try to locally simulate the trip and head out for a few days. This will help you work out many issues like charging batteries, lighting, what you really need and what you really don't need.

      Get a Mac. Hey, I'm writing this from my gentoo box but macs IMO are the way to fly for cheap video production. A bottom of the line eMac works great. iMoive will allow to you to easily put together a demo to be shopped around.

      Seek alternative distribution channels. Most likely you're stuff will never see any large scale public broadcast. If you want others to see what you've done then get creative. Think about licensing the project under the GNU FDL and let others move it around. Honestly, your chances of getting this on Discovery of very, very, very slim. Forget PBS, 'cause that will never happen.

      Did I forget anything? Yup, about 99% of what it takes to pull this production off.

      It's very possible that you might shoot it and take years to getting around to editting so don't try to stay on a strict production schedule. Don't get pushy about getting people to do anything on cue. The goal in this case is to be invisible. Luckly the cost is pretty minimal, maybe under $10k USD for an usable prosumer camera, eMac, batteries, et al.

      Should you shoot it? Sure, why not. Will it ever make broadcast? Most likely not but you will learn a lot. A few productions under the belt will make all difference. Do it because you want to tell a story and you want to shoot it. The chances of it making dollar one are extremely slim.

      If the goal is to save a few dollars by shooting and editting the project yourself for the main purpose of broadcast resale then you're SOL. You'll end up with something that looks like a local ad insert on some cable channel or "local access". Shoot it because it's a story you really want to tell.

    • The best digicam won't make up for poor lighting. Most of the stuff you see on TV that's not shot outdoors has lots of lighting, and I've even seen some outside crews use fill lighting outdoors.
  • Just convince Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. to go with you... maybe bring some of their choppers to ride around the island? No speed limits could be a major attraction. Of course, the fact that racing slicks don't work too well on tundra could be a major downside.
  • by Curtman (556920) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:50PM (#8526199)
    Have you tried contacting the Canadian version of Discovery [discovery.ca]? This kind of Technology in the Arctic story is right up their alley.
    • Depends on how broadly they define 'arctic'.
      Fox island is in the South Central region of the state, near Seward. Now if they go during winter it could be close to arctic, but the area in general (ignoring microclimes, etc) will probably range in the 10s most of winter, and if I remember boating out there correctly, 55-70 in the summer.
      Not too cold (well, I think so, but then again I'm from the area) and lacking in the proper 'arctic' motif. Too many of those darn spruce trees.
      • True, but I think it fits in very closely with one of our big problems in Canada, that is how to bring modern communications to remote northern communities. Anything of that nature will probably be very interesting to a lot of us. Heck why not take the whole thing up to Ellesmere Island [wikipedia.org] and apply for funding from the Canadian government. ;)
  • by bscott (460706) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:52PM (#8526214)
    I daresay you'll reach more hams via Slashdot than through any TV show. Are you just trying to draw attention to your endeavor, or are you hoping to attract more interest to amateur radio in general and perhaps recruit new fans? (call the show "Elmer Live"...) I'd hope any nascent genuine geeks won't be wasting time watching the mostly-drek on the Discovery Channel (Mythbusters notwithstanding) - figure out what the kids watch, and show 'em what's cool about ham radio if you can.

    (KB0UQY - got the licence 8 years ago now, and have never so much as touched a radio since...)
    • I'd hope any nascent genuine geeks won't be wasting time watching the mostly-drek on the Discovery Channel (Mythbusters notwithstanding)
      Bleh. Mythbusters is the worst of the drek. At least the rest of the drek doesn't palm itself off as being 'professional' and 'scientific'.
      • Well, it's "edutainment" maybe, but they at least make passing references to objectivity and the scientific method. It combines elements of Junkyard Wars (pre shark-jumping) with Snopes and - uh, what other TV shows actually demonstrate processes like testing your assumptions and trying to prove the opposite of your theory?

        My wife and I both like it, and we're such different people that apart from top-shelf comedies, almost nothing else on the air qualifies. I'll watch until it, too, goes downhill.
        • Well, it's "edutainment" maybe, but they at least make passing references to objectivity and the scientific method.

          They make passing references to it, and pay lip service to it, but they don't *practice* it. (For example, during the goldfish training episode they leave you with the impression that goldfish were trained to swim towards food, rather than the truth which is that they were trained to swim towards orange. A scientific test would have been to replace the orange 'rings' with black, and then wit

          • > they don't demonstrate it as much as they mention it in passing
            > and pay lip service to it. Usually they try to prove their theory,
            > when it fails, or when it works, then they go blow stuff up.

