Now that Part I thoroughly explored how to start a pitch, let’s see how to wrap it up. Many think that a pitch ends when one stops talking. Technically, yes. At some point, somehow, the filmmaker has to stop talking: in a forum scenario the time-keeper will ring a bell or otherwise call time. But the final words of your pitch are as important as the opening and shouldn’t be left to chance or a bell.
While the filmmakers at the Scottish Documentary Institute were sharing their pitches, I again got the chance to sample in one room the many happy and not-so-happy endings for a pitch.
The most common scenario is the abrupt ending followed by awkward silence, a void hard to fill for both filmmaker and listener. In that moment, the filmmaker may panic and start talking again—starting either to ramble or to repeat him- or herself. In other cases, the listener breaks the silence with the dreaded “Interesting,” delivered in that passion-killing monotone, or, even worse, with “What do you need from me?”
Rambling or trailing off or going in circles can also happen without that awkward silence. The pitch reached its natural peak and resolution, yet the story seems to have started all over again or to have lost its way in a sea of unrelated comments and anecdotes. Why does that happen? Is it fear of the upcoming silence? Or of the listener’s reaction?
To avoid the above, it’s better to commit to a definite plan. Unfortunately, many think that the best way to commit to an ending is to announce it: “And that’s the story.” They might as well say “The End”—that at least might get a chuckle. Equally self-defeating is putting the listener on the spot: “So, whatcha think?”
Ideally, the end of the pitch has a strong resounding final sentence that invites applause—if pitching to an audience—or a soft landing that naturally gets the listener asking questions—if pitching one-on-one. An option would be to summarize the mission statement of the film: “This documentary then would seek to answer/explore/reveal [insert issue] and in doing so bring forth [insert aspirations].” Make sure it ends on a high note, and not an inadvertent ultimatum: “If we don’t make this film, these people will die.”
Another option is to revisit the linguistic devices suggested for beginning a pitch in Part I, adapting them to a different plot point or aspect of the story, creating a cliffhanger similar to the ones we see in trailers. Beware, however, of misusing humor, especially flippant or self-deprecating remarks: few people can get away with those.
Yet another option: ask a gentle question that doesn’t sound like an IQ test but rather invites the other person to share a personal experience relevant to the film’s topic: “Have you been to such and such place?”
Whether a grand finale or a soft closing, the ending of a pitch marks the beginning of a dialogue—a dialogue in which active listening becomes more important that any word said so far.
Conclusion: In a pitch there are words, in a dialogue there are pauses.
Internationally renowned author and story consultant Fernanda Rossi has doctored over 200 documentaries, scripts, and fundraising trailers including the Academy Award® nominated The Garden by Scott Hamilton Kennedy. In addition to private consultations, lectures, and seminars worldwide, she has served as festival juror and grant panelist. Ms. Rossi shares her knowledge and research of story structure and the creative process in columns and articles in trade publications. She is also the author of the book Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making your Documentary Fundraising Trailer.
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Article by Fernanda Rossi • edited by Marcia Scott • photo by Tania Retchisky
Fernanda Rossi, 2008. All rights reserved. This article can be reprinted in its entirety for educational purposes only, as long as no charges of any kind are made. Partial reproductions or modifications to the original format are strictly prohibited.
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