Everybody – well, everybody who went to film school / did media studies at university / fancies themselves as a filmmaker – has a TV or documentary idea that they want to pitch. Nay, MUST pitch, otherwise their life won’t be complete.
I once attended a screenwriting class. I wrote a rom-com; the tutor likened it to A Clockwork Orange. I decided I wasn’t a rom-com screenwriter. However, there was one piece of advice that we were given in class, which has stuck: you need to write at least ten screenplays before you send one out. In other words, you need to take time to learn, and hone, your craft before expecting anyone else to take you seriously.
Commissioning editors commonly complain that they actually hear very few good documentary ideas, and this is probably because people are pitching their projects before they are ready. So here are three good reasons not to pitch your documentary:
So what to do? Educate yourself: find good stories, study storytelling, watch lots of documentaries, attend open pitch forums and acquaint yourself with the basics of proposal writing, budgeting and distribution. And then, only then, when you have an idea for a documentary that tells an important story, that you are prepared to promote and market for months or years, and that has an identifiable audience that will make it attractive to funders, go ahead.
You can see a variety of public pitches at Sheffield Doc/Fest, held annually in June.
Greenlit: Developing Your Factual/Reality TV/Idea From Concept to Pitch walks you through the development process and help you understand the TV/documentary landscape.
Trailer Mechanics helps you explore your motivations for making a documentary and help you to start organising the structure of your film, and create a pitch tape that will secure development or production fudning. You can see Fernanda Rossi in action here, where she explains some of the concepts she outlines in the book.
Give Me the Money and I’ll Shoot! reveals what makes funders, buyers and investors tick so you can tailor your pitch accordingly