DFA’s docCHAT with Netflix: Online Distribution with the Netflix Africa team unpacked the process, opportunities and considerations of pitching and making factual content for the streamer. DFA Treasurer Izette Mostert hosted the conversation. Netflix is the world’s leading streaming entertainment service with 208 million paid memberships in over 190 countries enjoying TV series, documentaries and feature films across a wide variety of genres and languages. Members can watch as much as they want, anytime, anywhere, on any internet-connected screen. Members can play, pause and resume watching, all without commercials or commitments. Read more about their available SA films and fiction film development project in collaboration with the NFVF.
Netflix is in the early days of showcasing content from South Africa with a couple of series and features currently in production. They have three main categories of content: series, feature docs and licensed acquisitions.

Ben Amadasun, Netflix Director of Content, Africa
His portfolio includes sourcing local programming that is relevant for the region and acquiring global rights for shows and movies from Africa. Ben has more than 20 years’ experience in business strategy and consulting, as well as a professional background in investment banking. Prior to joining Netflix, Ben was the senior vice president and CEO of Econet’s Kwese Free TV, working across the borders of various Sub-Saharan African countries. He enjoyed a successful stint at Modern Times Group’s TV1 in Tanzania, where he served as CEO and Head of Scripted Development.
Lucy Leveugle, Netflix Director of Nonfiction Originals, Middle East & Africa
She joined Netflix in 2019 after more than six years at Channel 4, joining in 2012 as commissioning editor, and more recently as acting head of factual entertainment. Her most notable successes at the British pubcaster include The Undateables, Child Genius  and Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. Prior to joining C4, she was a showrunner on the first series of The Undateables. Her focus is on unscripted content from across EMEA.
Kate Townsend, Netflix Director of Original Documentary Features
Before joining Netflix, Townsend ran the BBC’s feature doc strand Storyville. She commissioned docs including Sean McAllister’s A Syrian Love Story, Sundance award-winner Pussy Riot – A Punk Prayer, and Leslee Udwin’s controversial gang rape story India’s Daughter. As well as previously being series producer on science strand Horizon, she directed and produced titles including fly-on-the-wall docu-soap Paddington Green and Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekend.
Allison Triegaardt, Manager of Netflix Grow Creative
The creative consultant, who founded The Televisionaries, has worked on popular television dramas including ‘Isibaya’, ‘Tinsel’, ‘Big Brother Nigeria’ as well as reality shows such as ‘The Amazing Race’ and ‘Big Brother Africa’.

Unscripted Documentary Series
Lucy works with unscripted doc series and outlined that they are looking for iconic and local stories with a unique take, point of view, or exclusivity (i.e. access to exclusive archives or new testimonies), Netflix tends to be retrospective in their story-telling – although there are some exceptions. “In SA, we are looking for documentary series with a high local impact: in other words South African stories told by SA creatives and a big South African recognition factor in terms of intellectual property, story, event or talent – but not a subject or theme. We’re not looking for politics or history at this stage”.
The key considerations for serialised content is whether the Netflix subscriber will come back from one episode to the next? There needs to be a clear storyline layout with a serialized narrative arc throughout the episodes that ensures a thread and progression. So keep in mind your strong cliffhangers, and twists and turns within the episodes. Character-driven stories as an entry point to a bigger subjects or themes are preferred and the execution needs to be very clear, simple, effective – it doesn’t need to be over-explained: show don’t tell. Entertainment would be key, you can still educate while entertaining the audience. The team will accept any series duration from 3 to 8 parts and find that an episode duration around the 45-48 minute mark works best.
“We seek evergreen content that should feel relevant to you now or if you signed up in 5 years. We are not the news, so we’re not looking for fast turnaround or links to anniversaries and we are not a promotional platform of for example music artists,” says Lucy.

