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Doc Edge 2010: don’t waste our time

Two complementary sessions on the opening day of the Forum combined to give a practical start to proceedings. Pat Ferns talked pitching and director Leanne Pooley addressed the art of the proposal.

Pat Ferns – the godfather of the Pitch Competition – gave his potted guide to making an impression that counts when stuck in front of a panel, commissioner, or even someone’s secretary.

Pitching is the distillation of the potential of a story. Ideas need oxygen and pitching provides the idea with an audience – the oxygen for the story to grow.

There are two rules to pitching.
Rule 1: There are no rules. There are as many ways of pitching as there are of telling a story. Get the attention of the audience and communicate your idea to them.

Rule 2: It’s not about YOU. It’s about you and your audience. Be aware of your audience’s needs as well as your own. Are you pitching to a decision maker, or are you pitching to someone else who will pitch it up the line?

Pat suggested it only takes 90 seconds to say “No” to a project, but quite a lot longer to say yes. Make sure you differentiate yourself and your project – and if it’s an old topic make sure you’ve got a new perspective.

Pat’s top six tips for good pitching were:

Present a unique vision. Have you got exclusive access to the story, to talent, rights of the book … what is unique about your idea?

Be brief and clear. What is the film about in one line. Give the pitch a context early to help people understand it. If it’s a comedy, say so up front.

Stress your track record. Celebrate your achievements, or surround yourself with people who have some if you don’t.

Know your audience. Don’t pitch a kids’ show to a doc channel.

Listen to the feedback. Learn from what people say.

Quitting is for losers. Be persistent and follow up with an email or phone call.

And seventh, be clear on what you want and say so. If you don’t ask you won’t get. Do you want development money? A creative response? Production funding?

And eighth … find out how long it will take to get a decision.
Decisions, decisions. How to decide what to put into a proposal and what to leave out. Just the kitchen sink?

Not according to Leanne Pooley. Funding projects is the most exhausting part of film-making and the proposal is the cornerstone of getting the funds.

No slouch when it comes to making award-winning documentaries, Ms Pooley went back to the beginning of the process of making a documentary – finding the money to fund it – and walked delegates through some techniques that work.

Leanne reckoned an effective proposal should be a maximum of 4 pages. It should focus on what the film is about, rather than the topic – new film-makers often spend too long talking about the problem … This film is about P and why this is bad for you … rather than telling people what the new angle is. A logline can help crystallise your idea.

One should think about whether something is filmable. A story about your grandfather’s experience in the war will always be difficult as it is a personal story set in the past.

It isn’t really possible to write one proposal for all funders. Do the research. Check out their websites and buzzwords and tailor a proposal to suit their funding profile.

A proposal should be clear and well written. All the important details should be on the first page – funders may not read beyond that. Get someone to read it before you send it – both to proofread but also to see if people can understand the project from what you’ve written.

Try to make the project attractive to the funder – for example broadcasters with rights to big events will probably want content around that, so it’s an easier sell.

Leanne promoted the use of trailers in giving the audience a sense of the film. For a New Zealand pitch, she realised that a historical documentary might be a hard sell, so she made a trailer to sell it as an adventure story. She did warn against making a bad trailer though which could work against the project.

Leanne also emphasised the importance of thinking through a multi-platform distribution strategy, saying that listing the festivals you’re taking the film to is no longer enough, but distribution and 360 degree were session topics all on their own.

A lot of the advice given by both presenters was common sense, but (even when that isn’t a rare commodity) it’s always good to have it reinforced by people who play the game from both sides of the table.

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