The last six months have been wild - the process of launching a business in a new city, pitching tons of new ideas and structuring a brand that produces quality work, stays busy and maintains the values that we established when we launched last year, has been an incredible learning experience. Both Graham and I have been pouring ourselves into this process, learning everything we can about grassroots business development from our colleagues, friends, books, magazines, etc.
For me, the most difficult learning curve has been how to develop a concept from something abstract into something that is not only practical but, most importantly, marketable. Let’s face it, nothing gets done in this business without funding, so you have to consider the wants and needs of everybody who supports you at every stage of the game.
The only way to truly have creative control over a project is to produce something independently - the proverbial “passion project” - which we all know does not pay the bills. And while that compromise with corporate interests can feel a bit rough for creatives who always want to produce the purest reflection of the image in their mind’s eye, it is also liberating and inspiring to work within that structure and produce something that is meaningful to supporters and audiences, and not just ourselves.
So, I’ve kept track of the many lessons I’ve learned through the pitching process and compiled a list of things to consider when developing any concept - whether it’s a short commercial product video or a feature documentary, there are many questions that we must answer before we hit record. Feel free to post a comment if you have anything to add!
What is this film/video about? What makes it interesting or unusual?
You need to be able to express this in 20 seconds.
You’re not telling a complete story – you’re throwing a hook, so don’t get caught in the weeds of the Hypothetical.
Remember that this is a pitch - say whatever you have to say to make this story sound as cool as possible. Everyone understands that things change, so use this as an opportunity to demonstrate your ability to tell a story.
Keep is simple.
Who does this story follow? Is it character driven? Who is the main character?
Establish his or her conflicts, goals, motivations, narrative deadlines, lessons learned, message/call to action, stakes, relevance, action, etc.
What are the strongest/most compelling story elements? What are the weakest/least compelling story elements? Make a “pros and cons” list for yourself.
What benefits would a donor receive? Advertising, public relations, promotion, connection to important issues? Know how to make it worth their while before you talk.
What are your plans for distribution?
Festivals, theatrical, cable TV, Public Access TV, home video, educational markets, institutional markets, web PPV, etc.
What is your fundraising strategy? How are you building your funding pyramid?
50% from three or four corporate sponsors
20% from grants
15% from crowd-funding
15% from local organizations
Anyone that might invest in this project needs to know that its’ funding is on secure ground. Demonstrate your understanding of how funding and budgets work in video production to build confidence in a potential supporter.
Who is your fiscal sponsor? If you don’t already have one, can you possibly find one? If there are no non-profit organizations in the appropriate industry, there are plenty of organizations that can act as a fiscal sponsor for your film, regardless of the subject matter. It’s kind of like money laundering, but legit.
Fiscal sponsors are non-profit organizations that are partnered with the film project and can accept tax-deductible donations on behalf of the production. Organizations with deep pockets love to make tax deductible donations before the end of the fiscal year.
What is your budget? A number that is too low will make it look like you don’t know what you’re doing, while a number too high might scare investors off. It’s a balancing act. Research the people you are contacting and know how much they’re used to providing.
How do you plan to create a “community” around this film? It’s never too early to start building your audience.
How will you make a personal connection to the audience?
What is the production schedule? Final delivery? World Premier?
Schedule includes Research, Fundraising, Scripting, Pre-Production, Production, Post Production, Distribution
Does the film already have a post card/website/brand/trailer/following? These elements are all really important. Build a brand around your project, and make it cool.
In summary, these are the things that matter most to a potential sponsor:
Why make this film? How is it unique?
Who is the audience?
Consider: geography, age, race, religion, lifestyles/hobbies, occupation, educational background, political affiliation
How will it be distributed?
How will it be marketed?
How does this project fit the existing marketing strategy of every organization you approach for funding?
Creating projects from beginning to end is no walk in the park, but stick with it! In the end, your premiere will be that much more meaningful, both to you and the team of people you’ve built to support you. I hope my experience can be helpful!