tips for pitching documentary to commissioners

6 things commissioners look for in your short documentary pitch

There’s no secret sauce, but we’ve spoken to enough commissioners in our time to share some of their best tips!

Short documentaries are a great way to bring a story to life. They offer the chance to experiment with style and form, and as a new filmmaker they’re also a great way to develop your filmmaking skills and demonstrate your talent and potential.

As part of our OWM In Conversation Instagram Live events, we chatted with Shelley Jones, a director and video commissioner for Nowness, to get an insiders look at what commissioners keep an eye out for when considering pitches. Here are her top tips:


1. Have a proof of concept when approaching commissioners

One of the best ways to get noticed is proof of concept. Have past work you can use to showcase what you’re capable of.

This can be a photo series, film you’ve already made, body of photography etc.


2. Show you have access to the contacts you need for the short documentary

Before approaching commissioners, have a pre-existing connection with the contacts you will need to make your short documentary.

This shows great initiative.


3. Know the “why”of your short documentary pitch

If you’re close to the story, make sure you know how it will appeal to others too.

Find a wider reason for why people should care.


4. Is the short film pitch idea feasible?

Make sure this is something you can actually pull off.

Commissioners may look at your past work to see what you’re capable of and if you’re capable of what you’re pitching.


5. Does the short doc pitch have a unique voice or perspective

Commissioners are looking for individual and strong voices. How is your work distinct and unique to you?

Develop your own style so that your work will speak for itself and make sure your voice is properly translated through your doc.


6. Do your research before approaching media outlets!

It’s important that your project aligns with the work of the media outlet or commissioner you are pitching to.

They will all have their own priorities, style and interest areas, so find outlets that suit your project.


And finally, if you have a great short doc to pitch, don’t be afraid to reach out to commissioners! Many organisations list the contact details of editors and commissioners on their website and they will also often use social media to find talent. So reach out and build familiarity and relationships.

Are you working on a short documentary? We want to hear from you! The Global Short Docs Forum 2021 is currently open for applications, and will bring together 12 filmmakers from all over the world to attend an intensive online training programme & 1-to-1 pitch meetings. Find out more and apply here.