A Brief Guide to Pitching and Branding for Independent Film

Making an independent film is a hard job. If you didn't know that already, seriously, it's hard. The producer and director have to deal with finding a great story, finding money, finding talent, and the list of challenges will go on and on for literally years before an audience even gets to see that movie in a theater. Starting the entire process can feel overwhelming even to veteran filmmakers and for those that are just starting out, it might seem impossible. The hardest part is taking those first steps and convincing others that your idea is worth making either through a formal pitching session or a casual conversation.

Fortunately, there are amazing organizations and companies that can support you on this journey to making your film. Organizations like the Sundance Institute are on a mission to support new artists and creative voices through fellowship programs, grants, and educational series. The Kering Group (seriously Google them right now), parent company for amazing luxury brands like Gucci, Saint Laurent, Balenciaga to name a few, want to further raise awareness on the topic of female professionals in the film industry and to propose concrete ways of effecting positive change towards equality. Most recently they launched a program to highlight women's contribution to film and celebrate young and talented female filmmakers through their Woman in Motion Program at the Cannes Film Festival.

On April 25th and 26th, Sundance Institute and the Kering Group joined forces to support the Woman at Sundance Fellows, a group of six producers and directors who are poised to take the next big step in their careers. The 2016 fellows are director Lyric R. Cabral ("(T)ERROR"), producer Jessica Devaney ("Speed Sisters"), director-producer Grace Lee ("American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs"), director Jennifer Phang ("Advantageous"), director Pamela Romanowsky ("The Adderall Diaries"), and myself, Gabrielle Nadig. I'm a producer based in New York and I want to share what I learned with you about taking the first steps to making your movie.

1.) How Do I Pitch My Movie? What is the structure of a pitch?
You and only you as the producer or the director can express the power of your movie. You are the reason your movie will get made. You and how well you can sell it or convince someone that it's worth their time, money, investment, etc. Pitching is a key element of that. This could mean pitching to an audience of 1000 people in a theater, or this could mean saying your elevator pitch to a guy you bump into at the bar. These are my take-aways on the best way to pitch:
I. Introduce yourself. Say your name. Say the name of your movie! And I would probably mention if it's a doc or a narrative feature. (Common sense but you could be surprised how many people launch right into their story. You have to set it up a tiny bit first)
II. Then hook them with your story. Set the scene or lead with whatever is more captivating about your idea. This could be a personal anecdote about the story or just a great vivid description about your main character. Does your movie take place in a special town? What's special about your character or characters? Describe them like they are the most amazing person you could ever hear about.
III. Take them on a short journey with your character you just set up. Get your audience invested in these characters and the story we follow them on.
IV. Finish up with talking about yourself, your director or producer and what you have accomplished so far. Why should anyone trust you to make this movie?
V. Most Importantly - Eliminate the words "um", "like", "so", "you know" from your pitch. These words will make you sound like you don't know what you are talking about.
VI. You have to rehearse. You are trying to make whatever you pitch sound as natural and conversational as possible but that honestly takes practice.
VII. Talk slowly and remember to breath. Your pitch should never be one long run on sentence. Stop and pause for emphasis when needed. Silence can be very powerful, but do not fill those silences with "ummmm"

2.) How To Get People to See You AND your idea! (Or common sense things we forget to do because public speaking is scary)
I'm going to assume that whatever movie or idea you are pitching is an amazing idea. It's going to be the best movie ever, but now how do you make sure you are getting that idea across? How do you make sure you are communicating how smart, capable and talented you are as a filmmaker? Hopefully you have been practicing your pitch and you nailed it, but beyond a good pitch here are a few must-do's to always maintain
I. The way you deliver information is important because it's silently communicating other things to your listener. How you talk and present yourself is telling the listener whether or not you are a capable person, a trustworthy person, or a crazy person. You can communicate so much with body language and facial expressions.
II. Always try to keep your body still. Try not to shift your weight. Stand up or sit up straight. Do not fidget. Try not to move your hands so much. Practice your speech or pitch in front of someone who can tell you if you are doing these things.
III. Many women talk with affected sentences. Their voices go up at the end of every sentence, making every sentence sound like a question. You might not even know you are doing it. Practice in front of someone who can tell you if you are and force yourself out of that bad habit.
IV. MAKE EYE CONTACT! Public speaking is hard but it's a giant part of life. You can't communicate an idea if you are not facing that person and looking directly into their eyes. It will force them to listen to what you are saying and will make you appear confident.

3.) Branding isn't just for Fashion Companies: What is your mission statement?
Try to think of your movie or even yourself as a Brand. Your movie is a brand and needs to have a mission statement that the filmmakers are always striving towards. Figure out what your movie's mission statement is. What is it trying to achieve with its story? Every creative decision you make with your movie should be in service of the movie's brand and mission statement.
The creative team themselves have a brand. You might not know what it is yet, but your choices in your films and their style, or the types of stories you want to tell are creating your personal brand. Think about why you are making this movie and why you made your other films. What do you like about story? Use these questions to create your personal brand.
Reversely - When an investor, sales agent, distributor is considering your film they are looking at your film through the lens of their brand. Does this movie fit into the portfolio of their other films? The portfolio as a whole is their brand. Or maybe they are considering the filmmaker's brand. What does that filmmaker represent and does that fit in with their roster?
Make sure the people you are pitching to can understand your brand and your mission statement. Be as specific as possible and you will be understood.