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Making a Short Documentary

Lesson 17 of 35

Writing a Strong Pitch

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

Making a Short Documentary

Ed Kashi, Julie Winokur

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Lesson Info

17. Writing a Strong Pitch
Learn how to pitch a documentary idea so you can clarify your vision, get others excited about your project, and propel your idea forward.


  Class Trailer
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1 Class Introduction Duration:13:55
7 Turn Failures Into Lessons Duration:13:46
8 Finding Your Subjects Duration:15:07
9 What is Your Motivation? Duration:02:10
11 Client Work Vs Legacy Work Duration:17:51
12 Translate the Idea to Reality Duration:16:25
14 Pre-Production Plan Duration:09:32
15 You Just Have to Dive In Duration:30:40
16 Time & Cost for Projects Duration:28:21
17 Writing a Strong Pitch Duration:11:38
18 Develop a Fundraising Trailer Duration:12:28
19 Identify & Approach Partners Duration:06:35
20 Define Your Desired Impact Duration:21:21
22 Shoot: Interview Set Up Duration:34:38
23 Shoot: The Interview Duration:32:08
24 Different Types of Interviews Duration:13:35
25 Shoot: Capturing B-Roll Duration:21:54
26 Shoot: Detail Shots Duration:18:09
27 Shoot: Capturing a Scene Duration:27:02
28 Shoot: A Set Up Shot Duration:24:03
31 Use Audio to Guide Narrative Duration:09:33
33 Building Scenes in Your Edit Duration:03:41
35 Final Thoughts Duration:03:01

Lesson Info

Writing a Strong Pitch

How to get others as excited as you are. So you can't write a grant proposal unless you can get your pitch together, and you also can't pitch to editorial outlets until you write something down. I know that this is one of those dreaded steps for most people, myself included, because it does force you to have to articulate something that is still a little bit vague, right? I know everybody here has an idea they want to make a film about, and it's in your head, and you probably told a bunch of people, but there's something a little vague about it because you haven't had to spell out, here's the story I'm telling, here's how long it's going to take, here's the excess that I have, this is what I imagine as a finished product, right? So it is incredibly helpful and valuable to force yourself to take this medicine, you won't regret that, and it's gonna help you clarify your own vision for what it is you're going to do rather than I'm gonna make this awesome film that's gonna change the world...

