Moonshine Moonshot Blog

How to pitch your film to raise finance

Dec 06, 2022

How to pitch your film to raise finance

If you’re an aspiring documentary filmmaker with an important story to share, there’s one thing you need to get straight (and no, I’m not talking about your -story– although obviously, that’s very crucial too): how to pitch your film to potential funders.

Ah yes, the dreaded ‘p” word. If you’ve been keeping across the How to make a documentary series, I’m sure you knew this one was coming up. Last week, I looked closely at crafting a compelling proposal. And the week before that I zoned in on pre-interviews, which are often used as part of pitching your film idea.

Now the time has come to really dig into it.

The thought of pitching leaves most filmmakers I know with an icky pang in the pit of their stomachs. Maybe it’s because it implies a certain level of salesmanship and we’re “creatives”. Maybe it’s because the idea of “pitching”  and what it means is still a bit blurry or perhaps it’s because pitching can be connected to public speaking and public speaking is rated as a greater fear than death.  Yep, some people would literally rather die than speak in public! –  But you’re only going to be pitching your film publicly if you’re in a pitching contest that is often run at film festivals and conferences.  So don’t stress about that just yet. Or maybe you're worried about all of the above.   And quite possibly it’s also because your film really matters to you and you want to get the green light to make it.  So the answer to your pitch is very important to you.  No one wants to get a no.  Not from a potential funder. 

But, if you want to make a film – a really, really good film – you do need to learn to embrace the concept of pitching and raise some finance.

Pitches put you front and centre with decision-makers who can finance and champion your film. In short: if you want to bring your vision to life, you need to master the process.

And I think I can help.


In this instalment of the How to make a documentary series, I’ll be covering:

  • The pitch video
  • How to share your pitch video
  • What to do when you finally land that all-important meeting with a would-be investor

Let’s go!

What is a pitch video?

A pitch video, or “sizzle reel” as it’s sometimes called, is a short clip that encapsulates your film’s intention, setting, themes and key talent. It should be created so that someone completely unfamiliar with the project could watch it and immediately grasp the basic premise.

In other words? You need to pack a lot in – but you also need to keep things simple and concise. So yes, there’s a bit of an art to it.

Your pitch video will share the best or most awe-inspiring moments from your film, and most filmmakers use them to sell their projects to investors (or distributors – but that comes later in the piece. Be sure to subscribe to Moonshine Moonshot so you know when the episode on distribution lands).

You’ll want every shot in your pitch video to represent your concept creatively, while also providing potential investors with valuable information that will encourage them to get behind your project.

As a rule, keep your pitch video under 2 minutes. And include as much cinematic footage as possible. Tug at their heartstrings with emotive clips. Get them excited with high-tempo music. Tickle their curiosity with creative camera angles and drone shots. Turn your pitch video into an unforgettable sensory feast!

You might be thinking ‘yikes, I haven’t shot anything yet!’ That’s ok, this is where you can turn to your pre-interviews and other research to help you out.  Funders know you haven’t begun principal photography and that you’re showing them footage from the development phase.  You can draw on archival or stock footage for a pitch video if you need to, there’s so much stock footage out there you’re sure to find something suitable and then you can use narration or graphics to help share key messages.   The point is to get creative and inspire, engage and persuade.

Oh? And a fun fact before I move on. The term “sizzle reel” was apparently coined by Hollywood director Walter Lantz way back in the 1930s. Keep that in your pocket for your next trivia night!

You’ve got the pitch video sorted …what’s next?

I hate to break it to you, but the pitch video is probably the easiest step in the whole pitching process. You’re a filmmaker – so creating a video probably comes quite naturally.

But it’s still a big feat and ticking it off your list brings a huge wave of relief. So pat yourself on the back!

Now, however, it’s time to get it in front of potential funders along with your written proposal. If you’ve skipped a step and haven’t finalised your proposal just yet, that’s ok. I discussed the ins and outs of proposal writing in the last episode of the series, it’s number 42.