Feature Documentaries
Kate oversees global, Europe and Africa feature documentaries. “We’re looking for single stories that will both resonate with our South African audience and be watched all around the world (think My Octopus Teacher), but that also feel unexpected. Across all our features we look for stories and not issues, engaging characters, universal themes, layers, shining a new light and global scale”.
Although not limited to any specific genres, area that have worked well on Netflix include Crime in a broad sense, issues of our time such as stories related to the internet, widely known contemporary sports and music celebrities and – to note for South African producers – nature. Execution is key – Penguin Town launches today and showcases the beauty and biodiversity but also looks at man’s relationship with nature.
The Netflix team want to be complimentary to other channels in the territory and not repeat those offerings. Unless there is a unique angle or new layer to the story, avoid aspects of the history of apartheid, ganglands and football – these are pitched often. Similar to the development of their slate in India, they will be highly curated. A series that did well in India called Bad Boy Billionaires worked with a young aspirational audience and explored aspects of the business world such as Silicon Valley India, the diamond industry, the airline industry. “Try to think about fresh subjects.”
“We’re not saying we don’t want social justice and political films but we want the story to be front and foremost and then layer in those issues. We don’t want just the people already interested in those issues to be coming to these documentaries and watching them, we want to broaden the audience. We call it ‘chocolate coating the broccoli’ and then you bring in the story’s layers and themes.”
“We are keen to be identifying local talent. We see fantastic potential where you have leveraged your fiction industry to get some of those lessons learned and bring some of those people into our South African slate. It’s a tactic we’ve been using on our global slate, for example, drawing in feature film editors into documentaries,” says Kate.
Ben focuses on licensing non-fiction acquisitions for Africa to grow a deep catalogue of local nonfiction licensed content to complement and diversify their documentary series and feature docs commissioning, targeting Relationships, Property, Docu-Soaps, True Crime, Adventure and Automotive as well as Competition Formats. As they learn the non-fiction preferences of their members in the African market the slate will expand, they are still testing the waters and complement the work Kate and Lucy are doing. Examples of acquisitions include Awon Boyz, Skin, Marked, Blood Lions and Unseen Enemy with unscripted/ reality series including The Ultimate Braai Master (cooking competition), A Dog for Life (pets/family) and Family Feud South Africa (game show).
“We are looking for entertaining content that appeals to a wide audience and strong storytelling,” says Ben.  “We are usually flexible when it comes to working with other partners in terms of sharing screening rights, but we work extensively with distribution partners across Africa so if you have projects that are completed we prefer that you work through distributors, such as Indigenous Films, AAA Entertainment, Gravel Road.”
Talent Development
Allison’s mandate is to support industry training and professional development across sub-Saharan Africa with a current focus on supporting content strategy in South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya with a rigorous plan to expand that over the next few years.  Netflix has several skills development initiatives in development such as a partnership with the Realness Institute on the Episodic Lab for writers from Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa and the Development Executive Training for pan-African applicants which will run for three months until September. The Grow Creative Fund is also designed to support equity which is designed to support women and people from previously disadvantaged areas. “I am only two months into this role so we are just getting started. The last thing I want to to clarify, for my division, emerging means those professionals that have not yet broken into the international arena,” says Allison.


