Radio Pre-Production in Ireland, The Sound and Vision Scheme – Part 1

Radio Phone, by Norman Rockwell
Radio Phone, by Norman Rockwell

I’ve recently been lucky enough to receive another offer of a grant from BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland), to produce a drama series for Irish community special interest radio station Dublin City FM. Interestingly, Dublin City FM (then Anna Livia FM) gave me my first job in radio in 1999 – doing continuity announcements right before the arts programme! Now the pre-production process begins. I thought it might be useful for others interested in radio drama in general, or just finding ways to fund creative writing / performance, to go through the pre-production process a bit; in the process explaining how radio funding works in Ireland. This is all completely unofficial reader-beware stuff, based on my own (very limited experience). It’s presented on the basis that the best way to learn is from a beginner. With that said, here goes.

In order to own a television in Ireland, a TV licence is required (at least in theory). RTE (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), the state broadcaster automatically receive 93% of television licence fees (they used to get 95%). Out of the remaining 7% independent broadcasters, local and community radio stations, and (yes even) RTE producers all vie for funding through the Sound and Vision Scheme. The Sound & Vision scheme evaluates programme proposals based on their social worth, likelihood of actually being produced, originality and a number of other factors.

In order to be funded under the scheme you need to get a radio / television station to agree to broadcast your programme (in writing) if produced. So independent producers need to form a relationship with a given broadcaster, whether local or national, private or community. You do this by working on programmes or volunteering at the station. In the case of DCFM I met producer Heather McLeod when doing voice work for two series produced by Bridget McCone two years ago (only one, The Urblin Chronicles, is available online).

The radio / TV station in turn makes money from your studio use – so they’re more likely to agree to broadcast if you’re willing to record / edit some of your programme using their facilities. The scheme funds drama, entertainment, animation, children’s programmes and documentaries, but not news or sport. Each round’s (there are three a year, generally in January, May and September) application form and guidelines are made available in advance (and they do change each time, so it’s best to read them as early as you can).

The themes the BAI seek for proposed programmes are Irish culture, heritage and experience; improving adult or media literacy; and raising public awareness and understanding of global issues impacting on the state and countries other than the state. According to BAI, they welcome “…broad and creative interpretations of these themes”. What does this mean? They’re happy to fund good work, they just need you as the potential producer to frame it a way that meets their mandate. Accepted Genres are Children’s Programmes; Arts/Culture; Contemporary Society; History/Heritage; Science/Nature/Environment; and, Adult/Media Literacy.

Proposed programmes can be in English or Irish language, and Irish language programmes are AFAIK more likely to be funded, since there is a set proportion that has to be reached, and much less competition. Irish language programmes can theoretically also request a higher budget, in excess of 55,000 for radio and 750,000 for TV. Radio stations with Irish language content required by their broadcasting licence are also more likely to accept proposals for Irish language programmes for the same reason.

Applying for a documentary series (which I’m currently in the process of doing, for the next round, due by June 6th) can be a bit tricky, as programmes must not be in production – i.e.: being recorded, before application. This means that although you can do preliminary research interviews, nothing which will be included in the final broadcast can be done in advance. At the same time, the programme must be thoroughly planned out and explained in the application form.

Similarly, with drama, you need to cast the show before the application – although there will be a gap of several months before you find out if you’ve been successful. This is actually good for actors, as it means that independent radio producers making drama programmes need to build a reliable troupe of flexible performers they can put down on the application time after time and use in an variety of programmes. Although re-casting is possible after funding, this is problematic due to time restrictions, and only applies to non-key contributors. With drama, you’ll also need to have written at least some of the scripts (perhaps 2 – 3 episodes of a six episode series), prior to application.

On the Sound and Vision Application form key contributors are differentiated, and need letters of commitment (as with the broadcaster, and producer themselves). Depending on the production, key contributors might include sound designer, specific interviewees, co-producers and so on. A proposed series can be a follow up to a previous show, but if so it must show how it’s ‘new’, ‘difficult to make’, follows on from a ‘successful’ show, and the previous show must already be complete, broadcast and approved by BAI. This means you probably wouldn’t have time to apply to make a direct follow up to a series in the next application round. I’ve no idea if follow ups are funded in practice.

