What Makes A Compelling Pitch

This blog was originally written for the Seattle Documentary Association. You can view it here

A couple of weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to take part in the 4th World Indigenous Media Lab- a year-long training and mentorship program for indigenous filmmakers that is run by SIFF in partnership with Longhouse Media, the Sundance Institute and ITVS.

The launch started last month during the Seattle International Film Festival. Over two days, I got to workshop A Brief History of Time Travel with some folks at ITVS, which provides funding for public television; it was an intense overhaul of information, from writing grants and planning budgets, to what makes a perfect work sample and perfecting my pitch.

It was such a great learning experience to hear from the funders what they’re looking for when they’re going through grants applications. I’ve applied for grants before, and it always seems that you are sending it off into the great abyss, and a month or two later you finally get an email telling you if you’ve made it or not, or sometimes nothing at all. But meeting the people who read your grant material is such a valuable opportunity to learn what exactly they’re looking for in a proposal, and what makes a project stick out.

The main focus of the workshop was to practice pitching your film in front of a panel and audience for 3 minutes. I’m not the best public speaker, so it was a really safe place to get feedback and practice!

Here are some guidelines on pitching that I got from the ITVS Producer’s Workshop:

  1. Always have the following on hand: a trailer, synopsis, business cards, and headphones.  You never know who you are going to meet and when, so always have these bare necessities on hand. If you only have 2 minutes to make an impression, practice your elevator pitch and explain your film succinctly. Always have business cards on hand and download your trailer onto your phone or iPad.
  2. If you have some extra time, go into the details.  If you have extra time to prep, research who you are meeting. If it’s a distributor, know who their audience is. If you’re reaching out to a private investor, figure out a connection they have to your film and why they should invest in it. And if you have some extra time to talk, explain your budget, timeline, and other production logistics. Finally, have a link to another sample of the film that they can watch if they are interested.
  3. You still have work to do after you pitch. You’re going to get questions, so be ready. Always be open to feedback, and learn from the responses. Take notes, then go back to the drawing board and make tweaks to your pitch. Rinse and repeat!

But what exactly can you do to make your pitch stand out from all the others?

  • Eye contact. By maintaining eye contact with your audience you project confidence.
  • Story of stats, story over issues. It’s easy to get caught up talking about the issues in your film, especially if you’re making a social justice or call to action type of documentary. You don’t have to spell it out for your audience- if you focus on the story, the issues and statistics will be implied.
  • Your connection. People want to know how you got inspired to make your film. Talk about your connection and show how passionate and excited you are about your documentary. Being passionate is infectious!
  • Know your audience. You’re inevitably going to get asked this question, so do your research.
  • Details on style and approach. Use descriptive and visual words to paint a picture so your audience can gain a better understanding of what your film will look like when it is completed.
  • Highlight the themes. Is the very heart of your documentary about a mother and daughter relationship? Is it a story about overcoming hardships? Every story has a universal theme, and that theme is a connection to your audience.

Have you ever pitched a documentary before? Please share some of your tips as well on the comments below.