Make your film so hot, it sizzles.
There is an art to making a sizzle reel for your film, something that will capture a potential funder or broadcaster’s attention in such a way that they will want to support your project.
On the DOC NYC PRO panel, Creating a Fundraising Sizzler, Jeremy Workman, filmmaker of the just-released film The World Before Your Feet and Creative Director of Wheelhouse Creative, and Shannon Conboy, editor at Wheelhouse Creative, shared their insiders tips with moderator Adam Schartoff on how they craft successful fundraising sizzles and what elements are essential to include.
The first thing Workman wants you to understand is that your sizzler is not your film. It has a very specific purpose, which is to quickly introduce your film’s subject matter, characters, and story arch in such a way that works to seduce the viewer into either opening their pocketbook or signing onto your project in another significant way. The sizzler is working to have them understand the attitude of the movie—what it’s going to look like and feel like. “It has to do with trying to present the experience” of the movie “for investors so that they can have a confidence in what that movie going to be,” Workman explains. “Do we care if the sizzle is great? Sure, but that’s less important than it containing the right messaging.’
While each film needs to touch on elements that are part of its story, style, and themes, there are certain touchpoints that Workman says should be in almost every sizzler. The topic and characters need to be crystal clear, and there should be a three act structure (a beginning, middle, and end) that reflect the film’s arch. Even though you are showing only a few minutes, a funder should be able to see in their mind’s eye a full movie, not just a news segment or quick Youtube video. They need to see your vision as the director, to understand why this should be a cinematic experience.
“The movie will be smart and have nuance and texture but, here you have four-to-five mins to find the big broad moments that hit the topic."
It’s also important to note that sizzles tend to be a lot less subtle than the movie will be. “The movie will be smart and have nuance and texture but, here you have four-to-five mins to find the big broad moments that hit the topic,” Workman shares. Conboy adds that “you want a good mix of interview and verite moments” to keep your viewer entertained. Not only are sizzlers different from the movie itself, but they are not to be confused with theatrical trailers, where one is concerned about blowing plot points and giving too much story away. On the contrary, Workman says, “this is a private viewing ... just for raising money.” You actually want to use your best, most compelling footage and plot points to make the argument for their support.
Because the video will be for a private audience, music does not need to be licensed or final, though Conboy says they do use music libraries such as Audio Network or Extreme Music as part of their selection. “You could use the Rolling Stones if you wanted to, but we tend not to do that because it makes people in the room wonder ‘are they gonna really license this?’” Workman says. Other times they use scores from existing films as stand-in music, or, in the case of a finished film, they can also use that score.
The whole process usually takes a few weeks and can cost an average of $10,000.
Wheelhouse shared their typical process of working with filmmakers for those who are considering hiring such a company. First of all, by the time they come into work with Wheelhouse, a filmmaker should “really have a sense of the movie they want” to make, Workman says. Wheelhouse isn’t there to figure out what your film is about; the clearer your vision and purpose, the more likely you will walk away with a great reel and get your money’s worth from their services.
Here’s what to expect if you work with Wheelhouse. First, you may meet with Workman for a creative discussion about your film and what you are hoping to achieve. The company will then look at your footage and the editor will take about a week to come up with a first cut. Workman will screen it and give the editor notes for any revisions he recommends, and after the editor makes the changes, they will send it back to you for your notes and revisions. After one or more revisions, there will be a mix and color correct. The whole process usually takes a few weeks and can cost an average of $10,000.
It may seem counter-intuitive to spend what seems like a large chunk of cash in order to make more back, but it is an investment that hopefully will yield much more than you spent. The sizzle cost went up even higher for the film team behind Digital Wars, which Wheelhouse worked with because they wanted to show potential funders the caliber of graphics they intended to use in the film. They invested in putting an example of these in their sizzler because the producer found this vital to their pitch.
If a film is early in production or is still in development, Workman says that often a filmmaker will shoot expressly for the purpose of creating a reel.
Conboy says you can keep your budget down “if you’re very specific in what you provide” the company. Do some work to pre-edit before you hand over the materials, so their process will be shorter. In short, you, as the filmmaker, is driving Wheelhouse’s editing process and can help determine its length.
If a film is early in production or is still in development, Workman says that often a filmmaker will shoot expressly for the purpose of creating a reel. One of the documentaries they recently worked on, F-Jackie, had a budget of 10-20K and spent two-to-three weeks filming with the subject, then added Youtube, news, and archival clips to create their piece.
In short, each film will have its own objectives that the filmmaker must identify in order to come away with the results they are seeking. The more legwork your team can do ahead to understand your vision and goals, the more successful your efforts to create a sizzler are likely to be, whether you hire a company to create it for you or whether you opt to do it yourself or with an editor.