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Book Review: Trailer Mechanics by Fernanda Rossi

trailermechanics“When demo, pitch and proposal don’t mesh well, the Holy Trinity becomes the Bermuda Triangle, into which you and your project can disappear forever, never to be seen again,” says Fernanda Rossi, documentary consultant and author of Trailer Mechanics, the industry bible on how to create a compelling pitch tape (or demo, as she calls them).

This book, now in its newly updated 2nd edition, is more than just a manual on how to make a trailer (of the sort that is intended to raise money to make the full-length documentary, rather than a Hollywood-style trailer designed to advertise the finished film to audiences). Whilst there are detailed guidelines to making pitch tapes suitable for different approaches – character-driven or topic-driven – the book spends time interrogating the reader’s motivation for making a documentary and injecting a healthy dose of realism for those who think they can just start shooting and their genius will carry them through:

  • “The story is not out there… 100 hours of footage can’t guarantee a story, let alone a well-crafted one.”
  • “Intending to make the longest, biggest documentary reveals a lack of understanding of story development and market needs.”

So before you begin your journey as a filmmaker, or on a particular documentary film, you must ask yourself: Do you really have a story to tell? If so, why is it a story worthy of a film rather than a photo essay, article or book? Fernanda Rossi warns that just because you have access to a location or person, or there is an event where you can shoot some footage, it doesn’t mean there is a feature length documentary to be made from that material. If you can’t shake off your urge to make a film, make a short film and upload it on YouTube to satisfy your inner film-maker. Otherwise, she suggests that you shoot to your heart’s content and license the footage to a stock library.

If your subject is genuinely visual will sustain a narrative for 60 or 90 minutes you are ready to start putting together your pitch package: proposal, pitch tape and verbal pitch.

  • If you are a director through and through and think best in pictures, start with Trailer Mechanics.  You can see Fernanda Rossi in action here, where she explains some of the concepts she outlines in the book.
  • If you are an entrepreneur at heart, happiest when schmoozing potential investors, learn what makes them tick and then tailor your pitch accordingly – you’ll find out how in Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot!

Between them, these books form the Holy Trinity of pitching and you need them all on your bookshelf if you are to avoid that dangerous Bermuda Triangle.

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