You can catch up now by:

Watching the episode on YouTube

Reading the blog

Listening to the podcast

If you’ve got all your materials together, bravo! Now you need to share them with potential funders. Just be sure you’re pitching to the right people. For instance, if your documentary is about breast caner prevention, pitching to cancer societies, med tech companies and even women’s lingerie brands makes sense. Pitching to an alcohol company or fast food chain probably doesn’t (unless they’ve shown interest in raising awareness for breast cancer in the past).

I should mention that the type of potential funders I’m discussing are made up from not-for-profits, philanthropists, organisations and companies.  I’m not talking about screen agencies or film funds.

If you’re a bit stuck on where to start with finding contacts.  Then you should defiantly take a look at who is already in your networks.  Lean into your existing contacts during this phase. Speak with your colleagues, acquaintances, family and friends and see if you can tap into any of their business connections. Attend networking events and try to get people interested in your documentary story.

You might need to do some basic desktop research for organisations that have an interest in your film’s subject matter. Try to track down the best contact (or any contact) and pitch your idea.

And of course – follow up! It can take weeks (sometimes months!) for execs to get back to you. Wait a week or possibly two, craft a polite follow-up email and check in with those you’ve pitched to.

It might take a while, but if you’ve nailed your pitch video and proposal, you will eventually land a meeting with one of these potential funders. This brings me to my next point ….

What to do in a pitch meeting

So, you’ve shared your proposal, you’ve circulated your pitch video and you’ve landed a meeting. Whoop!

Now it’s time to build rapport and lean in to really pitch your project All you’ve got to do is bring your energy and passion with you to the meeting –you’re talking about your film after all. And your job is to show the other people in the room why they should join you on your filmmaking journey. Let them know why you care so deeply about this project, and why they should too.

You also need to be prepared to answer questions. Lots and lots of questions (here’s three that seem to always come up). And if nerves take hold? Take a deep breath, dig deep and find your confidence. Remember, you’re all humans in the room (or video call if you’re convening online), if you stumble or misspeak – compose yourself and carry on.

You’ve got this!

Still, as much as this meeting is about you and your project – it’s also very much about the potential investor sitting across from you, too. So listen. Take note of what they say and they’re own passion areas and find a way to connect your story idea. Not everything about your film needs to be of interest to your potential funders (and not everything will) but if you hone in on the part of the story that does interest them, you’ll be far more likely to get the deal across the line.

Yes – the deal. This is a pitch meeting after all. It’s not all film chat and cappuccinos. You need to be bold enough to ask for what you want: money.

Before the meeting closes, tell the people you’re meeting with what you need from them. Be clear about how much funding you require and how you’re sourcing it. Maybe you need $100,000 to achieve your vision, but you’re open to working with multiple investors to reach that goal. Be open and honest – it’s more likely to lead to a positive outcome.

And if it doesn’t? Don’t lose heart. ‘Nos’ are, unfortunately, part of the puzzle. I’ve been knocked back many many times but I’ve still managed to get my films funded. You will too!

So if you receive a ‘no’, accept it with grace, try to find a way to keep the conversation going and move on to the next pitch. What do I mean by keeping the conversation going, simply ask them if it’s ok to share project updates with them as your project progresses.  Then you have permission to follow up downstream, perhaps once you have another funder on board and your film is now a going concern.  Sometimes investors just don’t want to be the first in. 

Your aim is to find the right partners for your project – and once you do, you might even find that the relationship extends well beyond this initial film and span several films in years to come.

I hope this episode has helped you come to peace with the pitching process and inspired you to get out there and sell your idea! If you’re looking for some more intel though, I’d be more than happy to help.

Send me an email via [email protected] or connect with me on Instagram via @MoonshineCommunicationsAcadamy

And as always – join me and Mike Hill on the Moonshine Moonshot series every Tuesday.

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