Sep 8, 2020
Filmmaking is a complicated, expensive, and time-consuming, process. That is especially true for independent filmmakers who work with little-to-no budget and small production teams.
Everyone wears a lot of hats on an indie film project, and one that nobody looks forward to is “PR agent.” But after spending several months (not to mention all of your savings) on your film, you’re going to have to think about how to market it to audiences, film festivals, and/or producers.
To do that, you’re going to have to pitch your project. Thinking about how to present your film is something that should start early on, and maybe even as early as pre-production. And to help you set yourself up for success, this guide will teach you how to write a pitch for your indie film.
But first, why do you need a pitch?
Pitching is the process of presenting a synopsis of your film to someone else. More importantly, it’s a script you’ll use to show off your project to a producer, executive, or judge and convince them to finance, distribute, or promote it.
One quick note: This video does a fantastic job of breaking down why pitches are important. But don’t try to include everything inside the final version of your pitch — the ultimate goal is to keep it short and sweet, which means you’ll be editing this document just like your footage.
We think of a pitch as a written project, but it’s more than just a summary — it’s an explanation of what makes your film compelling. Treat it like an elevator pitch or a 140-character tweet, something short enough to memorize but clever enough to hold a complete stranger’s interest.
A pitch isn’t just something you bring into a meeting room or studio. It’s something you can use in an elevator, on a sidewalk, or at a bar. If you bump into someone at a festival or event, you have to be ready and able to pitch your film as quickly (and concisely) as possible.
Think of that conversation as your one and only chance to generate interest and spark a conversation. No film will interest everyone, and that’s okay. But the only way to make sure you capitalize on these opportunities is if you prepare — and even memorize — a pitch for your film.
You probably have an idea of how pitching works, whether it’s from online research or watching a show like Shark Tank. But before you go preparing a slide deck, you’ll need to write out a comprehensive pitch for the project.
I could break this process down a handful of different ways, but it’s hard to get too far into the details because most film genres need to be presented differently.
To give a comprehensive (and universally applicable) idea, here are the most important things to keep in mind as you start to think about, write, revise, and then present the pitch for your film.
If you think back to the papers you wrote in high school and college, everything revolves around a thesis. It’s the focus of the pitch — the big mystery, character struggle, or explanation that your film addresses.
In most cases, this should be a huge attention-grabber. The big idea should be compelling enough that a complete stranger would stop what they’re doing and want to learn more...because in the case of a pitch, this might be the make-or-break moment for you.
If you’re familiar with a thesis, you’re also familiar with outlining. And you can think of this step as an early script, or even a storyboard. (In fact, you could use those for reference.) It’s something that can help you collect your thoughts, meaning it can also be a helpful tool during pre-production.
But I digress. The importance of keeping your pitch short is that it forces you to pack a lot of ideas into a small space. That’s a good skill for any storyteller, but when you’re building an outline, you need to make sure the most important themes and scenes are covered.
The worst thing you can do is pitch your film and forget to mention a blog twist or character development that might be what captures someone’s interest.
No matter who you ask in the industry, everyone has the same advice about writing pitches: The shorter, the better.
That idea is more than just trimming sentences (or paragraphs) — it’s about condensing information. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was an influential story for an entire generation, and it delivers an incredible experience as a movie or a novel.
But you won’t have 500 pages or two hours to pitch your idea. If you’re lucky, you might get someone to read 500 words or listen to you talk for two minutes.
“Harry Potter learns that he is a wizard and is taken to a magical school for children.” This example is a little too streamlined and doesn’t share much, but it should give you an idea of what matters and what doesn’t — every piece of the pitch needs to spark interest.
(Ironically, the first Harry Potter novel was rejected by a handful of publishers because J.K. Rowling’s pitch was anything but “short and sweet.” It’s an important lesson to learn.)
If you spend time thinking about your film’s target audience, why wouldn’t you think about who you’re pitching to? Big-shot producers have less time and availability than, say, your regional film festival. And people expect different pitches for different genres of film too.
Scientists aren’t entirely sure how long it takes to make a first impression, but whether it’s 1 second or 100 seconds, you’ll need to do whatever you can to make sure your pitch starts off with a bang.
So do some research. You shouldn’t copy sample pitches, but make sure you look at how other filmmakers talk about their films. Just listening to successful filmmakers talk about (and “pitch”) their projects can give you a better idea of what to include or cut out of your formal written pitch.
And if you are building a pitch early on during production, that might even help you craft an experience that is better suited to your target audience anyway. That’s just an extra benefit of wrapping this process up into pre-production.
But at the end of the day, that really is all there is to it. Figuring out how to write a pitch for your indie film can seem like a daunting task, mostly because it’s something filmmakers see as a test for whether or not your film deserves a producer’s attention.
Don’t think of it like that.
Your pitch is something that can help you determine the tone and feel of your story. That makes it a useful tool, whether you’re sharing it with potential audiences (a la “editing a trailer”), submitting your film to certain festivals, or trying to secure producers and funding.
And that knowledge might be just the motivation you need to start seeing pitch writing as a fun opportunity rather than one more hill to climb.