The Best Film Pitching Tips and More Advice from North Star Mentors
Five North Star Residents share the most useful filmmaking advice they got from industry pros.
It’s common chatter among film festival programmers and event curators that it’s far beyond time to diversify the industry, but the Points North Institute and its showcase Camden International Film Festival actually walk the talk. This year, not only did the festival program gender parity across every section of its public offerings, but it also welcomed a second cohort of North Star Residents.
The North Star Residency brings five young U.S.-based filmmakers of color to the festival for a weeklong program of films, focused events, career-building opportunities, and meetings with industry decision-makers.
“The North Star Residency was nothing less than a breakthrough–both creatively and professionally.”
—Shelby Zoe Coley
The type of active support that the program offers is poised to make a real difference in the makeup of the industry at large. As fellow Daniel Chein describes, “The kinds of films CIFF is curating and the artists they are supporting through their programs reaffirmed my decision to pursue a career in film.”
If you are a documentary filmmaker of color in your 20s, this year’s fellows enthusiastically encourage you to apply for next fall’s program. Says Milton Guillén, “The reality is that we all know how hard it is to bring nonfiction projects into the screen but this fellowship invigorated us creatively, strategically, and emotionally.” Below are some of the best nuggets of advice this year’s participants received during their time in Camden:
Find Your Dust-in-the-Light Moment
"Something Tracy Rector said really stuck with me. After many, many years working in film, she still hadn’t considered herself a filmmaker. One day, she was sitting in her living room during golden hour watching dust particles floating in the light when it finally dawned on her that she must be a filmmaker. I’m still waiting for my dust-in-the-light moment, but I’m not rushing to find it, either." —Daniel Chein, Age 29, Oakland, CA
Daniel Chein is an independent cinematographer, editor, and director based in Oakland, CA. He is a 2018 BAVC National Mediamaker Fellow and a recipient of the Princess Grace Award in Film.
Believe in What You are Saying
"Throughout the duration of the Points North Residency there were many incredible mentors who gave insightful and invaluable advice. One comment in particular that resonated with me was when our lead mentor, Iyabo Boyd conveyed to us: “Believe in what you are saying”. In other words, you have the skills but you need to recognize that special passion within yourself. For me, that was a very poignant moment to really hold myself accountable for my work and who I am as a filmmaker." —Brittany Shyne, Age 28, Dayton
Brittany Shyne is a filmmaker from Dayton, Ohio. Her works analyze race, gender and culture seeking to examine the complexity of the human experience.
Don’t Compromise Your Vision
Our Lead Mentor Iyabo Boyd and Program Director Samara Grace Chadwick from Points North told us to work with collaborators and funders who believe in you and don't compromise your vision. —Vicky Du, Age 29, New York
Vicky Du is a Taiwanese-American filmmaker based in New York. She’s working on her first feature documentary that traces the lineage of intergenerational trauma within her own family.
Understand the Identity of Your Funders
John Cardellino from the Sundance Documentary Institute reminded me of the importance of timing with my project, On the Move, a kaleidoscopic depiction of displacement. It is not enough to have a timely issue with an original idea in paper, but also crucial to understand the tempo and identity of the places you're trying to get grants from. Ultimately, building on creative strategies and partnerships across the multiple entities that can finance you is a hodgepodge each team has to solve, but the North Star Fellowship illuminated some of the potential paths for me. —Milton Guillén, Age 26, Chicago
Milton Guillén is a visual anthropologist navigating the intersections between ethnography and fictions through the art of nonfiction.
"The people who want to meet with you are not just buying into your project, they’re buying into you."
Pitch Your Own Story
During the North Star Residency, the best advice I received was from our lead mentor Iyabo Boyd. In preparation for our pitch meetings, Iyabo told the five of us, “The people who want to meet with you are not just buying into your project, they’re buying into you.” So it helped me remember that the person on the other end of the table of these meetings wants to know what about my life story, my background, my unconventional education and upbringing makes me unique. Because in the end, people don’t want to just invest in one project; they want to be a part of the success story that is your career!
Along the same lines, a great tactic for pitch meetings I learned in one of our sessions led by Monika Navarro of ITVS was starting with the question: What was the exact moment you knew you could not live without telling this story?
That way when you relay the answer to someone, 1) It puts you into a natural storytelling, conversational mode, and everyone loves a good story not just hearing a logline you’ve repeated x many times and 2) you’re not just telling the story of your film but the story of yourself—which is what a lot ‘industry’ people buy into. They want to know the film and the filmmaker. —Shelby Zoe Coley, Age 28, New York
Shelby Zoe Coley is a Black queer documentarian based in New York City who uses rhythm, portraiture, and the spoken word to explore intersections between queerness, race and creative practices.