Why I produced a documentary

By: Mandy Mitchell

I just got done with one of the bigger projects of my career. I’ve always wanted to produce a really long story and I got a chance to do that over the last three months. The documentary was called “Basketball Town” and it told the story of 8 NBA players who have come out of a small town in North Carolina. I produced this largely on my own. I got help for the stand-ups and few of the interviews but I shot the bulk of it, wrote it and edited it.

You can check it out here.

I got the idea for this story about a year ago but I waited until Brandon Ingram of Duke, who is from Kinston, was about to be drafted. I wanted the story to be timely and news worthy.

I knew I had to go to my news director with a really good pitch. WRAL, or any station for that matter, isn’t just going to give someone 30 minutes to play with. It has to be good. So I went (on my own time) and shot a handful of interviews. This worked for me in two ways. First, it showed to me I had the kind of story I thought I had. How many times do we have an idea, but can’t really get the soundbites to back it up? The second thing it did was give me quotes to include in my pitch.

I really had to sell this to get the time. The pitch was about 5 pages long and included a detailed outline with supporting quotes from the interviews I already had in the can. It helped that I had done so much work before going to my ND because it showed I was serious. Lots of people can have big ideas for big stories. The hard part is getting it done.

So here’s my takeaway from this:

  • If you believe in a project, you should never ever be afraid to spend your own time doing the work. I did 90% of this documentary on my own time. I went to Kinston on my days off and spent all day there shooting interviews and talking to people. Doing the work on my off days gave me complete freedom from breaking news or any other events that popped up. I know this may sound crazy to you and you may think it was bad form for me to “work for free.” I am a big believer in opportunity cost. I thought it was worth it to me…for future gains…to give my free time up to achieve a higher goal. Yeah–It would have been nice to have been given a month to work on the project. But I work in TV news…who are we kidding?


  • Side projects like this are really good for curing the boredom this business can often provide. This documentary was a huge challenge and took a lot of time, but it was also really fun. We have all done stories and said we just wish we had more time. This time I had more time.


  • Sometimes you just have to create your own opportunities. You won’t get all the good assignments or trips or the best schedule all the time. Sometimes you have to think of your own ways to expand your role. If you want to do more storytelling, come up with a good franchise and pitch it. If you have an investigative idea, do a sweeps series. If they don’t have time to air it on TV, do it for the web! If you like long-form interviews, do a podcast or blog for the station website. Try not to fall into the trap of only doing what is asked of you. It may not earn you extra money now, but it will make you more marketable later.

Stations are looking for people who can do more than just do a live shot and a PKG in a day. Stations want content and I think, overall, this is great for our business! Showing you can do more will open more doors for you at your current station and future stations. I never thought I would do a documentary. Now I am looking for my next big project!




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