The Mentoring Room - Ask the Working Pros

Mentoring Room

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This is a Public Topic geared towards first-time filmmakers. Professional members of The D-Word will come by and answer your questions about documentary filmmaking.

Doug Block


and laura, your post wasn't removed, at least as far as i know. what was so horrible that you wrote?

Jo-Anne Velin

Everyone here recalls that this is a publicly-viewable topic, right?

Laura Moire Paglin

Well Doug – I certainly didn't think so – a little tough perhaps – could have been construed as a bit sarcastic.

Jo Anne – thanks for reminding us! Truth be told, I had completely forgotten. Since Linda is a member, she should probably be posting this sort of thing in the production topic don't you think?

Jo-Anne Velin

This is mainly for Linda (LW, you may know this): If you are not logged into D-Word when you google your name, you will see what everyone with an internet access will see. (the host(s) can delete anything here that was added inadvertantly).

Linda Wasson

uh ok ? I guess? am not sure what I'm supposed to acknowledge but yeah, I stay logged in...

and no, I don't think this should have been posted in production because I'm a grad student, this is a student film, and I'm new at a lot of this and was looking for mentor remarks, as opposed to mngmnt advice. as a business person, the answer was all too clear but I wanted to make sure I had everything else in mind to consider.

moving on, please see my next q

Linda Wasson

this film I'm working on, about the formerly incarcerated, seems it's growing day by day and is becoming very exciting to work on.

in school they stress over and over again to concentrate on making shorts (this one will be maxed out at 20min) and IF there is interest and IF there is more to shoot, etc., etc., then consider using the short as an intro to the longer version.

I'm just wondering if anyone here has gone that route before – from a short to a longer version? and how did it work out? how did you make various decisions, like what to use in the short? how long did it take to make the longer version (and how long was it?), etc.

Ian Hawkins

Hi everyone,
This is my first post for the D-Word but I wonder if you can help?

Sheffield DocFest have invited me to take part in their Mini-Meet Market at the end of the week. They chose and idea I proposed for a doc and now I have to pitch it to them on Friday. There's a panel of film and documentary professionals and I have just three minutes to pitch my idea.

I've never pitched before. Does anyone have any tips on pitching?
What should I concentrate on in such a short amount of time?

Thanks in advance of any help you can offer.

Nicola Lees

Hi Ian
Congratulations – that's exciting!

First – and most importantly – make sure you really know your idea inside out. What length is it? What's the story? Where does the story begin and how does it get to the end? Over what period are you shooting? Whose point of view are you focusing on? Who are the key characters? How are you telling the story on screen? Using talking head interviews? Ob doc? Rare archive? Animation? And why does this story need to be told now? And indeed, why does this story best told as a documentary rather than a book, magazine feature or photo essay?

Once you've got it straight in your mind you can plan your pitch. Make sure you pitch the story and not the issue or research. The execs will be trying to 'see' your documentary as you pitch it, so make it unfold in their minds with some vivid visual details to bring it to life.

And you only have 3 mins so you don't have to tell the whole story from beginning to end (they'll start glazing over)- summarize it in one sentence e.g. "This is the story of...who...and then discovers that...until... happens". You can then fill in some of the details – how you came to the story, who the characters are and what their challenges are, for example.

The pitch should be a tease that leads to a dialogue. Once they start asking questions – shut up and listen. You can talk yourself out of a pitch by not listening and responding to feedback.

There are a number of articles on pitching here: – scroll down the page and start with the one titled "Six Ways..."

Good luck – and enjoy the experience!

Ian Hawkins

Hi Nicola, what a helpful answer! You've given real detail and that's what I was lacking. Plus 'shut up and listen' – great advice.

Thanks for the link too. I think my time this week will be spent talking to myself with a stopwatch.

Many thanks.