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Rocking the Producers’ Master Class at Westdoc 2013

Here’s a sample of the coverage and feedback from our memorable Master Class:

Rocking the Master Class

by Cirina Catania.
Cirina is a writer and reporter for Technorati, BuZZ and other leading newsletters.

If the next three days of Westdoc 2013 are as productive as the opening Producer’s Master Class with Peter Hamilton and Ed Hersh, participants better exercise their note-taking skills.

Yesterday’s energetic and knowledgeable presentation entitled, “The Key Success Factors in Nonfiction Programming,” dove into background research on the non-fiction landscape and immediately turned to a concise discussion about pitching – the how, when, where, what and why of it.

A surprise visitor, Executive Producer, Stephen Harris, drew on his experience as an executive with networks such as A&E and his current endeavor, (“What the Funny”) to give us a back-room account of what happens at the networks. At one point, the light went off for many in the room as Stephen described the path a pitch takes from the time it is first launched in the executive’s office, to its incarnation through various departments until it is finally commissioned. We walked a few miles in the network shoes at that point.

The attendees came from countries as far as Taiwan, Russia, Germany and many regions in the United States. Attention never wavered for the three hours and during the brief break, energy was high as networking vibes took over.

Peter Hamilton comes to Westdoc with strong credentials on the business and production side of docs. His popular site, is to documentaries what Paul Kagan’s newsletter used to be for high-level theatrical and marketing researchers. Peter has an MBA from the Wharton School of Management, is a former CBS executive, an author and industry consultant.


Ed Hersh is an award-winning producer, programmer and media executive with strong track record in strategic planning. He is the CEO of Story Centric, LLC, and has served successfully at such companies as Discovery, The Military Channel, Court TV and TLC. For more information visit

  • And for Cirina’s great photos and excellent layout, click here.



By Chelo Alvarez-Stehle,
Chelo is a writer for NALIP, the LAtino producers’ association

The pre-conference day offered a master class entitled, “The Key Success Factors in Nonfiction Programming,” presented by Peter Hamilton, consultant and publisher of and Ed Hersh founder of Story Centric. In this intensive half-day workshop the consultants helped producers understand the nonfiction market and how to develop effective strategies to capitalize their properties. Trends have changed. “In the world of managed or fake reality, dramatic conflict, action overshadows story,” said Hersh. “Networks executives are out there looking for reliable content, content that was a hit. They want to replicate it.” “It’s a viciously competitive cycle,” added Hamilton, “and the race is on.”

“The race is on and its clear,” said one of the conference attendees independent producer NALIP member Angel Vasques. “Execs are opening their doors for that person to walk in with that project that is going to be BIG. An executive said “It’s a needle in a hay stack,” but,” noted Vasques, “you might be the one to find it.”

“I loved the master class at Westdoc,” said Wu. I saw how different the approach is in the US, compared to what I have experienced in the China and Taiwan market. I learned how to quickly find out what the Networks are looking for, and be able to present a package that suits their needs. Not to be so concerned about what I have, rather focus on what I can give that fits their needs. I believe this new view point will help me succeed more.”

“Ninety nine percent of the networks are leaving a new breed of viewers behind,” warned Stephen Harris, a surprise visitor at the master class and an Executive Producer with broad experience with networks such as A&E and founder of (What the Funny.) Harris noted the need to acknowledge how the new generations consume entertainment in devices well beyond the black box. “If they are not careful, what happened to Blockbuster is going to happen to them.” Pointing at the success of new platforms like Netflix, Harris added, “Netflix is using analytics to define their original content series.” They produced “House of Cards” based on Kevin Spacey’s films demographics.



I’m Wuna Wu, and I came to Los Angeles from Taiwan to attend the class. The Master Class helped me understand the future of documentary and reality shows. As a producer, I wanted to know how should I prepare to open up the door of network? What I learned is a successful strategy and attitude to make my project acceptable to the market. I really appreciate this class. Thanks Peter, ED, Steve 🙂 Thanks for your sharing. I believe I will more successful in the future.