            And - your problem IS...?!

            For television, particularly the Discovery Channel, they're a step forward.
    • Hrmm. I don't think /. has that many hams. Most hams are older dudes these days, it is pretty rare for younger geeks to be into ham radio.

      Maybe if this story was posted to 1950s slashdot you'd be reaching more hams...
  • Maybe try NPR too? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by _aa_ (63092) <j AT uaau DOT ws> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:56PM (#8526256) Homepage Journal
    National Public Radio [npr.org]is not a visual medium, but neither is HAM Radio. This sounds like the kind of report that might be of interest to Talk of the Nation's Science Friday [sciencefriday.com]. Email show suggestions to scifri[AT]sciencefriday.com [mailto].
  • by orthogonal (588627) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:56PM (#8526260) Journal
    It is important to note that we Ham Radio operators cannot make any money on this and any pecuniary gain would go to the production company.

    Sure you can, see Sec. 97.113 (5)(c)
    A control operator may accept compensation as an incident of a teaching position during periods of time when an amateur station is used

    by that teacher as a part of classroom instruction at an educational
    institution.


    Just make it a long-distance learning "teachable moment".
    • The artic is hardly an educational institution.

      In any case, the rules don't say you can't make money from ham radio, tons of people do. What they do say is that you can't transmit communications for hire, including under the direction of an employer, and you can't transmit communications that you make money from.

      Since they wouldn't be accepting money for transmitting, I don't think it would be breaking the rules. The rules are mainly intended to prevent commercial use of ham radio, i.e. using it instead
  • Find a producer (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Rick the Red (307103) <Rick.The.Red@CUR ... minus physicist> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @05:57PM (#8526268) Journal
    The Discovery Channel only talks to producers? Then find one. A producer brings you access to the talent and equipment needed, but they need money, too. You say you have sponsors, so pretend they'll sponsor the video and go talk to producers.

    Meanwhile, pretend you have a producer and go talk to sponsors. Whose sleeping bags are you using? Whose trucks are you using? There must be some equipment you're using that isn't sponsored -- ask those folks to pay for the video crew. Whose radios are you using? Your own? Great -- find a radio manufacturer and ask them to sponsor the video, leave your radios at home and use theirs. I'd say the radio makers have the most to gain from popularizing ham radio.

    Have you talked to the ARRL about this?

  • The credits of aired shows gives you a nice list of production companies and people you can contact.
    Might also help to look into finding corporate/foundation sponsership for the show.
  • What is the story? (Score:3, Informative)

    by cpuffer_hammer (31542) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:00PM (#8526297) Homepage
    The suggestions about filming yourself are interesting, if nothing else you will have something you can use yourselves as a promotional tool. I have help helped run small activities like this for the my local SCA group. The big thing is to have a story or narrative.

    Set out your goals, getting to the site, setting up, whom do you expect to communicant with. What are the risks? What are the rewards? There needs to be tension. Set your goals high so that there is some risk of failure. If there is no risk there is no story. (I am not talking uncontrolled stupid risks.)

    I would watch many "Junk Yard Wars" episodes to look at how they build a narrative around what would be otherwise boring. In some respects you are doing the same thing.

    Then do it. Film it. Keep notes, like temperature and wind. Gets lots of comments and background on the people.

    Then from all the film and tape build the documentary. You can even build more than one for different audiences. A outdoors story with radio, a radio story in the outdoors, a technical story, and so on. Finally test the documentaries and edit till you get good results.

    Consider contacting a local collage to see if they have film or media students that need a subject to cover. The SCA documentaries I have helped with were filmed by students from a collage media program.

    Charles Puffer
  • by cybercyph (221022) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:03PM (#8526333)
    Heres a thought. I'm a film student, and, as such, I know plenty of other talented, reliable guys and gals with a love for film and documentary. Many of us have our own equipment. All of us our broke.

    Heres what i suggest: get some funding together. Get enough to pay airfare and lodging, and pizza for a crew of two. Post an ad on craigslist.org in the Los Angeles area, seeking an editor, sound guy, and DV cinematographer.

    How long will you be up there? i imagine a fairly interesting 60-90 minute documentary could be shot in a week, and edited in a couple months. Bring the sound-guy and cinematographer (with their own equipment) along (make sure you ask to see a reel, and at the very least interview the kids over the phone. make sure you like their personalities, as well their work.

