Show and Tell: Strengthen Your Lookbook with This Checklist

Pitch not strong enough? A lookbook can be the ace up a hardworking producer’s sleeve.

Richard Botto, founder and CEO of the nearly 400,000 member-strong filmmaker network Stage 32, once told us that he wanted to “change the world” for creatives. As independent producers of over a dozen films (like Wristcutters: A Love Story, Lovelace, and The Words), we wholeheartedly share that mission, so we conducted a workshop for Stage 32 members titled The Art of Indie Producing: From the Inception of an Idea to the Release of the Film. One pre-production tip we spoke about at length was the oft-underrated step of putting together a lookbook to communicate a film’s story, tone, and visual references.

Indie moviemakers don’t have to break the bank to get the idea of their films across to potential investors, filmmakers, and talent. A lookbook can be in the form of a printed-out booklet for in-person meetings, or a digital document that you can easily share online. It doesn’t have to be long, and doesn’t cost you a lot to make, compared to the cost of developing and producing a short film for proof of concept.

Make sure that you have all the necessary elements of your film in the lookbook. They should convey the overall gist of the film without overwhelming the reader with too much minutia. There is no right or wrong lookbook, of course, but make sure the experience is engaging for the reader—your film’s fate rests in his or her hands. So what should your lookbook contain?

1. Logline

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. A dynamic and comprehensive logline about the script is key to the opening of a lookbook. Encapsulate the core idea of your movie in one or two sentences. Make sure your logline includes a brief summary of the script’s plot and emotional hook.

2. Synopsis

Have you made them want to read more? Assuming the logline has hooked your intended audience, a detailed synopsis comes after in your lookbook. Mention all the most important and interesting parts of the story in the summary, like the main characters’ arcs.

3. Character Descriptions

Do your characters stand out? The character descriptions in a lookbook break down the main characters in your script. Which characters help move the plot along? Which characters will the audience be emotionally invested in? Which characters have strong arcs? These are the characters you will want to include in this segment. You’ll want to put together a brief summary—a paragraph or even bullet points—that lists a character’s age and personality, and captures the overall essence of the character.

4. Producer’s Statement

Why do you want to make this movie? Why is it important to you? Why does this story need to be heard? Articulate this (hopefully passionate and convincing) drive in the producer’s statement.

5. Theme and Tone

Identify the major theme of the film, as well as any underlying themes. Making the readers understand what emotions you are going for with your film will give them a better grasp of your genre, too—whether it’s a comedy, drama, thriller, and so forth.

6. Visual Style and Overall Look and Feel

This is the crux of a lookbook—what separates it from a simple verbal pitch. How do you intend this film to look? The visual style section of the lookbook is where you should really make your vision come to life. Discuss the equipment you intend to shoot on: camera equipment, lighting. Include stills from other similarly styled films, and explain exactly what you’re going for with the comparisons.

7. Locations

Does your story involve unique spaces that might need explanation? Include photos of your intended locations, or similar ones, that demonstrate how the characters exist in your world. Break down key set pieces so the reader gets a true sense of where these characters travel.

8. Music Choices

Beyond the film’s score, it may help to list out any specific songs that play an important role in the movie—either songs that you intend to use in the movie, or even songs that just evoke the tone and atmosphere you’re reaching for.

9. Filmmaker Bio

Finally, the spotlight turns onto you. Who are you? What is your background? Why are you putting your blood, sweat and tears into making this film, and why should others get behind it, too? List the key team members on the project—the director, key crew, and any existing talent attachments. People want to work with other people that are professional, so make yourself stand out in the right way.

Have fun with it. The layout and font of your lookbook can be done in the spirit of your movie, if you are talented with design (or know someone who is). Make your target readers excited to get the chance to work with you. MM

Tatiana Kelly of Serena Films is the producer of the award-winning Wristcutters: A Love Story, Happiness Runs, Smother, Dark Yellow, and The Procession. She has also produced television for MTV, USA and Bravo. Jim Young of Animus Films is the producer of Year of the Bull, Homecoming, Don McKay, Lovelace, and the recently wrapped historical drama The Man Who Knew Infinity, for which he was a Film Independent Producer’s Lab fellow and recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan Producers Grant. Kelly and Young were co-producers on the features The Words and Life of a King.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2015 issue.

2 Comments

  1. Edna

    May 26, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Great article, very helpful and well constructed. However, please don’t use “creative” as a noun, especially for people. Worse than “party” as a verb. There are creative executives, creative departments, creative people, and unfortunately in our industry, creative accounting. It’s a friggin adjective. Using it as a noun is lame and not create at all. Stop before it’s too late!

  2. Shannon

    July 7, 2015 at 11:23 am

    Tatiana and Jim are such talented producers! Thank you so much for this article – fantastic and useful information. Will be sharing this on social media.

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