RTÉ Religious Content now sits within the Factual Group, headed by Seán Mac Giolla Phádraig. All television proposals should therefore be targeted to fit in with wider advice about RTÉ One's and RTÉ2's contestable slots, contained in the Factual Commissioning Brief.
Because of the Religious Genre’s in-house production capacity, commissioning opportunities on both TV and Radio are limited, but not non-existent.
On radio, because of The Leap of Faith’s presence in the schedule for half the year, only ideas likely to attract BAI and/or other third party funding will be considered. That said, we are keen to hear from people with creative approaches that might attract mainstream audiences to areas of our subject matter not currently addressed, such as contemporary ethics and philosophy; spiritual well-being and the secret of happiness; aspects of Ireland’s religious history not covered by The History Show; the evolving role of religious minorities in an increasingly diverse Ireland.
While fully funded TV proposals will be considered, ideas that attract finance from other broadcasters or funding bodies are, of course, desirable. Please discuss all proposals with Commissioning Editor, Roger Childs, before approaching third parties.
Most Christian worship on Radio and TV is currently produced in-house and there are no immediate plans to replace the existing short reflective films for The Angelus slots.
Other commissioned output must broaden and complement the existing in-house Religious slate, whose main elements are as currently follows:-
Documentaries – In-house documentaries cover a broad range of religious and spiritual subjects, using a variety of narrative styles and approaches, including profiles, observational documentaries, investigations and authored essays. Emphasis in recent times has been on maximising impact with high quality “Specials” on issues of national interest (e.g. the ethics behind the abortion referendum; Mary McAleese on the changing Irish family; Oliver Callan on Divorcing God; Hugh Bonneville’s Countdown to Calvary.
All Walks of Life, with Mary McAleese – The former President of Ireland has recently completed a second series, in which she interviews a variety of individuals about their lives, values and beliefs (or lack of them), while walking along ancient Irish pilgrimage routes. We hope to renew this series.
The Meaning of Life – Joe Duffy has picked up his mentor, Gay Byrne’s mantle with a series of face-to-face interviews with public figures and will be returning with a further season in 2021.
Worship - weekly Christian Masses and Services, plus Christmas and Easter ceremonies – wherever possible shared between TV & Radio.
Minority Festival Shorts - short films marking and exploring a variety of minority faith festivals.
Our annual Christmas Carols – usually from a prestigious location and featuring a broad variety of artists and musical styles as well as amateur choirs.
The Leap of Faith (RTÉ Radio 1) – an eclectic mixture of conversation and features on subjects right across the spectrum of belief and spirituality.
So, what aren't we currently doing, for which independent producers might be able to attract funding from non-RTÉ sources?
On RTÉ One
What are the stories and subjects we should be telling that are beyond the limited means of our in-house team in terms of budget, scale and creative ambition?
Religion and ethics offer a broad canvas which, in the past has been filled with arresting commissioned documentaries that challenge, move, inspire and entertain. Typically, these have played at 2130 on Sundays or at 2215 on Tuesdays or Thursdays (see slot guidelines under Factual Commissioning), but there is scope, too, for Wednesday 2130 feature docs, where the subject and treatment warrants that expansiveness.
Most of our in-house output has a contemporary Irish outlook. So, what are the stories, subjects and treatments that could add historical context and depth to that? Past successes from the independent sector have included Last Orders (Gay Byrne on the role played by religious orders in Ireland); The Radharc Squad (the unique legacy of Radharc’s priest-led filmmakers); Mary McAleese & The Man Who Saved Europe (the former President on the ancient Celtic saint, Columbanus); and Luther 500: Cath d’Anamacha Gaelacha / The Battle for Gaelic Souls (about Martin Luther’s legacy for these islands); Lifers (on a dying breed of heroic Irish missionaries overseas). Most of these were co-funded and/or co-commissioned and that will certainly give proposals a following wind, as long as they also meet our own audience needs.
Current commissioned projects include a 2-part BAI-supported co-commission with ARTE about the Magdalene Laundries.
In-house, we produced Countdown to Calvary, an ambitious re-examination of the last days of Jesus, presented by Hugh Bonneville, and funded through an international co-production partnership. There’s no reason why independents can’t propose projects of similar quality and scale on subjects of mainstream public interest, inside and outside Ireland.
