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in Filmmaking
on Jul 14, 2009

Since I posted yesterday about the ways in which journalists might learn to pitch in the future, I suppose I should finally commit to the blogosphere this post about how they should pitch in the present. I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time, and I haven’t because, frankly, I’ve been afraid to. That’s because the Filmmaker magazine editorial mailbox fills up with about 500 posts a week, and I’ve been hesitant to write something that’s going to increase that in any way. Of course, most of those 500 posts are spam, or press releases that can be scanned and quickly deleted. But more than a few are pitches and queries. Some of them are good and lead to articles that we develop and commission. Many of them are written by people who could use a bit of advice on how to present themselves in the online world. The below may seem overly basic and self-evident, but if you could take a look at my in-box you’d know it’s not.

1. Cut through my clutter. Five hundred emails a week. That’s about 26,000 a year. Obviously, I scan the subject lines of most of my emails and only open the ones that seem not from generic mailing lists or spambots. So, you need to use the subject line of your email to quickly let me know that yours is a personally crafted email I should respond to. This doesn’t need to be fancy. Something like “Scott, possible article on Subject X?” is fine. But don’t leave it blank and don’t make it so generically crafted either.

2. Who are you? This may seem so basic, but again, I assure you it’s not. I’d say that half the queries I receive are from people who in their emails do not tell me who they are. Are they experienced writers or first-timers? People who have been in the business forever or just starting out? Filmmakers or film watchers? I have no idea because they don’t say. People will write in, “Would you be interested in an article on X” without demonstrating for me that they have the credentials or specific access or expertise to write such a piece. And, here’s a corollary: sign the email with your first and last name. You’d be surprised at the number of first-name only pitches.

3. The relevant info must be in the body of the email. Many times I’ll get a one-line email that says something like, “Please consider the attached proposal.” I’d really rather not have to download something without knowing what it is. Or, perhaps I’m reading your email on my Blackberry (PDFs look terrible on my handheld). Don’t make me do an extra step to find out what it is you are pitching.

4. Make sure your pitch is well written. Again, this seems like an obvious one, but I’ve been surprised at the number of queries that contain misspellings, grammatical errors, etc. If you’re a non-writer pitching something about your own filmmaking experience, that’s okay because we’ll edit you. But if you are presenting yourself as a professional writer then your submission materials should be in good shape. Related: call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think emoticons have a place in business writing :(

5. Know the magazine and craft your pitch accordingly. Filmmaker likes articles in which active filmmakers reveal their processes to our readers. We like to explore new technologies through the prism of first-hand experience. So many people write in asking, “Would you like to write about my film, X?”, which is a really hard question to answer blindly. What’s new about your film? What specific angle? What info are you prepared to divulge in depth that other readers can use to help make their films? And, related: know what’s been in the magazine. We stopped writing articles about how filmmakers have made their films with donated locations from all their local friends and craft service by their moms years ago. Similarly, we’ve done a few articles in the last year on films shot on the RED camera, so pitches, like the one I got about a week ago, about the revolutionary new camera a film was shot on are dated too.

6. Refresh my memory. Finally, let’s say we’ve traded emails and you’re sending your film for us to look at. When you send it, don’t just stick it in an envelope with nothing else inside. Enclose a short note reminding me of our conversation. Again, sounds obvious, but I’m sitting here at the Filmmaker office now having just opened an envelope with a director’s reel inside and nothing else, and I’m scratching my head trying to remember if I ever communicated with this person.

This article is not intended to as a cry for submissions. We have enough… but, of course, if you have a great idea you can always email me at editor.filmmakermagazine AT….

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