Presenting a film project in a pitching forum: What Do We Need to Know?

Recently, In-Docs organised a webinar series as a part of our DocWire program. The series provides insights about how to present a film project in a pitching forum. 

This discussion took place in two sessions: the first one was held on 23 March which is titled “Do I Know What I’m Presenting”, and the second one is “Pitching and Pitching Forum”, organized on 25 March. Invited as the guest speaker was In-Docs’ Capacity Building and Development Advisor, Mikael Opstrup. In these two sessions, Mikael shared his insights and experiences as a jury and a former participant of various pitching forums across Europe. What are those? Let’s dig deeper into Mikael’s insights during the presentation. 

Being aware about the film 

Before performing a pitching in a forum, Mikael suggests filmmakers to first be conscious about their project. This is because the nature of documentary filmmaking is different from fiction film. 

Unlike fiction, documentary filmmakers cannot intervene in (or even design) the event that they are filming because it takes place in reality. To develop the storyline, filmmakers can choose to follow a character-driven film or a theme-driven film. In the character-driven film, the progression of the story unfolds around the events that are happening in the protagonist’s life, while the theme-driven film is like peeling an orange. Each scene is developed to get closer to the chore, to what the protagonist is dealing with. 

Therefore, filmmakers must be really conscious about their film project since the beginning. Filmmakers must know which story development he/she’d like to follow before the production starts, and then consistently present it throughout the film. It is with this awareness about the project that Mikael suggested to have before delving into any pitching forum. 

Preparing A Pitching

Before joining any pitching forum, Mikael suggested filmmakers to attend as many pitching forums as possible, at least as an observer. In this case, filmmakers can get insights on the current demand from documentary film markets, as well as to learn pitching from other similar film projects.  

A pitch consists of three things: writing, verbal and visual. In the writing part, filmmakers can describe some things that are not included in the film, such as background. While in the verbal part, filmmakers were suggested to consider presenting a story that triggers emotions with the help of keywords. The important task in this part, according to Mikael, was not to convince the decision makers, but to present a clear and concise the pitch so that the decision makers could pass the story to their colleagues/superiors. And the last part was to prepare a trailer as the visual presentation. The trailer is the most important part in a pitch process. According to Mikael, a trailer should not be just about the protagonist/theme, but it should visualise the overall impression of the finished film. A trailer should also show progress: in terms of the story unfolding, or also how in each pitch how far the project has developed.

The Pitching Forum

A pitching forum is a fantastic opportunity to get connected and known out there. It is a fantastic chance and the only possibility for filmmakers, especially for the first-timers who do not have a good contact of decision makers. 

“The idea of the pitching forum is actually very simple. We have a lot of decision makers who need documentary film for their distribution, and filmmakers who need funding, distribution. Decision makers trust the organisers to invite the right filmmakers to come to the events,” said Mikael. 

There are numerous criteria for a film project to get selected in an international-level pitching forum. First criteria is the artistic quality of the film. The second factor is to represent a variety of genres for various purposes, such as broadcasters, festival distribution, etc. Third factor is anything that’s not really connected to the content of the film itself: it usually deals with affirmative action, such as the proportion of female, queer, and/or bipoc filmmakers involved in the projects.

“The selection criteria is about representing the market in broader term; it is not only about a stronger film,” said Mikael. 

Aside from that, Mikael also said that the film should appeal to international audiences. Therefore, it should have the international potential. To him, a beautiful piece of art is per definition international.

Mikael says there are three levels that make a film go international. First is to see what’s happening in the film. It indicates that the film has actual actions on the screen interesting enough to see. Second is to have the development of the characters and get the audiences to be emotionally attached to what’s happening in the story and characters. And third is to what the film is dealing with on a bigger level; which is to explain what all the big issues in life that everyone is dealing with. 

However, none of those above could be achieved if the filmmakers are not conscious about the film they are making in the first hand. 

“It is all about consciousness. we only have one storyline that we are creating on the screen. In documentaries, we don’t control what the characters do or say, so it is about the consciousness in what we’re actually filming,” said Mikael. 


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