The challenge is always to make history seem contemporary, relevant and accessible, without dumbing down. Answer the silent questions in the viewer's mind: "What's in it for me?" And make sure your treatment considers “the how” as well as “the what” of your storytelling.
As well as classic documentaries, we welcome other creative and original approaches to historic subjects: perhaps archive-based and/or constructed reality formats (cf. Back in Time For Tea, 1900 House, Who Do You Think You Are?) which allow audiences to experience, connect with or learn from the past, and to understand what has changed and why.
Please look out for significant events and anniversaries – personal and social. What useful pegs should we not miss? Whatever the subject, the approach must be both authoritative and entertaining, to appeal to mainstream RTÉ One audiences.
As three recent referenda have shown, vast tectonic plates are shifting in Irish society. Finding compelling, story- or format-based ways of charting those shifts in contemporary Irish beliefs, values and identity could be very appealing. An obvious approach is through authored docs, such as Mary McAleese’s Modern Family or Gay Byrne’s Last Orders. But what other approaches might work? Also, don’t assume docs about serious subjects need to be handled seriously. Guess Who’s Dead (Ardal O’Hanlon on Irish traditions surrounding death), Baz, The Lost Muslim (Baz Ashmawy on what Islam is… and isn’t) and The John Pauls were pitch perfect in delivering intelligent content in entertaining ways that resonated with mainstream Irish audiences.
There has to be room, still, for cracking stories to elbow their way into the mainstream schedule. Finding Banni (Colm Flynn’s search for his lost “brother” in a Belarussian orphanage) and Guns & Rosaries (Martin Sheen’s revelatory telling of the story of the Irish “Rosary Priest”, who became an unlikely media mogul and even more improbable CIA agent before being considered for sainthood) are two recent examples. We’d like to hear more.
One-off docs and short series that shed new light on familiar stories or reveal previously hidden stories and situations have worked well for us. In-house, School of Love offered a unique insight into the life of an enclosed convent in rural Waterford over a whole year, while A Parting Gift made full and compelling use of its unique access to Trinity College Dublin's body donation programme, to reveal the symbiosis between body donors, students, teachers and the bereaved. Access is always key, together with a realistic funding model to embed and sustain high quality observation and storytelling over the necessary period of observation.
Again, don’t assume that Religion demands a solemn approach – certainly not a worthy or earnest one. Skin Deep (Sinead Kennedy on the significance of tattoos) and The Only Gay in the Village were deliberately aimed at younger audiences, post-watershed on RTÉ 2 and found their mark entertainingly, without dumbing down. What these had in common was an unexpected fearlessness, strong contemporary filmmaking, wit, energy, humanity and heart.
The Four Ts
The four Ts - Treatment, Tone, Talent and Title - should all be geared to engage mainstream, not niche, audience interest in our subjects and stories. Many people think (capital R) Religion is a turn-off, so how will you turn them on? Certainly not by being earnest.
Sometimes, audiences have been surprised to learn that our content comes from Religious Programmes, because it wears that religious label so lightly. That’s not a bad thing. We should always treat our subjects respectfully, but not reverently, with clear-eyed, intelligent storytelling, journalistic rigour and top quality production values. Be clear what you're trying to say and why, and then find creative, original and compelling ways to say it.
Some of our most successful commissions have made the most of co-production finance or third party funding from the BAI, NI Screen, Screen Ireland, Section 481 and other sources – e.g. One Million Dubliners (Glasnevin cemetery), A Parting Gift (medical body donors), Guess Who’s Dead (Irish traditions surrounding death), Lifers (missionaries) and Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village (Knock). Guns & Rosaries is another current example. Occasionally, we will also fully fund projects – e.g. The John Pauls used the microcosm of a generation of now nearly middle-aged men and women, named in honour of the last papal visit, to show how Ireland has changed since the first papal visit.
Think RICE: we need programmes which Reflect, Interrogate, Celebrate and Explain the beliefs, practices and identities of Ireland's minority faith communities through strong stories and characters that engage a mainstream audience. As a guideline, please don't treat minority issues as minority interest issues – RTÉ is a broadcaster, not a narrowcaster - and don’t treat those minority subjects with any more deference or any less rigour than you would approach more familiar communities and themes. Don't patronise; don't wear kid gloves; do respect; do ask hard questions; and then think of ways of bringing the answers entertainingly to light. Again, Baz, The Lost Muslim is a very strong example.