    Enter the final product in some film festivals (credit yourself as Producer and Director). with any luck, you'll get some screening, and perhaps a straight to dvd deal or some theatrical release.

    if you're interested and want to discuss this further, i'd be happy to give you some ideas over email:
    taylorfinley@hotmail.com
    • by stevew (4845)
      Having been on a few DXpeditions myself (to places you can take airplanes too) I need to comment that where these guys are planning on going I imagine there isn't going to be Pizza, running water, or maybe even standing buildings!

      Think tents, some generators, and antennas on at a barren location.

      What I WOULD suggest to the parties involved is to look into tieing into some naturalist activities. This way you can have a double edged story AND increase your possible audience at the same time.

      There was exac
      • What I WOULD suggest to the parties involved is to look into tieing into some naturalist activities. This way you can have a double edged story AND increase your possible audience at the same time.

        What, you're wanting to get it on the FOX network now?

        Oh, sorry, I thought you said naturist activities [rr.com]. My bad.
  • by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:06PM (#8526364) Homepage Journal
    Alas, I never do anything interesting, so I guess that's not on the menu.

    I find it strange that you're blaming the lack of interest on "red tape" and "funding". What you haven't told us is, What's your pitch? Why should anybody spend a lot of time and money to put you on TV? What's visually compelling about your event?

    Yeah, there's a lot of boring stuff on TV, and you think your event would be an improvement. But not everybody shares your interests. If you want to be on TV, you have to sell yourself. And do it fast, 'cause there are a million or so people in line behind you.

  • ...to the Discovery Channel if it were called "Monster HAM Radio" or if it was about about stangers remodeling your equipment.
  • Find a freelancer! (Score:3, Informative)

    by omarius (52253) <omar@allwron[ ]om ['g.c' in gap]> on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:14PM (#8526434) Homepage Journal
    I know very little about TV and filmmaking, but do have a friend who does freelance production. I've seen some of the work he's done on a "Insomnia"-like show which he hopes to sell to a network or cable channel.

    So my suggestion is: find a freelancer who's willing and able to do a professional documentary, do it, and THEN hawk it to whomever you please. Depending on how well "sold" your idea is to this potential producer you might have to help finance the work, but it sounds like you believe in your idea; if he or she does, too, perhaps they'd even do it just for a share in the profits.

    Good luck!

  • Talk to the BBC. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by g_lightyear (695241)
    Let's face it. The beeb is the world's last, best hope for decent documentaries of this nature.
  • by microcars (708223) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @06:38PM (#8526676) Homepage
    but that does not mean I can produce your project :~/

    heed the suggestions to either find a Production Company or Make this Yourself under the banner of a Production Company you create just for this.

    The Discovery Channel only buys programming. They may enter into an agreement to co-sponsor something with a Production Company that has a track record with them, but you have nothing right now.

    One of the best suggestions so far is to do the NPR thing, its really cheap (sound only) and you can possibly use this as leverage to get a Video Production Company onboard to do the filming.

    However- the bad thing about being your own Production Company is that you have to find all the funding yourself and if you decide you can just make the Video yourself and you have no experience, you may end up with just an expensive home movie.
    Your project will have to fit into a pre-determined format and time frame (under 60 minutes, probably under 30 and in reality, it may just end up being a 5 minute bit as part of a newsmagazine show.....).

    I don't have any recommendations for Production Companies to go to though, watch the credits carefully on some shows and look for name of the Production Company who actually produced the piece. You will find the same ones listed again and again.

    • Actually they also have developed their own programs and sponsored some events. They arranged the location and recovery of the liberty bell space capsule. They followed the search with updates (and chats, i think) on their website.

      Maybe the original submitter should try to reach the discovery online people. See if they will follow you around and document it on their website. They could produce a film of the event afterwards.

      Chuck
  • by MikeDawg (721537) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @07:31PM (#8527168) Homepage Journal

    Before you start trying to get attention from the Discovery channel, why don't you talk to local news stations? Local TV stations in general are pretty good about touching on the subject if nothing else, and will get the message of what you are doing out into the public -- all of this a good thing, considering you'll probably find more hams to participate in this activity.

