Your written proposal is possibly your first – maybe your only – shot at impressing a commissioner so it’s important to capture their attention for the right reasons. Take the time to get it right.
But, you say: “I’m a film maker, not a writer, and my idea speaks for itself”.
A commissioner’s response? “If you can’t write a good well-structured and error-free proposal why should I trust you to make a well-structured and error-free documentary?”
The general standard of written proposals is poor, so it’s relatively easy to make a good impression.
Follow these 15 steps to make yours stand out:
Commissioners don’t have time or patience for long, meandering and beautifully crafted sentences. Get straight to the point.
Don’t show off. It might be clever but it won’t win you a commission. Advertisers use language that a 12-year-old can understand. Do the same.
Make it easy for your reader to find the important information
Highlighting key words makes it easy for your reader to scan your proposal in seconds (remember, you only have 40 seconds of their attention). If they like what they see on first pass they will go back and read the detail.
Don’t allow your contestants to merely go into the jungle – they should hack their way in.
“The team dives down to explore the shipwreck,” is much more immediate and energetic than, “the shipwreck will be explored by a dive team”.
“The only survivor of the disaster tells us what happened when the plane went down,” is much stronger than, “we could interview eyewitnesses”. Be careful not to promise the impossible, though – it is prudent to check that the only survivor is willing to be interviewed on camera.
Help the reader imagine what they will see and feel when they watch the programme. “The paramedics have only twelve hours and a sled to get the vaccine to the remote community on the other side of the most dangerous mountain in the world.”
These are the essential elements of every good story.
Don’t say you’ll use specialist filming techniques; tell them you’ll use a specially developed ‘cat-cam’ to capture what pets get up to when their owners are at work.
If you are a British producer pitching to an American development executive use US spellings. British spellings will distract the reader.
Your reader might only read the first paragraph so make sure they see the most important information first. If they like what they see they will read more, but they won’t go hunting for relevant details.
Don’t tell your reader how surprising, amazing or shocking your subject is – surprise, amaze or shock them as they are reading your proposal.
Don’t rely on your spellchecker and computer screen – typos leap off the printed page.
The more proposals you write, the easier it will get. Aim to make each one better than the last. Visit Copyblogger for tips.
Get more development and pitching tips in Greenlit: Developing Factual/Reality TV Ideas From Concept to Pitch