NB – The new Sound and Vision form leaves out a couple of pieces of information that you will need to actually apply for funding. These include the brief (200 character) slug line for the show, and more importantly, a piece (of any length) explaining how the show meets the proposed funding themes; in addition to proposed pre-production, production, post production and broadcast dates. These extra bits will need to be put in through the online form when you’re applying – and you need to register in advance on the BAI website to be allowed to apply at all. This is just a formality, but it does take a bit of time – so be warned. The form itself is a word document that you fill in over a period of weeks (in collaboration with your contact at whichever radio station you’re working with), and ultimately save as a PDF before uploading to the BCI’s website.

If you’re successful with your application, you’ll receive an email from BAI, linking to a publicly available doc with all successful applications for that round listed. You then have a year to sign the contract. Yes, a year. Well it’s breathing room! The contract phase is extremely important, as it’s the contract you sign – rather than the programme you applied to make, that you’ll have to ultimately work to. At this point any changes from the proposed programme must be negotiated with BAI. Your acceptance email will include any issues the BAI had with your programme – e.g.: changes they require from the application. It also includes an amount – which is in no way guaranteed to be the amount you applied for. How much you get will depend on how much you were able to justify your budget to BAI in the application form; as well as how programmes are being funded in general on a round by round basis. The BAI fund a maximum of 95% of the production costs of a given programme.

Here’s the BAI’s list of successful applications in this round. Looking at it, we can see there were 114 successful applications across radio and TV, for RTE, regional, Irish language, community and specialist radio stations. Commercial stations can apply – but tend not to, as their programming is both more commercial (and hence less likely to receive funding) and more dictated by high level planning (less amenable to individual independent producers). That said, there are exceptions visible in this round – like Emma Cawley’s application for a documentary called ‘The Cafe’ on Newstalk. Just looking at the approved list, we can see that TV programmes tend to be funded a lot higher – in the hundreds of thousands rather than the low tens of thousands for radio programmes; and RTE productions tend to be funded highest of all (in part due to their higher studio and staff charges). The other thing I notice looking at the list is that documentary absolutely overwhelms drama. This concurs with what I’ve heard from other producers – the BAI wants more drama at the moment, less documentary. This is of course good for writers.

Remember, the funding a programme receives has to cover everything – equipment rental, studio rental, actors fees, producers fees, post production promotion, printed scripts etc. There are also charges incurred by each production that can’t be funded under the scheme (like insurance, auditing and so on). So you need to have a small pot of money (on the order of several hundred euro) in advance in order to get a production contract signed with BAI.

A week or two after your show is officially funded, you’ll receive a request for documentation from BAI. They’re looking for a variety of things, some of which will take a good degree of time and organisation to arrange. These are…

1) Secretary’s Certificate (Contractor)
2) Memo & Arts/Rules (Contractor)
3) Broadcaster Confirmation Letter
4) Rights Documentation
5) Production & Co-Financier Contracts
6) Key Personnel Agreement
7) Treatment
8) Budget
9) Programme & Grant Details
10) EFT Form (Production Account) – an electronic transfer form, which my bank tell me I’ll need to get from BAI.
11) Certificate of Incorporation (Contractor)
12) Finance Plan
13) No Set-Off Letter (Production a/c). This is a letter from the bank saying that the account is of a special type, which can’t be drawn against for debts and the like. Basically this means opening up a new business account for the production, which will entail about 80 euro in solicitors fees (at least from Bank of Ireland).
14) Broadcaster Contract
15) Insurance Policy
16) Tax Clearance Cert. (Contractor) – Applied online yesterday for this
17) Bank Details

So my job, over the next few weeks of pre-production, is to figure these things out – while at the same time estimating actor availability and replacing unavailable actors, renegotiating some details of the application with BAI, setting up a new bank account, organising insurance, getting all my documentation together for the BAI, improving scripts, turning the written scripts into production scripts and actually planning recording the thing (call sheets, location scouting, co-ordinating with sound engineer and co-producer, and a dozen other things)! The independent producers work is never done 🙂

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