. So writing a good pitch I always use as a rule of thumb, I mean, some people talk about the elevator pitch I use as a rule of thumb like when you're with friends, and they're like, "Oh, so what are you working on?" Or "What do you want to do?" It's funny, the first thing that comes out of your mouth isn't most often what's most interesting, so you don't kind of start with the kind of what I think you need to know about the topic, you start with something that's way more like you're not gonna believe it's like if you had a conversation, or when you leave here today, and you're hanging with a friend or your significant other think about what you tell them about what you learned in this class today. It's the things that were said today that just like you remember it. It stood out. It stood out, it was the thing that's really interesting, so use that as an indicator in the story, this film idea that you have when you talk to people what is it that you say? What's the thing that really catches them? So begin there rather than beginning like you're writing a school paper. Write a good lead, you know. You don't bury the lead. So these are a few log lines we want to share. These are related to films that we've already shown you excerpts. Here's a log line for Aging in America. "A journey across the topography of aging "in search of what it means to have a 'good old age,' "this film traverses the experience of our elders "through a series of intimate vignettes of people "who are living the new old age." So that's a log line. When you submit to film grants and film festivals you always have to have a log line. It is your one, maybe two sentence that captures the entire film. You're gonna need to be able to do a couple of things. One is a log line which is this capture statement. Then you're gonna want the short synopsis of what the film is about, which should bring it alive. I want to know who the character is, and why I'm gonna be interested, and then often they will have you write a treatment, so anybody who wants to go for the biggies like ITVS funding you've got to share a treatment, and the difference between a synopsis and a treatment the synopsis is gonna give me the overview. This is a story about the demographic shift in America, and how it's impacting human lives. We get to go across the country visiting such diverse situations as geriatric prison wards, and the senior pro rodeo, so it might kind of give me this overview statement. This is an hour long film shot in high depth, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. The treatment is gonna be way more specific, so it's much more that the film opens in a prison ward in Georgia where the inmates are shuffling along in the yard, and we notice that they're all over the age of 60, you know what I mean? So you're visually throwing somebody into, you know, in the next few scenes we experience X, Y, and Z. Our narrator takes us on the journey from point A to point B. Then you're also gonna throw in there, you know, this documentary on hyperpartisanship uses a visual motif which is a small folding café table with a star-spangled tablecloth and a flower, you know, so you're really spelling out visually what the journey will be like. You've done a few of these, huh? Here's a log line for Notes For My Homeland. "A Syrian-American composer responds to the tragedies "instigated by the Assad regime by composing music "in support of the Syrian Revolution, "and performing it at great personal risk." That piques your interest so you got me. Now when I pitch an idea to an editorial outlet I try to keep them as short as humanly possible because I want somebody to imagine what this film is gonna be. The more I tell them in some way the more I dilute their attention. So, hopefully, that first line hooks you, and then I can sort of jump right in. It is very important to express your unique access to this topic. Have you already made contact? Have you already started shooting? Are you the first person to capture this person's story on camera? I think we have one more, so Syria's Lost Generation. "Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria in March 2011, "more than four million Syrians have fled their homes; "more than half of them are under the age of 18. "'Syria's Lost Generation' provides "an intensely personal account "of Syrian youth living as refugees." So that's compelling. It's a compelling way to frame up without giving you much detail. Ideally, ostensibly this hooked somebody's attention. Again, I want to reemphasize a point that Julie made. This goes for all sort of, you know, grant writing pitches is that when by doing this, just by merely doing it you clarify for yourself, you better clarify for yourself what your project is, and what you're trying to do. That in itself is a growth step for you, you know, even if that pitch doesn't end up getting you that grant, or getting you the support this time. You know, I'll tell you some of the best and most important projects of my career so far began with failed proposals, but I put so much effort into, Aging in America was one of them, you know, I pitched to National Geographic it was a four-page thing by the time they rejected it it was like I'm in, and I've sort of shown myself how I'm going to do it, so there was no stopping me. One thing that was not in there, but when you write a proposal for grants, in particular, they want to know what are you going to do with this film once it's done, and it's a really hard question to answer, and often they want to know who's your audience. They're hard questions to answer, but they are great questions. Often you start with, well, everybody is my audience. The general public, everybody needs to know about this, and then you have to get a little more disciplined about it, and ask, well, then let's drill down who specifically, what age group, where are they gonna find it? What logically can be done with the film, or that sort of thing. Now you don't have to do that when you go to an editorial client because they have their own audience, but you do have to convince them why this is timely. Yeah, and increasingly grantees, or grantors want to know what, you know, what the impact will be, and that's definitely a trend that started maybe five, 10 years ago, you know, that it's not enough just to say I'm going to do this film, and this is why it's important, but it would be even I'm going to partner with XYE organization to, you know, to disseminate the work to have an impact on this issue, all right? Obviously, it's not for like, you know, fine art films or films that are more, yeah, more creative, that's not the word, they're more fine art, you know, but for anything that's related to, you know, issue reporting, advocacy work, obviously, it's paramount with advocacy work, for a lot of the journalism work we're doing, and I welcome this development. I welcome this development because, again, it further clarifies for me as the author this is what I'm doing, and this is why I'm doing it, and this is the impact that I want to have, and here are the partners that I'm going to work with to do it, you know, because I'm not an activist. In my heart I may be, but I'm a visual storyteller, but I need the activist or the corporation, or the government, whoever it may be. It doesn't have to be sort of "political" in that sense, you know, that it could be any sort of entity. It could be a pharmaceutical company, really, you know, any entity that the media material I create can be utilized to hopefully do good, and get a message out there. Does that make sense? It's a new development. This did not exist 20, 30 years ago, this sort of requirement this didn't exist. One other resource I think is really valuable is Doculink. If you guys are not on there you should be. It's a LISTSERV that's really, really wonderful. It's a Yahoo group, but if you just look up Doculink. It was started by some filmmakers in LA a bunch of years ago, but it's great because often people are working on docs, and they're looking for someone to shoot where you are, or looking for, you know, somebody to collaborate on a project, or looking for insights about whatever it is, so it's great because it is your community as you immerse in this kind of work. You learn a ton. People will be asking things on there that will help you problem-solve, and you can go to the Doculink community anytime and say, "Oh, my God, I'm in a panic. "I'm exporting and it's giving me an error message, "and my project is due tomorrow," and folks will immediately respond. I'm sure there are others. There's probably a local group in Seattle as well, you know, for people online within their communities. Doculink is national, really, really a wonderful resource.

