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Read Hank and Jilann’s Sundance Film Festival blog,

written as they went through the rollercoaster experience of premiering a film at this world-renown documentary film competition for the first time.

 

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Pitching Documentary Ideas At WestDoc

We just went to a Documentary and Reality conference in LA called WestDoc, a great 3-day event full of seminars and meets and greets with funders, programmers, agents, and filmmakers.  All in all, it was an amazing conference, and we plan to go again next year. One of the best things about WestDoc is that we were able to meet one-on-one with a few network programmers. These meetings are gold!

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We got to request our top choices and then it was a lottery of sorts. Our first pitch meeting was with The Learning Channel. I had gone to an info session with TLC that morning, and listened to their rep (who we later pitched to) talk about the channel and what they were looking for; some philosophies of the channel; pitching procedures, etc…

As we were getting ready to pitch to him later that day, I was trying to think of an opener, something from his info session that I could use to break the ice. I looked through my notes and saw something that might work—TLC considers itself a safe channel for kids (in other words you can be watching a show, and its ok if you kid walks into the room to ask if they can have more snacks). So I started off the meeting saying how I agreed, since we have kids ourselves, and that led to him talking about his kids, and bang we were talking about our children, spouses, families, and all was good.

Then we had to get down to pitching—these pitch meetings were 10 minutes, and monitored by a woman with a stopwatch, so not much time for small talk. Our first pitch it turns out was similar to a show they did a few years ago called “The Secret Life of a Soccer Mom’ which didn’t do very well. He said as much, and then paused, as if to say, “why do you think that show failed, and how is your idea going to be any better?’ Now I am not a tv junkie, so while I could guess what the show was about from its title, I didn’t know it well enough to be able to tell him how our idea was different and better. I had broken one of my golden rules: research who you are pitching to—know as much as you can about them (I talk more about this in our Documentary How To: Developing Your Documentary Ideas.)

Okay, so that pitch kind of fizzled out, so on to the next one.  (It’s always good to have more than one idea in these pitch meetings.) This second idea had to do with old folks, and as it turned out, he and his colleagues are interested in ideas on the elderly, so this pitch basically took care of itself. We told him briefly what the idea was and he talked about how much he loved it, how old people are like kids since they have no filters with what they say, etc. And before we knew it he was writing a check for a million dollars.

Actually he said he was really into the idea, and could we please send a long a treatment as soon as we had one. And time was up.

We also pitched to the Sundance Channel that same day, and found out that they like to give finishing funds to one-off documentaries (films that are stand alone projects, not a part of a series)—anywhere from 30K to 120K. Great!

These pitching opportunities were just one part of this fabulous conference, and we will follow up with each of these channels and keep them up to date on the progress of our projects.  The key is that we established a relationship with each broadcaster, they know about our projects, and even if they don’t fund these ones, we can go to them in the future with more ideas.  Well worth the price of the conference! -- Hank