Currently in production are a co-produced feature documentary about Tukdam, a Tibetan Buddhist practice, whereby physical signs of death can apparently be arrested through deep meditation; also, another BAI-funded co-production about the Tibetan Buddhist community in Dzogchen Beara, West Cork, as they construct Ireland’s first temple and come to terms with the disgrace and death of their spiritual mentor.
Look for ways in which various religious outlooks offer a different perspective on familiar subjects (education, health, births, marriages, deaths, good and evil). And remember, documentary is not the only genre for handling issues of diversity.
Ethics and values
When different moral and religious outlooks rub shoulders in a diverse and changing society, there can be conflict, creativity or confusion. Who's right? Who's wrong? And how do we know?
On subjects as diverse as faith schooling, adoption, abortion, fertility treatment, euthanasia, genetics, marriage, sex and sexuality, education, the environment, climate change, human migration and wealth disparity, there are important ethical and religious debates currently taking place. How best can we bring these to television, radio and online in ways that inform, challenge and entertain mainstream audiences? And what about the ethical challenges we will face in the future? What are they and how will we tackle them?
We will particularly welcome ideas that make creative use of formats to engage younger audiences and the "I'm not religious, but I am spiritual" generation in energetic and informed ethical debate. For instance, how might we meet the huge hunger for spiritual wellbeing and meaningful existence among a diverse and, in some instances, post-religious culture, as demonstrated by the demand for podcasts and books that offer shortcuts to happiness, fulfillment, peace of mind or wisdom?
Bear in mind that Religious Content is a multi-platform Genre. Using TV, Radio and Online media in a complementary way to amplify a story or subject is particularly attractive.
We welcome opportunities to work in partnership with other media organisations and will facilitate engagement with commissioning editors at BBCNI, ARTE and others, if we believe an idea could suit their audience needs as well as our own. Bear in mind that, like RTÉ, many other media companies now commission across a range of platforms – TV, Radio and Online. We are open to proposals on all three.
As well as looking for possible co-production partners, you may wish to look for funding from other sources. Each will have its own funding and commissioning criteria, which must be studied carefully, alongside RTÉ's. Please talk to Roger Childs, Commissioning Editor of RTÉ Religious Content, before approaching these or other bodies about co-financing projects for RTÉ.
ARTE. RTÉ has a co-production partnership with the European broadcaster, ARTE, which commits both organisations to a certain level of spending per year on co-commissioned projects. Successful projects must meet the audience needs of both broadcasters. Occasionally, projects have scope for additional commissioning partners. In the first instance, please discuss all religious proposals with the RTÉ Commissioning Editor, Roger Childs, and do not make direct approaches to ARTE in relation to this scheme.
The BAI Sound & Vision Fund (https://www.bai.ie/en/broadcasting/funding-development-3/sound-vision-4/) has announced a round which closes in late February, so please submit a costed proposal to E-Commissioning as soon as possible, if you wish your idea to be considered for this round.
The Northern Ireland Screen Irish Language Broadcasting Fund
( http://www.northernirelandscreen.co.uk/categories/7/ilbf.aspx ) and
Ulster Scots Broadcast Fund (http://www.northernirelandscreen.co.uk/categories/95/ulster-scots-broadcast-fund.aspx).
The Simon Cumbers Media Fund (www.simoncumbersmediafund.ie/ ).
The Wellcome Trust is principally focused on promoting scientific understanding, but is open to ideas that consider the interface between science and religious or ethics (http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/Funding/Public-engagement/Funding-schemes/Broadcast-Development-Awards/index.htm).
The Templeton Foundation (http://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/core-funding-areas/) .
Creative Europe TV Funding ( https://eacea.ec.europa.eu/creative-europe/actions/media/tv-programming_en .kenny
Section 481: https://www.revenue.ie/en/companies-and-charities/reliefs-and-exemptions/film-relief/index.aspx
The discussion of, or initial interest in, a proposal does not represent a commitment to commission by RTÉ and should not be understood as such. Commissioning decisions will reflect the quality of proposals received and the scheduling priorities operating at the time. RTÉ's financial position will also be a factor.
Any proposals previously submitted to RTÉ in categories listed here, and which were rejected on a first reading in a previous Round, should not be re-submitted and will not be reconsidered.