Class Description


  • Figure out what your story is and create a story arc or narrative.
  • Perform extensive research and gather background information.
  • Prepare for, conduct, and edit an interview.
  • Use B-roll footage to round out your story.
  • Master the post-production process and create a polished finished piece.
  • Find partners and funders through pitching and trailers.


Documentary film is an incredibly powerful way to tell a story, but it can also be a daunting project to undertake. How do you figure out your story, theme, and vision? What’s the best way to interact with your subject? What about all the technical aspects—from lighting to audio to editing? And of course, how will you get the funds to complete your film?

If all these uncertainties are causing you to rethink your idea of making documentaries, then this class is a must for you. Award winning documentarians and photojournalists Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur will give you all the information and inspiration you need to tackle your project and see it through to the finish.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify a great subject and define your vision.
  • Research your subject thoroughly and find other work that’s been done on it.
  • Choose and gather the equipment you’ll need.
  • Prepare for your interview, including formulating the right questions.
  • Conduct an interview, including setting up your lights and capturing the audio.
  • Create a post-production workflow.
  • Write a compelling pitch and create a trailer to gain funding and support.
  • Generate a variety of end products, including videos for social media and still photos.

Whether you’re looking to create shareable videos on social platforms or hoping to gather funding to produce a bigger project, this class will help you simplify the process and begin creating documentaries for clients or to fulfill your own artistic vision.


  • Photojournalists and photographers wanting to get into video to expand their capabilities and explore new ways of telling stories.
  • Budding filmmakers who need the knowledge and inspiration to get started on their project.
  • Those who want more technical information and skills on how to develop and produce video and film


Elisa Correa

wow, wow, wow! what a amazing course! I learned so much, I was inspired so much... congratulations, Julia and Ed, you are excellent teachers and do a really wonderful and powerful work. thank you!

a Creativelive Student

OUSTANDIING COURSE, congratulations creative live for bring Julie and Ed in teach about documentary filmmaking. I have watched and bought a fair few courses on this subject and not one of them comes close to this. You can see the amount of work Julie and Ed have done to make this course amazing. The best bits for me are the real teaching opportunities when Ed and Julie are making their violin documentary. I have never seen this before in any course. Thanks Ed and Julie for an amazing course and letting us see inside there work that you do and sharing all your experience with us. I've never really written any feedback for most courses, so this must be a good one :)

a Creativelive Student

Ed & Julie provide so much insight & knowledge into the documentary making process. This is a high-level class that gives you a wonderful overview of what goes into making a powerful and interesting documentary film. It was so helpful to watch them work on an actual short film from start to finish, and to hear their workflow. You'll need to learn the technical nitty gritty elsewhere, but this course will help you dive into how to tell stories on video. I particularly loved the segment on doing interviews, and Julie is an absolute pro at this! Also really nice to see Ed & Julie working/teaching together and how their different skills complement each other. It was a pleasure to learn from them!