Tips for Pitching Your Documentary

It's one thing to know how to make a great documentary, but when it comes to funding or distribution, you'll need to know how to pitch.

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Photo © Emily Willis

As a documentary filmmaker, at some point, you will find yourself pitching your work in order to get it funded, produced, finished or in front of an audience. Here are some key tips and considerations when pitching.

Have a One-liner

It can seem reductive to distill your story to a single sentence, but it is a useful asset to have for pitching in any environment. In person, regardless of whether you regurgitate the line, the process of having to condense your story will help you to communicate it succinctly. On paper, your pitch may be reviewed by a commissioner or buyer alongside 50 others, so having a strong one-liner could decide whether or not they invest more time in reviewing your pitch.

Pitch with Access

Don’t pitch your documentary without confirming access to the key people, places or events that will appear in your film. Without this access confirmed, or at least in negotiation, it's difficult for anyone to support the project financially, as there is a risk it may never be secured. Be sure to communicate the status of the access when you pitch, even if it’s still in progress.

Do Your Research

Before you pitch, do some basic background research on the person you are pitching to, and the company they represent. Take some time to look through some of the work they have recently commissioned or been directly involved with. Research the types of stories they are attracted to, as well as the style and formats they’re told in. 

Through this process, you may realize that a few small changes to your project, or how you position the story, could make the pitch more attractive to the people listening to your pitch. If you haven’t had the opportunity to do this, asking them what they are looking for can be a good place to start.

Have Something to Show

A short video clip that demonstrates your pitch will fast-track the conversation and can be a huge advantage. Don’t get hung up on making a trailer; a short engaging scene of your central character or event is enough.

Consider the quality of the video you’re sharing in relation to the experience your team has. If you’re a less-experienced team, make your pitch video the highest quality you can deliver, as this will demonstrate your skill set. A more experienced team, with a strong track record of projects behind it, may be able to get away with a lower quality video, that only demonstrates character or story.

Share Your Creds

So they like your idea, and you have the access, the next thing you need to pitch is yourself, and the team behind you. Do you and the team have the experience to produce the documentary you’ve pitched? Be sure to include short bios, but most importantly, include examples of your team’s work. Showcase your track record. If you’re working with an emerging team with less credentials, consider approaching a more experienced filmmaker to form part of your team, in a supervisory capacity.

Follow Up

Even if you weren’t successful with your pitch, closing the loop on your conversation appropriately is important. Whilst your pitch might not have been right this time, use this as an opportunity to establish a connection with who you are pitching to, so you can build on it when you bring them, or their company, your next idea.

Ask for feedback, if it hasn’t been offered already, and take these insights on-board for your next pitch.

Want to be mentored by a professional filmmaker? Keep an eye out for our Travel Film Scholarship!

Or watch the Travel Documentary Masterclass for more exclusive advice.

4 Comments

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  • Derek Dewitt said

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