Why You Need a Pitch Deck and a Sizzle Reel to Make a Short Film (and How to Make One)
Why You Need a Pitch Deck and a Sizzle Reel
to Make a Short Film
— a Guest Post by Judy K Suh —
In June 2016, I was at a film festival in Portugal, where I was at the right time, right place, with the right stuff—my script in hard copy and the pitch deck on my laptop. And that’s how I met my future executive producer. She happened to sit next to me and casually asked if I had a project I’m working on. I told her the story of Roberta’s Living Room, the short film that I was trying to find a producer for at the time, and when I felt that she was intrigued enough, I mentioned I also had some visuals to show. I pulled out the pitch deck (at the time, consisting of just a synopsis and mood boards) right there. That immediately completed her understanding of the film, of what kind of world I was envisioning for it. She was convinced enough that she asked to take the script with her. Two weeks later, she called me and said she’s on board.
In my experience, the pitch deck helped bring onboard not only my first investor and executive producer, but also other collaborators, sponsors, and crowdfunders. It’s common in advertising or feature films, and it shouldn’t be different for shorts, especially if it’s an ambitious short that requires you to go out and fundraise. My short film Roberta’s Living Room (currently in post-production) is one such example, and I now realize the importance of the pitch deck and reel in the development, financing and pre-production process.
What Is a Film Pitch Deck?
A film pitch deck is essentially a presentation material that introduces the film. It should comprehensively introduce the storyline, who’s involved so far, what makes it special, and ultimately win over the hearts of those in front of it.
It typically starts with a cover page and can include: a synopsis, a mood board (reference images), the director’s intent, cast members, filmmakers (writer, director, producer, DP, etc.), production info, contact info, and the distribution strategy if you have one.
From there, it’s really up to you on what’s relevant information to share and what makes the film unique. The point is to sell the idea and grab the reader’s attention, so include anything you can brag about. In my case, the script won Best Screenplay at a contest and received solid feedback from the jury member including the VP of HBO Film Programming. So I included quotes from the jury. I also included a page on a special collaboration with original members of the band Beirut. This isn’t common, but we also had a charity and sustainability partner, so why not share about that too?
Why Is It Necessary
There are so many instances during development that you have to introduce the project to a person. Rather than explaining and/or sending links to mood boards and references each time, you can simply attach the deck that has all the information.
For instance, when I reached out to Kelly and Perrin, two former members of the band Beirut for writing the music, I sent them a brief email asking if they’d be interested in being a part of it, and attached my deck for further info. This not only gave them an idea of the storyline, but also the visual world, involved people, and my intention for the film, and they could judge whether they were interested based on this. It also showed that I’m serious about it and doing it professionally (sometimes with short films, we need to prove that legitimacy!) They both replied within the day and not only wrote original music for my film but also ended up starring in it as gypsy musicians.
How Do You Make It Good?
I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a well-designed pitch deck. The deck is the first impression of the film before it can actually become a film. And that’s why, on top of having all the information and good writing, it needs to look and feel a certain way to convey just that about the film. In essence, the pitch deck should feel like the movie.
Use high-quality images and leave the pixelated ones out (unless your movie intentionally has a pixelated look). Be conscious of color scheme, layout, fonts, and order of contents. All design principles elsewhere apply here too! If the filmmaker isn’t a designer him/herself, then I would argue that it’s seriously worth hiring a designer to make the pitch deck.
Roberta’s Living Room is a Magical-Realist short film, about a woman planting a garden in her living room, in pursuit of the most ideal death. It needed to live in a very specific kind of visual and tonal world. So I tried to have my designs reflect that.
I had an earthy color scheme peppered with images that have certain saturated colors. For the mood boards, I scoured the internet and looked at relevant books to find the right combination of images. I mixed images of portraits with images of texture and illustrations I wanted in my film. Rather than trying to find images that tell the plot of my film, I found ones that give the feeling overall; the plot could be explained in words. I consistently used the same serif font, because I wanted the film to feel classic and timeless rather than modern.
The pitch deck is a constantly evolving thing because as the film develops leading up to production, you need to keep adding information. Eventually, there will be multiple versions of the deck to tailor it to the varied people you are presenting to. You may need longer or shorter versions
It also helps a lot if you’re crowdfunding because all of the information, designs, images that were in the pitch deck can make their way into the campaign. You’re doing essentially the same thing when pitching to the crowd.
Have a Sizzle Reel
Early on during development, I was encouraged to make a sizzle reel, or a pitch reel, which basically serves as a trailer before the film is made. I was hesitant at first, for fear of giving the viewer the wrong impression, or too high or low an expectation on the film—especially since this reel had to be made from found or stock footage.
But I made it anyway and learned how effectively it peaked people’s interest. Alongside the pitch deck, the sizzle reel gives the viewer an immediate and audiovisual understanding of the film’s world and storyline, simultaneously. And it’s much easier to watch a 2-minute video than read through a 7-page deck, or however long it ends up being. Making the sizzle reel can be challenging because you are limited to using footage out there unless you are able to already go out and film what you want. But with the right snippets of footage or even images, music, and sound design, you can convince someone to want to see the actual movie. And that’s when you win them over to collaborate with you and finance your project. One thing to be cautious of is letting the viewer know that this is strictly a sizzle reel, that the footage comes from elsewhere and isn’t your actual film. Some people can be confused with that.
You can watch our sizzle reel here.
And in the end, once the film is shot, make a teaser to replace the sizzle reel!
About the Author
Judy K Suh is a filmmaker and projection-mapping artist based in Chicago. She is currently in post-production for a short film called Roberta’s Living Room, which is currently crowdfunding here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/roberta-s-living-room-a-short-film/x/16548407
Her other works can be found at www.judysuh.com