September 24, 2015
CIFF 2015

Answering These Expert Questions About Your Film Can Really Strengthen Your Pitch

Filmmaker Jeff Unay giving the winning pitch at Points North Pitch, CIFF
Whether you are pitching your film to a potential funder in his or her office or to a panel in a public forum, your pitch requires the same level of preparation to hit its mark.

At Points North Pitch, held at the Camden International Film Festival, 6 documentary filmmakers (or filmmaking teams) pitched their feature-length works-in-progress to a panel of 12 delegates -- funders, broadcasters and producers -- as well as an audience of about 350 at the Camden Opera house. After each filmmaker gave their 7-minute pitch and showed a trailer, the panel provided 10 minutes of critical feedback on the pitch, trailer, and potential for the film.

Below are some of the questions that the delegates asked filmmakers after their pitch, and although Points North Pitch is exclusively for documentaries, these questions will help you to prepare for whichever kind of genre you're working in.

Why are you the best person to make this movie?

What is the reason that you decided to tell this particular story? Share your enthusiasm and your empathy for your characters in your pitch. "The panel wants to understand where you enter the story and what you bring to it." said filmmaker Jordan Fein, who pitched Three Rising Towers with his directing partner, Hunter Baker, at Points North. The team told the panel that they spent three years getting access to their story. 

Why should we fund this now?

Identify (or create) a sense of urgency about your film. Keep it contemporary in some way and structure the film, your pitch, and trailer so that it is relevant to audiences.

How will your film be different than others that same topic? 

Find a way to make your film stand out. Filmmakers Carlye Rubin and Katie Green identified this in their pitch for No Place for Children, their documentary about families with sons in prison. They differentiate themselves from other films about prison by highlighting the families specifically.

What are your strengths and weaknesses as a team? 

Your pitch should showcase your strengths as a filmmaker. For instance, filmmakers Suzan Beraza and David Byars pitched ¡No Soy Puta!, a documentary they are shooting in Haiti and the Dominican Republic with a clear goal for their trailer. "We wanted the trailer to show that we could handle the vibrancy and cultures (that are in the film)," said Beraza. It is also good to acknowledge gaps in your team and where you are looking for resources to fill them in. 

Can your trailer stand-alone? (Hint – the answer should be yes.) 

Your pitch should not explain your trailer, but add more details about your film and process. Your trailer should stand-alone so that it's easy for someone to pass it along to others. 

What is the heart of the story? What is the central conflict? 

Byars who pitched ¡No Soy Puta! with Beraza recommended that filmmakers "get outside feedback from people not familiar with your story or film." What may seem obvious to you may not be clear to the panel. 

Filmmker Jeff Unay gives his winning pitch to the audience at Points North Pitch.
Filmmker Jeff Unay gives his winning pitch to the audience at Points North Pitch.Credit: Photo by Spencer Worthley

Why did you choose these characters? What makes them compelling?

"Speak about the personal connection you have as a filmmaker with the characters," recommended Jeff Unay, who pitched his film Greywater. This film is the personal story of a man who uses cage fighting as an escape breaking a promise to his family to stop. 

What are you seeking with your pitch? 

Identify the resources and budget that you need and your timeframe, keeping it in line with the scope of your film. The panel advised filmmakers to include money for impact and to pay yourself. Your time is important.

Would you do a short? 

Sam Morrill, Creator Relations Lead at Vimeo, asked this to one of the filmmakers pitching, thereby highlighting the importance of knowing the audience for your pitch. There may be a story within your film, which could lend itself to a different format than your originally thought. 


Unay went on to take home the Points North Pitch Award for his pitch about Greywater, which included a $10,000 post-production package from Modulus Studios, three consultations from Tribeca Film Institute, and participation in the Tribeca Film Institute Network Market. Unay says, "When someone gives you an audience, it means they care about your work," and it's true -- but it's your job to explain to them why they should care. These questions should help put you on the right track.      

Your Comment

6 Comments

Excellent questions to ask. Just happened to discuss several of them an hour ago with my producer. I feel like it keeps boiling down to "why". Why does this story matter right now, why is it a feature, why the characters, why is that story element central?

But this is only a good thing, because it ensures that we as filmmakers keep pushing for real value, real meaning, real experience and connection. You can play with the lights and music, but you can't fake the human element.

September 24, 2015 at 10:07AM

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Samu Amunét
Director
342

Stupid questions.

"Why are you the best person to make this movie?" Of course nobody can say that he is the best person to make a particular movie without lying. OK, maybe there are a handful of specific world-class directors who are 100% the best match for a particular film, but it's very hard to know for sure.

"Why should we fund this now?" Funders should ask themselves this question. I don't know why they should, it's their money. I can just present a screenplay and my previous films if there are any. If they can't choose based on that, then they shouldn't fund the movie.

"How will your film be different than others with the same topic?" Read the screenplay and see for yourself.

"What are your strengths and weaknesses of your team." Lol, is this a job interview for McDonalds?

"What is the heart of the story?" Read the screenplay and you will have all your story questions answered. If you can't bother reading a screenplay, then I don't want you to fund my movie.

"Why did you choose these characters? What makes them compelling." Nice question to invite post-hoc rationalization. Also, it's hard and unnecessary to come up with an answer what makes a character compelling.

As you can see, I hate pitching (not just in filmmaking) from the bottom of the heart, that is why it's my rule to never pitch.

September 24, 2015 at 1:28PM, Edited September 24, 1:36PM

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Amusing response, however such an attitude for Unay would've put him back a potential $10,000. Pitching isn't for everyone, however I think pitching has its benefits and they are definitely clear in this article!

September 25, 2015 at 9:28PM, Edited September 25, 9:29PM

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Levi Cranston
Honestly... a student.
75

Sure thing, if you choose the path of bullshitting in your life, you will get certain rewards. You have to look at the bigger picture though - not being a bullshitter is going to be better and more fulfilling for you in the long run. But of course this is not for everyone, most people don't even realize what they are doing, because they are so brainwashed by constant messages that they have to "sell themselves", "how to answer expert questions", "how to secure massive grands", "how to convince employer to hire you" etc. Living with such mindset is worse than being a prostitute and I assume very exhausting too. Be honest with yourself and your fellow human beings. It's ok to send someone your screenplay, it's not ok to dance to their tune and answer stupid and unanswerable questions. I left high school, because I didn't want to write essays and interpret things the way they wanted me to do it. I started doing music and skate videos and I would *always* do it the way I wanted to. I was straight with everyone, if you hire me, I don't want your input. Here is my previous work so you can get the feeling of what I do, but I don't guarantee it is going to be the same this time. People respond favourably to such attitude, because they see you are treating them with sincerity and respect, and that you are not just someone who would do anything for a buck. It shows you have some vision that you are following that is non negotiable. If they like what you do, they will hire you, no bullshitting necessary.

September 26, 2015 at 6:02AM, Edited September 26, 6:49AM

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Hey Bob- As an artist I know exactly where you're coming from. And I think if you're working within the world of music and skate video than yeah, maybe you don't need to be very formal about your relationship with your client. Authenticity means a lot to other artistic people. In the business realm, this is obviously not the case. If your feature needs a budget, and that path is though producers, and your producers need to know what the film is about in 30 seconds? That's a pitch. And if you're lucky, the producers want authenticity too.

September 30, 2015 at 12:25AM

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Paul B
390

Good luck with that Bob. I mean unless you've had a string of successes pitching seems to be part of the industry.

September 26, 2015 at 9:44PM

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Stu Mannion
writer/dir/dp
575