Follow up questions the Netflix team responded to after the Encounters webinar:
Who is the Netflix audience?
There’s no specific audience at Netflix. We have 208 million members we want to entertain with anything they want to watch, for whatever mood they’re in.
What are the Top 10 Docs that did well on Netflix?
In our Year In Review announcement at the end of 2020, we shared the below about documentaries in SA: The world embraced My Octopus Teacher – a documentary feature highlighting the beauty of nature. This year, documentary content South Africans enjoyed include (in no particular order): Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, The Social Dilemma, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich, American Murder: The Family Next Door, Coronavirus Explained, Unsolved Mysteries: Volume 1, David Attenborough:  A Life on Our Planet, Down to Earth with Zac Efron: Season 1 and World’s Most Wanted: Season 1.
What should I incorporate in my pitch?
3 – 10 pages including:
A short and clear logline
A brief outline of the number of episodes and their content
An idea of the visual approach, give references
What key factors should I think about when matching my project with Netflix?
Pitch with very clear intent – match the project to the Netflix audience and research the other content available on the platform
Details on archives and potential access
Contributors’ profiles and point of view on stories
Who the production company is and their track record in documentary
Who the film-maker/director is
Why should this be on Netflix rather than another channel or platform?
Has it been done before? If yes, what am I bringing to the table?
What is new and exciting? (strength and uniqueness of the idea)
With all the box art on my Netflix homepage, why would I click on this one?
Is it a series or a feature? Do I have enough material to sustain a series?
For series, after watching episode 1, why would I come back for episode 2?
Who can we contact for submissions to Netflix?
Submissions must come to Netflix through a licensed literary or talent agent, or from a producer, attorney, manager or entertainment executive with whom Netflix has a pre-existing relationship as it helps the team to deal with – and efficiently weed through – a heavy volume of submissions. For those who don’t have a pre-existing relationship, Netflix  teamed up with DFA to allow for a window of submissions between 5 July & 31 August 2021. For licensed documentaries, we prefer submissions to come through established film distribution companies.
Is there a list of approved companies you work with in SA?
We can’t mention these as we do not want to show favouritism. As long as the production company is legitimate and has the infrastructure/resource to support production of a documentary. If you don’t have a production company attached, but have an excellent idea, we can help marry you with the right producers for the project.

Why we advise the route of working with production companies:
We advise taking the production company route so there is an IP trail. We get submissions from all around the world, and we track them through our own internal mechanisms for those not familiar with it, for this reason. Very occasionally film-makers pitch individually and that is when we match them if we think it is worth developing/exploring.


For licensing deals:
For licensing-related submissions, they will need to come via established distribution companies and we can review screening links once the distributor supplies us with their respective avails lists.


Why we advise the route of working with production companies:
We advise taking the production company route so there is an IP trail. We get submissions from all around the world, and we track them through our own internal mechanisms for those not familiar with it, for this reason. Very occasionally film-makers pitch individually and that is when we match them if we think it is worth developing/exploring.


docCHAT is a bi-monthly webinar, designed to keep the conversation going with our DFA members and during Encounters we opened this session to festival-goers, supported by the Gauteng Film Commission.


Opportunity for PAID UP DFA members to submit their documentary to Netflix via the DFA

Fully paid-up DFA members can submit their completed documentaries for a licensing deal or a concept for a geature-length documentary/ documentary series between 5 July 2021 – 31 August 2021 via the DFA to Netflix. ONE APPLICATION PER PERSON/COMPANY. This is not a guarantee that your idea/film will be accepted. The DFA will not read any proposals and will not take any liability for concept, IP or guidance. Email your proposal according to the guidelines below to submissions@docfilmsa.com and in the subject header use NETFLIX – Project name – Licensing deal/ Proposal (pick whichever one is relevant)


Please make sure you follow the guidelines. 

– Project name
– Your name & surname
– Your company name or production company that you would like to submit through. Alternatively state if you need a production company assigned/ mentorship.
– Contact details (you must be a paid up DFA member and citizen/permanent resident of SA)

– Specify if it is a LICENSING deal or ORIGINAL content
– Since which year have you been a DFA member (estimate, do NOT mail us to ask when you became a member)


– CV/film credits, specifically noting number of years of experience as a filmmaker (it is advised that you need a minimum of 10 years experience to work with Netflix)
– Completed feature docs filmography
PAGE 3: One page synopsis
PAGE 4 onwards:
– A basic concept document (approx 3 but no more than 10 pages)
– Supplementary materials – eg. links to footage/ rough cut plus password (do not change the password) (ONLY SEND A LINK, DO NOT SEND US FOOTAGE)
Please note there is no need for a budget at this stage

DO NOT REPLY on this email, do NOT send to any other email address. DO NOT SEND MULTIPLE emails, attach all necessary documents in ONE email as per the guidelines above. DO NOT mail us to inquire about your proposal, pitch, if it was received or not. Netflix will respond directly to those that were successful.
Disclaimer: The DFA will not be reading any proposals and are not part of the decision-making process. We will deliver all pitches & proposals to Netflix. We will not be held liable for any legal or IP matters arising out of your submission.