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.

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.

Doug Block

Along the lines of "shut up and listen," whatever you do don't be defensive. If one of the commissioning editors says only a martian would be interested in your film, nod as if the person is a certified genius. Good luck, Ian.

Sebastian Serrano

Hi, i have a question about how much Natgeo or History pays for a chapter of 50 min for the US market. Can you help me with it?
Thank you

John Burgan

Welcome, Sebastian. Everyone at The D-Word registers with their full name, so please add your surname to your profile.

Sebastian Serrano

Hello John, nice to meet you. Can you help me with my question? Thank you

John Burgan

I'm afraid I can't, Sebastian, but hopefully one of our many members can...

Jason Perryman

Well this seems weird posting in here but after trying t figure this place out, I was told to post my questions here.

So I have made a 23 minute DOCUMENTARY on TIGER SHARKS that I need help trying to DISTRIBUTE. It's about diving with Tigers and then how they get killed in the beach nets, wounding their population etc. It's categorized as part amateur part professional in that it was shot on a home movie SD camera, but I got professional people in post production on it, animation, music etc.

How do I distribute this film to it's potential? What Distribution companies or Acquisition companies can I find to get this film to? How do I find these companies? If so, what's the process of approaching them?

I'm interested in getting this shown anywhere. TV, internet any small channels or being inflight movies etc. I know there's loads of different avenues that could show this film. Does anyone know how to do this or where to basically start? Any help would be a MAJOR push, thank you.

(Nat Geo turned me down. Discovery are useless, can't find a proper person to get it to there)

Rick Dillwood

Has anyone had any experience with CFMDC (Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre)?

I got an email from them expressing interest in a short doc I made last year (exciting!), but I wondered how many of these kinds of offers are legitimate.

They're asking for a $75 lifetime membership fee and a list of deliverables.

Any help would be appreciated,