From the Brooklyn Film Festival Exchange 2012 pitch panel, photo courtesy of Issa Cubb

When pitching to a potential funder there are a lot common traps that filmmakers fall into. Worse, many filmmakers who seek financing go into such interviews with little or no strategy.  Here are a few practical tips to keep in mind when heading into a pitch session courtesy of our friends Reva Goldberg (Cinereach), Julie Goldman (Motto Pictures) and Molly Thompson (A&E Networks).

1. Label your stuff
It’s a common mistake, if you can believe it, that many filmmakers don’t put their name, e-mail and phone number on the content they submit at a pitch. Don’t make it difficult for someone to reach you, especially if they want to give you money.

2. Lead with the emotional hook of your story
For most films, it’s the emotional story which will interest a potential funder in your film. They want to get excited about the emotional journey that viewers are going on. Know that thread of your story before your meeting.

3. When possible, have visual aids
When heading to any potential networking opportunity, carry clearly labeled copies of a clip or trailer.  While there are conferences and networking events you can plan for, you’re not always going to be able to anticipate when a pitching opportunity will come up. If you don’t have a trailer or strong clip, one that truly represents the film, there are other visual aids that you might consider — photographic or illustrated references are the most common. However, none of that replaces the ability to describe your film in an authentic conversational style.

4. Always be prepared but just don’t sound like it
Know your film extremely well and learn how to talk about it. Practice with friends and family, then forget it. You should get to the point where you can extemporize and not sound rehearsed. No one wants to feel like they’re being pitched. It’s better for people to get home and realize then that they’ve been pitched.

5. Contextualize your pitch
You must know who you are pitching to and where you are when you are pitching it. The same pitch does not work in every circumstance. If you’re at a crowded party, just be prepared for a superficial interaction. Be short, be enthusiastic, get a business card, then get out. If you are in an interview, it’s quite different. Also, you will need to tailor your pitch depending on the type of financing opportunities you encounter. A filmmaker might give a very different pitch to grant committee than they would an individual investor, bringing budget broken down into line items for the former, whereas an individual investor wants more broad strokes regarding demographics and your film’s subjects.

6. Don’t be too general, but don’t be long-winded
“Married couples discuss their relationships” is too general. Get more specific, say, “A filmmaker who shoots weddings re-visits couples ten years later to find out what’s happened.” However, don’t be long-winded. Don’t recount the entire film scene by scene. Funders are interested in themes with plot highlights.

7. Don’t let panic, desperation or frustration seep through
You need to work in the economics of the moment, not in the hypothetical. You will have deadlines encroaching as you meet with potential funders but leave those anxieties at the door.  Getting money requires time and a filmmaker has to go through those paces whether it’s a grant application process or a Kickstarter campaign.   If you’re in some big rush because you’ve got to hop on a flight to make a shoot, you’re going to sabotage yourself.  Be prepared to operate within a timeline that is not purely your own making. There’s an application process, a vetting process, etc.

8. Be direct but don’t harass and don’t pester
Once you’ve made your pitch, it’s out of your hands more or less. After you’re done, just get contact information and say you’ll follow up soon. After you’ve followed up once, give them the opportunity to get back on their schedule. You might be stressed by your own deadlines but that will not expedite matters. Include your timeline in that initial e-mail.

9. Follow up with a thank you
Treat your pitch like a job interview. Your main purpose is to create a relationship, not get the job. Remember that. Again, desperation is palpable. Also, even if this funder doesn’t want to give money to this project, they might be impressed with you and be interested in your next film. And, like after any job interview, send a thank you note regardless of the outcome.

Summing Things Up

  • Know your context
  • Always be genuine and enthusiastic
  • Ask for feedback
  • It’s not a pitch — you’re creating a relationship

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POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.