My biggest takeaway is that I should be open to partnering with other production companies– particularly if they can lend some remarkable history and expertise that will make my doc more marketable. Also, even though the market for docs is smaller in this country, it helped to learn that there is more interest for documentary in Europe


I thought the class was great.  It really helped me to understand the industry from an insider’s POV, the pitching process and the changes that I need to make in my approach in order to be more successful.  Also, it was great to be able to ask questions in a safe environment and get honest answers without judgment.  I would absolutely recommend this class to others.


The Webinar: Getting to Greenlight: Five Key Success Factors for Non-fiction Producers

In’s first Webinar with Ed Hersh, we cover strategies and tactics for improving a producer’s chances of success in navigating the network development process. And we explore how networks develop concepts from the pitches, through green light to transmission… and what YOU can do make sure you’re pitching the right way. The content of the Webinar closely tracks the WESTDOC Masterclass, and is great value at $49.95.

Read more here, and Download Video

And here’s feedback from Webinar participant Mileen:

“Great webinar. Both hosts (Ed & Peter) provided incredible insight into the pitching/ greenlighting processes, and were able to share some very telling stories from their countless years of industry experience. I was also able to connect with other participants from the session to discuss collaborating based on our overlapping genres and geographical locations. The cost was very reasonable and money well spent.”


Hello Peter, First I want to say how much I appreciated the opportunity to meet you and speak with you personally. I came looking to find strategies for monetizing a couple of programs and your comments, probably more than any others, have shaped my thinking with a new and less cluttered perspective.

In terms of the master class specifically:  The Master Class cut through the clutter of concerns about selling a show and got to the essential points that would prepare a project for success in the market place. I particularly found valuable the metaphor of network television as an evolving ecosystem. Given the fact that documentaries are a niche endeavor in general, it helped to begin thinking of the marketplace for programs as a pursuit for the best environments for survival, as opposed to trying to “break in” to the rarefied regions of network decision makers.

The master class reshaped my strategies for pitching and, perhaps even more importantly, developing programs.


Interestingly, I don’t think, no, I’m certain, that I would not have gotten as much value from the other presentations at West Doc if I had not participated in the Master Class. It started the changes in my thinking about positioning strategies. Other presentations enabled more vertical dives in specific areas of strategy development – but the insight provided in the Master Class provided points of reference for navigating the process of selling a show.

I don’t really have any negative critiques about the MC. The collegial banter between you and Ed was conducive to creating a comfortable atmosphere for the room, the content was succinct and valuable. Having the small group and some food to munch on made for comfortable and collegial environment  to learn in  – perfect.

Thanks again for so generously sharing your knowledge and experience. I look forward to seeing you again at next year’s conference!


The Master Class gives vital answers to what we should be focusing on in this industry instead of being distracted in all different directions. It helps us to focus on the basic needs and wants and gives a very needed macro view of the whole business.  Yin Chew


I wanted to thank you SO MUCH for allowing me to be a part of your Master Class. We LOVED the Master Class (it was fabulous) and the conference was very informative and helpful as well


Just a few lines to let you know how much I enjoyed attending the Westdoc Conference and your Master Class, and what a great learning experience it was.  For those of us just starting out, your insight and knowledge of the industry is invaluable, and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet you and attend your class.  EN, Spain


The entire theme of the conference was targeted with pinpoint accuracy during the Master Class.  As a newcomer to the industry, it might have taken me a day or two to recognize it otherwise.  I learned that a successful pitch usually requires a sizzle reel and always includes a succinct, heart stopping attention grabber, that has wide appeal to specific audiences.  In short, it has to be the right message, at the right time, for the right person who is looking for exactly what it is that you have to offer.  The Master Class set the direction that was followed throughout the conference and that was zeroed in on with laser beam accuracy during the actual Pitch Fest on Wednesday.  Thank you, Peter and Ed for making things so clear to me! Miguel Alvarez