If you wanna survive, you need to be able to tell your story in 6 seconds, 6 minutes as well as 6 hours.

Derren Lawford is the Founder and CEO of DARE Pictures, a London based, internationally connected studio with a passion for insightful and impactful documentaries, drama, and film that are commercially viable.


His vision for his own production company, which he launched in 2021, was a transcultural approach: from the varied, international stories DARE Pictures tells, over the people from all over the world he works with, to the genres and platforms DARE Pictures utilises. For Derren it’s always stories first, values first, people first.


IP-driven Production Company

Usually, TV production companies have a specialization. They’re either specialized in drama, formats, documentaries, or podcasts. DARE Pictures is different. For Derren, the story comes first and the genre second. He always tries to secure at least the docs as well as the audio rights to be able to explore the IP further. That’s also why he’s looking to secure stories that have IP that could be iterated as a drama, doc series, film, or podcast.

One example for this IP-driven approach is a story about UK prisons. First, DARE Pictures launched a 3-part series (3×20’) on Channel 4’s YouTube channel about UK prisons where they used mobile-phone footage filmed by the prisoners themselves. This series then turned into Secrets of UK Prisons, a one-hour special for Channel 4’s flagship youth skewing current affairs strand, Untold, which sees former prisoner David Navarro expose the tough reality of life inside prison with the shocking footage illegally filmed and posted on social media by inmates from across the UK. Immediately after releasing the doc, it became “Most Watched” on All4. The documentary was a reinterpretation of the series.

DARE Pictures is also currently developing a franchise about a 70-something pirate which will become a podcast series, drama series, and social media brand, including merchandise where the website will function as the IP Portal.

For Derren it’s important to develop ideas for both, the scripted and unscripted space around the same story. He is also flexible when it comes to utilising different platforms. “I want to give people access to the story from different angles.”, he explains. And how important this multi-platform approach is we’ve already seen in kids’ content. But it’s as relevant for every producer in our fragmented media world.


Diversity, Allyship, Representation, Empowerment

According to Derren, the reason why people want to work at and with DARE Pictures are primarily their values. “DARE stands for diversity, allyship, representation and empowerment and we aim to reflect that in everything we do on and off screen. DARE is all about inclusion.”, so Derren. That attracts people to the company.

Another reason is that they tell difficult stories in an accessible way. “There are no niche stories, only niche approaches”, says Derren. In the past two years, DARE Pictures have produced a show where prisoners were filming themselves illegally, a show about a crypto queen, a show about selling your virginity, one about a pansexual contestant on X-Factor as well as short films about climate change with contributors from filmmakers from India, Nigeria, Japan, Lebanon, Germany, America, and the UK. It was screened at COP27 and Davos this year, the feature-length compilation, Roads to Regeneration also premiered at Hot Docs Festival 2023. The DARE Pictures portfolio is very broad, but always gripping and always successful.

They also have a reputation for nurturing talent – on and off-screen. Derren’s team is almost entirely female with diverse backgrounds. One of the reasons is that he is empowering them to work however they want to work. That means being flexible on how many days people want to work for DARE and from where they want to work. This flexibility draws in the biggest talents.


Successes and Challenges

DARE Pictures has had many successes so far, but when asked about his latest proud moment, Derren said seeing how our new series the The Queen of Crypto was marketed at MIPCOM. “You walk down the Croisette and see all these huge posters up of TV Shows and then one day your own show is one of them. It was a memorable and proud moment to see that The Queen of Crypto was such a priority series for Fremantle, who is distributing the series”.

But, of course, launching your own production company always brings some challenges. The biggest challenge when starting out is securing that first commission, according to Derren. Finding someone who’s taking a chance on you. But he adds that he was pleasantly surprised how receptive people were when he set up DARE Pictures. “The easiest is, of course, to get new business while already working on a project.”

He recommends being as entrepreneurial as possible as a production company in the current climate. “Always think about where can I find people who support my story? They don’t have to be in your home territory”. That’s why markets like MIPCOM are so valuable. You meet people from all over the world. DARE currently works with people from the UK, continental Europe, Asia, Africa, North America, and soon Latin America as well. “We are united by the stories, we want to tell.”, says Derren. It’s about great ideas, great people, and great connections. Try to find and make these connections!


How to Survive Extreme Disruption

He added that we are currently in a phase of extreme disruption which won’t slow down anytime soon. “Everything is being challenged. Key topics in the next couple of years will be flexible working hours, representation, AI, new production, and distribution models, such as putting full-length films on TikTok.”

Flexibility will be key in the next couple of years, so Derren. He mentions the book Digital Darwinism: Survival of the Fittest in the Age of Business Disruption by Tom Goodwin that states if you see disruption run towards it rather than away from it. A good example for this is the AI discussion currently. Instead of being afraid, you should learn as much about AI tools as you can. According to Derren, Jason Mitchell from The Connected Set, is doing a really good job in this area. He recently hosted a LinkedIn webinar on the 15 amazing AI Tools for TV Freelancers. Derren himself has always been very comfortable with being flexible. He started out working for newspapers, then radio, TV, SVOD. He knows how to navigate all these worlds and recommends getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Furthermore, Freelancers should look into transferring their skills to other parts of our industry. Do brands need great storytellers? Of course. Do social-first platforms need great producers? Always. “In times of change it can’t hurt to blend your experience!”

What’s Next for DARE

His own goals for 2024 are to make his mark in the scripted space as DARE Pictures has been very successful in establishing themselves in the unscripted space over the past two years. Now, he wants to do the same in the scripted world.

Another goal is to explore digital extensions of DARE Pictures – whether it be branded content or establishing an online community around DARE Pictures. Derren wants to “fully integrate technological and digital advancements in the company.”


If you would like to get in touch with Derren, you can contact him on LinkedIn or via his website.

About Author

Sandra Lehner is a TV Futurist and the MD of Suncatcher Social, based in Lisbon. She is a frequent contributor to MIPBlog, and speaks regularly at MIPCOM. Newsletter: https://tvfuturist.substack.com/ Website: https://suncatchersocial.com/ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/sandralehner/

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