Documentary Business

Peter Hamilton Consultants, Inc

Ten Takeaways for Creating a Successful Fundraising Trailer

I’m just back from Vienna for the sold out World Congress of Science and Factual Producers.

Pitching strategies were very much part of the conversation.

We invited Fernanda Rossi, the globe-trotting trailer-guru to share her expertise on the Do’s and Don’t’s of creating a winning sizzler.

Thanks Fernanda!

by Fernanda Rossi,
Author of Trailer Mechanics: How to Make Your Documentary Fundraising Demo

1. What’s in a name?

No matter what you or other people in the film business call it—whether demo, sample, trailer, taster or sizzler—the function is more important than the name: think of it as an audiovisual pitch for fundraising, and throw away the dictionary.

2. Making sense

Make sure the demo is consistent in content and style with the rest of your proposal, meaning the written materials and pitch. Whatever the proposal says, the demo must demonstrate—fully.

3. Marketing vs. fundraising

A marketing trailer needs to convince lots of people to spend 90 minutes and US$10. That’s why it looks like a movie-preview-meets-music-video. A fundraising demo needs to persuade very few people to spend several years with you and many thousands on your project. That’s why it looks more like a short-without-an-ending. Yet crowdfunding demos merge the two.

4. Ticking clock

A demo or work-in-progress can range from 1 minute to 20 minutes in length. Shorter versions are mandated by pitch forums, ideal for first meetings and online crowdfunding. Longer versions are suitable for follow-up meetings and requested for some grants. The circumstances will determine the length of your sample.

5. How to open it

The opening of a fundraising demo conveys premise, who and what. It’s not the opening of the actual documentary—no long credits or moody slow panoramic shots. To the point, right away.

6. What to put in it

A fundraising sample has complete scenes as opposed to a fast-cut assortment of provocative sound bites and images. The purpose of a demo is to convey the essential points of your story and that you’re a good storyteller, not to prove that you have a great editor and tons of fancy software to do effects.

7. What to avoid

Montages or scenes cut to music, as well as beginning-to-end music and narration, are often used when a story doesn’t work well on its own. Don’t let any element overpower the demo.

8. To write or not to write

Slates with long and frequent explanatory text and fades to black are not as necessary as you might think. They make a demo look like a PSA (Public Service Announcement). Delay including them until there is no other option. Then use sparingly and, if possible, integrate text with image. Plus, catch those typos!

9. How to end without ending

A demo has an open ending, called a cliffhanger, which hints that there is more to the story. If the trailer offers proper closure to the prospective doc, then it’s a short film. You’ll be told it’s fine as it is, no need to make a longer film.

10. How not to end

A cliffhanger can create great expectations. Do not kill that emotional high by adding final credits or contact info or begging for money. That’s what your other materials are for. Let the viewer be moved and motivated to call you.

10.5 Do something

If you are the type to sit on your demo, do something. If you’re the type to send your sample to every living soul, scale back. A demo is part of an overall strategy. Have a plan!


About Fernanda Rossi

Internationally renowned speaker and story consultant Fernanda Rossi has doctored more than 500 fiction scripts, fundraising samples and documentaries, including two nominated for the Academy Award® and many that received funding from ITVS International, NFB and others.

She has given her workshops in more than 12 countries and at world markets, such as Hot Docs, Sheffield Doc/Fest and Sunny Side of the Doc.

Her book Trailer Mechanics: How to Make Your Documentary Fundraising Demo, 2nd Edition, is, according to industry professionals, the bible on demo production. Trailer Mechanics is also available at Amazon and for Kindle.

For more about Fernanda, go to:

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