Perfect Pitch

Fernanda Rossi November 21, 2008

Dear Doc Doctor: I was told I need an elevator pitch and a regular pitch and a longer pitch, and that’s on top of the demo and written proposal! How many type of pitches do I really need—and what for?

Doc Doctor: I know how you feel. As if making a documentary weren’t challenging enough, you have to create all these ancillary elements. The key word here is "create." It’s quite creative to craft these apparently peripheral fundraising devices, and they can illuminate you greatly about your film-in-progress. Much more creative—one would hope—than the accounting part of filmmaking, though I find some streaks of creativity there, too.

There are several types of pitches for the varying circumstances in which the filmmaker will be doing such pitching. There is the popular elevator pitch, usually short even when going to the 50th floor, seeking to entice the listener for a future, more in-depth meeting, and performed at chance encounters—whether at elevators or industry parties or first time casual meetings.

Then there is the forum pitch, most often performed in a staged situation at a—you guessed it—pitch forum, also seeking to entice the commissioning editors in the panel to schedule a private meeting and dazzle the large audience to start a buzz that will hopefully pave the path for future meetings. This type of pitching is more likely to be accompanied by the screening of a demo.

And finally, the full-length or in-depth pitch, either in straight-forward delivery or in conversational, interactive style. Either of them used in private one-on-one meetings as a follow-up for the pitches described above, with the hope to seal a deal or at least start talking in more concrete terms about whether a collaboration is possible.

There are many other combinations and variations for pitches. One-on-one meetings can be in a round of a small number of filmmakers taking turns to pitch. Or a pitch forum can have industry people only and no audience present. Such variations could affect somewhat the delivery and content of the pitch at times.

Having said that, being aware of the different type of pitches doesn’t necessarily mean each one needs to be created as a separate piece from scratch. Rather think of it as a collection of modules to be assembled together depending on the circumstances. Your elevator pitch is in part the beginning of your regular pitch with a very tight summary of everything else.

The modular approach to pitch creation takes into account something that is often forgotten: Pitching is as much about listening as it’s about talking. Somebody with potential funding is there looking at you, either hanging on your every word or gazing over your shoulder looking for an escape. Your perfectly written and memorized 1 minute 12 second pitch might as well be your final and will if you are not prepared to change the angle of your swing.

With good listening and perceptual skills, pitching becomes a fun guessing game, where you’re making your film with words to mesmerize your first audience: the funder.

International author and story consultant Fernanda Rossi has doctored over 200 documentaries, scripts, and fundraising trailers around the world. In addition to private consultations, lectures, and seminars worldwide, she has served as festival juror and grant panelist. She is also the author of the book Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making your Documentary Fundraising Trailer. More info and book at