    My suggestions:

    • Come up with an amateur press release and mail it to several media outlets
    • Contact a local newstations and local newspapers
    • Mail your press releases, and related local media coverage (attention that you got from the mailings and talks to radio, TV, and newspapers) to larger outlets, up to and including Reuters, AP, Discovery Channel, PBS, etc.

    Just my suggestion -- Start Small, and Build.

  • If you can convince them (and it isn't as hard as it sounds) that there's a story there, and that you'll let them present the event in any fashion they wish, someone'll tag along with you then sell the resulting piece somewhere (or at least show it at film festivals).

    Of course, there's always the danger of becoming the Monster Garage or Blair Witch Project of Amateur Radio, so be wary about WHO you choose. Since you're not looking to make any money whatsoever, you can be picky about whom you trust to treat
  • The content is controlled oligarchically and plutocratically. Local access is a complete joke, public television is underfunded, and the rest of it has such prohibitively high costs.
  • by bigsteve@dstc (140392) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @08:21PM (#8527599)
    How about ... "Amateur Radio at the North Pole!",
    or ... "Amateur Radio in the Arctic Circle without any clothes on!",
    or ... "Polar Bears on the Amateur Radio".

    The last could be interesting. Imagine the footage you could get with an unarmed Ham operator teaching a hungry polar bear to key in morse code.

    (Sorry ... no offense intended!)

  • by Phronesis (175966) on Wednesday March 10, 2004 @09:31PM (#8528144)
    I don't know about commercial networks, but the biggest hurdle in getting something on PBS is not getting editorial interest, but raising the money to pay for the air time. It is very expensive to get a documentary aired on PBS and the money comes from the film production company, not from PBS's operating budget.

    My uncle and aunt have a film production company that has made several documentaries that have aired on PBS and they tell me that the cost of airtime is a lot more than the cost of producing the movies.

    The best way to get something on air on PBS is to find a way to raise money for the production and the air time. Ken Burns's approach to this, from what I hear, is that he's a wizard at getting large corporations to sign on to sponsor the production and air time.

    You might go after some RF engineering companies to see if their charitable giving or public relations divisions would be interested in sponsoring a short broadcast documentary.

    • Ken Burns's approach to this, from what I hear, is that he's a wizard at getting large corporations to sign on to sponsor the production and air time.
      He probably just plays that damned violin, and they give him the money so he'll stop!
    • My uncle and aunt have a film production company that has made several documentaries that have aired on PBS and they tell me that the cost of airtime is a lot more than the cost of producing the movies.
      So why do they go through PBS? Member stations aren't required to take all their programming from the network, and satellite syndication isn't that expensive.
      • If you can raise the money to go through the network, you get a lot more exposure and recognition (competition for prizes, etc.). If your piece is aired on the network, it's more competitive for Emmys etc. and if you have marketing tie-ins, like coffee-table books, you can tie into the PBS marketing machine.

        For something like the question at hand, your suggestion of going through the local public stations instead of the network is excellent.

  • Have lots of alligators around, and talk in a funny accent.

    Bonus points for letting your toddler play with the alligators.
  • The subject says it all....
  • TLC (Score:3, Funny)

    by corian (34925) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @01:23AM (#8529516)
    If you can somehow present your radio trip as a home-remodeling extravaganza, The Learning Channel might be willing to send over a crew.

    (Anyone else remember when their output actually involved "learning?" Must have been sometime back when MTV actually showed "music".)
  • Discovery will never put on a show about setting up a HAM radio station anywhere. BUT, if you build and subseqeuntly redecorate said station, they'll be all over you faster than you can say "Paige Davis"
  • You might try contacting WGBH Boston about producing an episode of Nova that centers on ham radio. Most public TV stations don't have a lot in the way of funding, but WGBH seems to manage to put together some really nice shows. (Heck, John Lithgow narrates about half of them.)

    • I have tried to contact them three times, each time I have received no response... But I am not giving up, I am continuing to contact them.
  • You'd like to be on TV while you do a project that interests you. Doesn't everyone? But, the question is; is your project of interest to millions of people? Bare in mind that most people do not share your interest in ham radio, including myself.

    You must ask yourself a few questions about the project. What about your event is going to draw the attention of millions of people? Is it really cool? It might be cold, being in Alaska but, not really "cool". Is it exciting? Is there life threatening danger or deat
  • film departments (Score:2, Informative)

    contact university film departments around the country. their students are always looking for projects. here is a link for my alma mater.
    http://www.wright.edu/academics/theatre/pr ograms/m otion_pictures1.html

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