Chris White, director of programming and production for PBS’ ‘P.O.V.’ strand offers some pointers on the dos and don’ts behind the fine art of pitching.
What are the most common mistakes producers make when pitching?
Often times, producers just haven’t done their homework. If you haven’t had the chance to research the channel/venue to which you are pitching, then say so. Get a little bit of information from the programmer as to what they are looking for and then go from there. No one likes to feel like their time is being wasted. More important than the success or failure of any particular pitch is the success of opening the door to follow up, or pitch other projects, in the future.
How should a producer prepare before pitching to a network/channel?
Practice your pitch at every opportunity. The better you know your subject and the sharper your presentation, the more likely you can find an ally. Your pitch is the first impression about how well you can tell a story and, as you know, storytelling is everything. Hone your pitch and make it perfect. And again, do your homework. Know what types of programming are appropriate for any particular channel.
What’s the most important information producers should fit into their pitch?
A quick bio; a sharp summary of what the film is about and who the main characters are; the method and style in which the story is being told; what great access you have; why you are the person to tell this story; why it’s a story that has to be told; and why it’s different from the ten other projects out there on the same subject. A little humor is great, but more than anything you need to convey the passion that you bring to the project. A documentary film is no small undertaking and your enthusiasm will bolster my confidence that you are driven enough to see it through.
How can a producer make their project stand out among the glut of pitches a commissioning editor/programmer receives?
Something on tape, if it is compelling, always helps. Whether it’s a trailer, an assembly, or a scene, samples that bring your concept and characters to life allow me to better imagine the project’s potential. You also need to be able to articulate what makes your approach unique. POV gets 800-1000 projects through our doors every year, so just assume that I have seen other projects on a similar subject.
What’s the best way for a producer to approach P.O.V. for the first time?
We love to talk to filmmakers and see everything that is out there. The standard way in is through our annual call-for-entries in the end of June. Sign up for our newsletter to keep in the loop about this and other co-production initiatives: //www.pbs.org/pov/newsletter. If you have other questions that are not answered on our website www.pbs.org/pov, you can e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or our Series Producer, Yance Ford (email@example.com).