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Attention, Documentary Filmmakers: 8 Tips on Pitching Your Project

Attention, Documentary Filmmakers: 8 Tips on Pitching Your Project

Whether you’re an amateur filmmaker or a seasoned vet, pitching can be terrifying. DOC NYC has you covered. As a part of its Doc-A-Thon series, the festival held a pitching workshop on July 19th at IFC Center in New York.

The audience looked on as filmmakers went before a panel, presented a pitch for their current project and were critiqued. At the end of the workshop, the panel picked two winners.

READ MORE: How DOC NYC Became a Major Showcase for Non-Fiction Film

The panel was made up of Daniel Chalfen (Naked Edge Films), Julie Anderson (WNET) and Judith Helfand (Chicken & Egg Pictures) and was moderated by Doug Block (“112 Weddings.”) The documentaries with winning pitches were “Grit and Grind,” directed by Felix Endara and “No Le Digas a Nadie,” directed by Mikaela Shwer.

Here are some key points from the panel’s advice for an outstanding pitch:

Why you?

Helfand says one of the first things she looks for is access. She looks for the filmmaker’s “unique point of view.” While it might seem more “journalistic” for a documentary filmmaker to avoid the first person, frequently the panelists emphasized that they like to hear what brought a filmmaker to a project — why it’s of personal interest.

Be succinct.

Chalfen spared no time in the panel introductions to make one thing clear — he has no time for extraneous information in a pitch. “Sum up your film in one sentence,” he said. “A logline is crucial. The succinctness of the story is crucial,” he said.

Build on the field.

Even if your film’s topic has been well-covered, you can still have a successful pitch. The key? Think about what sets your film apart. “Build on the field,” said Helfand. “It’s not unique until you make it unique.”

Characters, characters, characters.

This was something of a refrain for the afternoon. Even in the most successful pitches, the panelists were almost insatiably curious about the people in the films. Several times, they advised people to start their pitches with a description of the protagonist, and why they’re unique — this way, the listener’s curiosity is piqued early on, and they have someone to “identify with.”

Don’t be afraid to get in front of the mirror.

One of the pitches was universally praised for its story, but also critiqued for seeming underprepared. You might feel silly trying it, but Anderson swears by this advice: “Get in the mirror!” she said. “You have a great story, practice how you tell that story.

Don’t be afraid to play a clip up front.

Throughout the evening, Hefland encouraged pitchers to break from convention in one specific regard. “You don’t always have to say the whole thing and then play the clip,” she said.

Don’t be afraid of comparisons.

It’s a bad Hollywood cliché to pitch films as mash-ups (“Pretty Woman” meets “Terminator,” etc.) but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from all comparisons. After one filmmaker pitched a sports documentary, Chalfen told her that it would’ve been a good idea to invoke the 2014 “Red Army,” saying: “If you’d called it ‘the American version of ‘Red Army,’ that could’ve been powerful.”

Once you think of a film, you’re in the process of making it.

Chalfen bristled when one pitch included the phrasing “I would like to make a film about…” He emphatically corrected, giving a piece of advice he said “might seem like a small point, but is very major.” Said Chalfen: “Once you think of a film, you’re already in the prospect of making it.”

READ MORE: The 2014 DOC NYC Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item 

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