Career Level: Mid-Level
What Do They Do?
Documentary Producers create longform radio programmes that delve deep into a specific subject. The Producer is likely to see a programme from the early idea stage, through the commissioning process, planning, researching, recording and editing the final programme – right through to sharing the broadcast details with press and on social media.
Often, more effort, time, foresight and planning goes into creating one minute of a radio documentary than in any other form of audio. For the Documentary Producer this process usually involves recording hours of interviews around a chosen subject, before selecting only the very best moments to be woven into the final programme, with the vast majority of audio being left on the “cutting room floor”. It is this thoroughness and attention to detail that makes radio documentaries stand out, allowing listeners to enjoy a finely crafted final programme that will appeal, inform and intrigue.
A Documentary Producer's daily tasks will vary depending on where in the production cycle they are, but tasks are likely to involve:
- Coming up with ideas and pitching them to commissioners
- Researching and interviewing contributors
- Working with a presenter or voiceover artist to bring the programme together
- Recording audio on location for atmosphere
- Troubleshooting remote or location recording issues
- Sourcing music, archive recordings or sound effects for use in the programme
- Researching and writing script and helping the presenter to deliver and record it
- Piecing together the final programme.
- Editing and mixing the final programme (some producers will use a mixing engineer for this)
- Liaising with an Exec Producer to ensure the programme is compliant and a successful listen.
- Writing supporting content for use online, on social media and in any radio listings
- Promoting the final programme on social media
- Keeping across industry news and developments
Who Do They Work With?
- The most important relationship a Documentary Producer will have is with their presenter. They make sure the presenter is feeling confident and relaxed during the recording, and is as well-informed as possible about the subject.
- A Documentary Producer is likely to work with an Exec Producer, who will act as a sounding board for the Producer’s ideas, may offer feedback on the suggested programme structure and will provide other editorial support around compliance and other arising issues.
- Depending who has commissioned the Documentary, a Producer may liaise directly with the Commissioner at the company or station, or may work through a production company.
- If the project requires the Producer to travel or to record in another country, they will often seek the help of a locally based Stringer or Producer to help with the practicalities of recording in a specific location.
What Skills Do I Need?
- Documentary Producers need to be extremely organised and able to work quickly and efficiently without compromising quality.
- Documentary Producers need strong interpersonal skills, and to be flexible and understanding with their presenters, guests and other contributors.
- Documentary Producers are creative as they may need to help source or generate ideas for current and future programmes.
- Documentary Producers need to be confident communicators with strong writing skills, as they may need to write pitches, scripts, programme descriptions and other promotional content.
- Documentary Producers need to be technically confident when it comes to remote recording, and ready to learn about emerging technologies or new equipment.
- Documentary Producers are confident with audio editing software and able to build a whole programme and get it to the correct duration.
- Documentary Producers tend to have curious minds, a fascination with people and a love of story-telling.
- Documentary Producers need to be disciplined about their workload.
How Do I Get This Job?
Being a radio Documentary Producer is a vocation, so although there are courses that will teach you the technical skills, you don’t necessarily need to have a degree or even further education to have this role.
Many Documentary producers will have started in community, hospital or student radio, some will have their own podcasts, and most will have done internships, before becoming an Assistant Producer or Team Assistant and working their way up.