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Rulebreakers: A BBC World Service - Sundance Institute Collaboration

BBC World Service and Sundance Institute are collaborating on Rulebreakers, a series of audio documentaries with accompanying short films.

We are seeking creative and ambitious pitches from film-makers, journalists, audio producers and podcasters on the theme of broken rules.

In this era of constant challenge to convention and established hierarchies, innovators, iconoclasts, the brave, the brilliant and the shameless are relentlessly attacking old ways of doing things. For many this is threatening, unsettling and unwelcome. But rulebreaking in love, in family, across religious traditions, between cultures, in sport, technology and in every corner of our lives can also be constructive as well as destructive.

We invite you to submit treatments about people who are breaking the rules, the consequences for them and for the people and systems around them. Pitches for Rulebreakers should address the theme in the most lateral and creative ways. They must be original, intimate, essential and thought-provoking.

Each funded project will comprise a half-hour audio documentary for radio and podcast together with an accompanying thematically-related 2-6 minute film. We encourage you to think about all of the rich possibilities for audio production, including the composition of original music, the creation of audio soundscapes, recording in stereo and binaural and more. Keep in mind that audio documentary is particularly successful at engaging with our internal emotional lives.

The short-form visual story may be a narrative film, an audio slideshow, animation or other appropriate form.

We welcome pitches for stories from around the world, and particularly encourage submissions for stories that are taking place outside the USA. Previous BBC World Service-Sundance collaborations have featured documentaries from Nigeria, Finland, Macedonia, India, the Pacific Islands, Greece and Costa Rica.

BBC World Service will fund the production of up to six projects and the collaboration offers documentary-makers the opportunity to tell stories in the English language for a weekly audience of 97 million listeners. Short films will feature on the popular BBC World Service digital platforms.

Storytellers are invited to submit their outline proposals individually, or in teams, using our template form. The deadline for initial submissions is 13th November 2019.

The guide price for a delivered and fully rights-cleared half-hour audio project with digital video story is up to US$10,500. In addition to the cash payment all projects will be mentored by both the BBC and Sundance. The BBC will expect successful applicants to be available for a series of Skype-led masterclasses from January 2020.

Projects selected for funding will be decided by a panel from the BBC World Service and Sundance Institute.

Project Schedule

  • Storytellers are invited to submit the outline proposals to using the attached form from 25th September 2019 up to and including 13th November 2019 or different dates mutually agreed by the Parties.
  • Shortlisted projects will be notified on or after 20th November 2019 and producers will have until 8th December 2019 to submit to the BBC the final proposals with the production budget.
  • The selection of commissioned projects will be announced on or after 12 December 2019 with Initial project delivery by 31st May 2020 and final project delivery on 28 June 2020

Selection Criteria

Projects will be assessed on the following criteria:

  • The creative and original response to the theme
  • The strength, ambition and relevance of the story
  • The focus on audio storytelling with an additional visual component
  • Confirmed access to contributors
  • The previous track record of producers in the production of factual audio, film, television, print or online journalism*
  • Stories can be successfully realised in the English language – either entirely in English or with a combination of English and translated voiceover and/or subtitles
  • Stories can be successfully realised within the outline budget

*Applicants do not need to have made an audio documentary before.

No Part of the Project support may be used in any way that constitutes ‘lobbying activities,’ including use to influence the outcome of any election for public office, or to carry on any voter registration drive or attempts to influence specific legislation, including referenda, on the international, federal, state, or local level, or to participate or intervene in any election or any political campaigning or campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate or party or to promote any organization which threatens the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.

Guidance for Submissions

We recommend that prior to submission producers engage with content from BBC World Service and explore the full range of audio documentary approaches and material. We also recommend exploring our short-form audio slideshows, factual video and experimental work in 360 video, animations and more at and

And find the ten programmes produced in previous BBC World Service-Sundance Institute collaborations at