Factual spotlight: CBC Doc Zone

In the first installment in a series of profiles with leading Canadian factual commissioners, Michael Claydon gives the lowdown on pitching to CBC's Doc Zone.

As part of Playback sister publication realscreen‘s annual Global Pitch Guide, released each fall, Playback over the next several days will feature a series of profiles with leading Canadian factual commissioners; they will include intel on what they’re looking for now, how to pitch, and what they pay.

Note: A following profile will focus on the CBC’s executive in charge of factual entertainment Jennifer Dettman.


Michael Claydon, area executive producer, independent documentaries.

CONTACT INFO: cbc.ca/independentproducers/genres/doc_zone/


TARGET DEMO/AUDIENCE: A general audience evenly split between men and women, well educated.

WHAT HE’S LOOKING FOR: Doc Zone, hosted and narrated by Ann-Marie MacDonald, is CBC’s flagship anthology documentary series, airing Thursday nights at 9 p.m. on CBC TV. It commissions approximately 13 one-hour documentaries from Canadian independent producers.

“As a rule, we are looking for one-off documentaries and we try to spread our commissions across all regions of the country,” says Claydon. “As an anthology series, we tackle a broad range of subjects, but all of our stories must be viewer-centric. By that, I mean the stories must relate to our audience and the world they live in.”

Some docs focus on family, relationships, the environment, technology and social trends, as well as water cooler topics and stories behind the headlines. Crime stories rate well, as do disaster stories.

“This past season, we did well with docs like Facebook Follies, which dealt with the crazy things and the trouble people get into with social media,” he says. “We also did well with Apocalypse 2012, an end-of-the-world story, naturally!

“Our docs have high production values, are elegantly done and are entertaining as well as informative.”

The strand doesn’t run POV docs, biographies, or foreign affairs stories.

HOW TO PITCH: “In pitching Doc Zone, we ask that producers be flexible and willing to work closely with us to get the pitch where we need it,” says Claydon. “My pet peeve is a pitch that clearly is out of our strike zone, in that it doesn’t reflect any understanding of our series. Thankfully, we don’t get too many of those! We also don’t mind considering an idea that has reached a full proposal stage, again because we usually work with the producers to shape the final proposal.”

WHAT IT PAYS: Budgets vary widely, depending on the subject matter, but all Doc Zone commissions utilize Canada Media Fund funding, as well as other broadcast incentive funds such as Rogers Documentary Fund or any regional funds. Claydon says his team also expects to see a producer investment or distribution advance in the budget. International coproductions are encouraged. A typical Doc Zone budget is in the $300,000 – $500,000 range.