Doing Your Doc: How Long Should a Demo Be?

Internationally renowned author, speaker and story analyst Fernanda Rossi answers the following question for our NALIP members in anticipation of the upcoming program Doing Your Doc to take place in Tucson, AZ, December 6 to 8, 2013. In addition to a full day workshop on pitch, logline, synopsis and demo, funders and industry professionals will be in attendance for lectures and one-on-one mentorship sessions. All info and registration online here.

Q: How long should a demo be?

Fernanda: Oh Time! That concept that troubles philosophers, puzzles scientists and obsesses filmmakers. What's in those four LED-light digits? Absolutely nothing.

Time can be internal or external. The internal time of a demo means its perceived length regardless of actual count. A 2-minute trailer that feels like 10 minutes presents a problem. The other way around is actually a good thing, 10 minutes that fly by like 2! Therefore besides looking at the time code from the corner of your eye, turn your third eye inward and test how it flows. 

External time is the one requested or imposed from the outside. Someone might say, "Just send me not more than 2 minutes." What they really mean is, "Send me something concise." If it's 3 minutes and engaging nobody will press the stop button.

Now for grants or pitch forums, 2 is 2 and 10 is 10 with the threat of being disqualified if not complying with such request. Does that mean you need several trailers? Best to have a generic 10-minute version from where shorter versions can be extracted at will.

Pitch forums, markets and online platforms tend to request 1-5 minute samples. Grants hover around the 10-minute mark. Festivals that screen works-in-progress may accept as much as 20 minutes. Fundraising events, it can go either way depending on the type of screening event. When in person, I favor an average of 7 minutes. You don't want to be alone with somebody and hear their wiggling in their chair unable to touch the remote because you're looking at them.

So forget the Newtonian concept of time and embrace relativity!

About Fernanda Rossi: Internationally renowned author, speaker and story consultant Fernanda Rossi has doctored over 300 documentaries, fiction scripts, and fundraising trailers including the 2009 Academy Award® nominated The Garden by Scott Hamilton Kennedy. In addition to private consultations, lectures, and seminars worldwide, she has served as festival juror and grant panelist. Ms. Rossi shares her knowledge and research of story structure and the creative process in columns and articles in trade publications. She is also the author of the book Trailer Mechanics: A Guide to Making your Documentary Fundraising Trailer now in its 2nd Edition.