screen • experience • collaborate
This month’s Cineformation, as part of the Encounters festival, gave an abundance of great tips and advice on the art of pitching your film/script to a panel of producers.
Nine brave and enthusiastic writers/directors/actors volunteered to present their project in front of a panel of four experts: Paul Appleby, executive producer at the BBC (www.bbc.co.uk), and Chris Moll, executive producer at South West Screen (www.swscreen.co.uk), who gave advice on what a producer wishes to hear when he listens to a pitch – for a short or a feature film; Vicky Brophy, managing director of Wonky (www.wonkyfilms.co.uk), who gave recommendations as a producer of animation; and Melissa Kidd, managing director of Coaching Creatives (www.coachingcreatives.co.uk), who offered tips on how to present your project and yourself at such meetings.
The meeting was chaired and hosted by Oliver Purches, a Bristol filmmaker, winner of this year’s Raindance festival pitching competition for fiction, who is working on a feature film entitled “Robopartners”, a romantic comedy with a quirky contemporary twist, to be shot in 2009.
The first pitch was given by Geoff, a Bristol filmmaker, who was presenting an idea for a short film entitled “Close”: a story about how a tragic event brings together an eleven year old boy and his distant father. Geoff described his idea as dark but with an optimistic aspect. He was very articulate, clear and passionate. As a director, he spoke a lot of images and atmospheres (for instance the contrast between the dark world of the boy’s home and the bright world of his school). The panel appreciated the clarity and enthusiasm of the pitch, which described well the plot, the conflict and the story arc.
The advice they gave was:
1- A pitch should start with an introduction about yourself and your background.
2- You must remember to stress the theme of your film throughout your presentation (in this case it was the theme of – lack of – closeness).
3- You must explain why this idea is personal to you. Why it is the one idea for you.
4- Make sure the ending of your story is clearly described (a problem that was stressed repeatedly throughout the pitches).
The second pitch was delivered by Andres, a Columbian filmmaker, writer and fine art artist. He explained that he had experience in animation and that his previous film had been shown in thirty three festivals. He had written the project he was presenting but had given its direction to a trusted and valued animator friend of his. The story was about an elderly couple in a 1950s car on a windy road, who are stunned to discover on their car’s roof a threatening looking witch who wants to challenge the woman (an ex great dancer) to a dancing contest. The panel praised Andres’s very relaxed, animated and confident demeanour. They also loved the fact that he acted out the story.
Their advice was:
1- Bring visuals when you are pitching animation.
2- Sometimes (as in this case when the writer and director are not the same person) it is a good idea to have several key people doing the pitch. In that case the pitch must be very well rehearsed and must showcase a good team spirit (film being a collaborative art).
3- Be careful not to be swamped by backup material such as a piece of paper (with your pitch on it) or a laptop.
The third pitch was given by Ian, an actor from New Zealand, who was presenting a complex feature length adventure mixing mythology, initiation and action. The theme was “the time in a young man’s life when he has to decide whom to trust”. Ian’s pitch was praised for being well performed (good use of powerful pauses, animated story telling) and well researched (mythology, history). The panel, however, felt confused by the numerous character names, complex twists and turns, and overall profusion of details.
Their advice was:
1- Do not get lost in details. Do not pitch the plot but the essential story and theme(s) of your film. Strip down your idea.
The fourth pitch was delivered by Karen, a director who has made music videos and commercials, and who has an interest in PARKOUR, free running and martial arts. Her idea for a film was a conspiracy drama based in The City and exploring the culture of finance. This film would be the first of a trilogy based on the main character’s quest for revenge. She described it as “Bourne Identity meets Old Boy”. The panel liked her friendly and open manner. They also liked the fact that her theme was contemporary (credit crunch) and that she had presented her idea as a concept (no details, flowing form), leaving them intrigued and wanting to know more. They only expressed concern about the idea risking to sound derivative.
Their advice was:
1- Remember to adapt your pitch to your audience (a pitch should be a dialogue; pitchees may ask questions and you must be prepared to respond and adapt).
2- Keep your idea fresh (not derivative).
The fifth pitch, given by Nik, was very original. He started by introducing himself, but very soon he stalled and looked confused. A ripple of discomfort passed over the panel and audience. He then went on to confess that he was very upset because he had just been thrown out by his girlfriend, who had replaced him not with another man (or woman) but with a robot. To add insult to injury this robot happens to have his face. He continued to describe his comically distressing story (to the delight of both panel and audience) until, eventually, he came out of character to conclude that the pitch was for a feature length romantic comedy, with robots, entitled “Robopartners”.
The audience applauded Nik warmly and the panel praised his talent at understanding and playing his audience. His pitch was very unconventional and would definitely make him and his idea noticed and remembered. The panel, however, also underlined that it was a risky approach to take.
The sixth pitch, entitled “Two Bullets”, was delivered by Alex. It was about a gang in Hong-Kong who (for money) get immigrants into Hong-Kong and give them two bullets. Possession of two bullets gets you arrested in Hong-Kong and sent to prison – a better situation for these immigrants than the desperate predicament of their life. The panel really liked the fact that it was a big story (trafficking and transmigration). They were, however, confused by the ending and also advised Alex to be less self-deprecating.
Their advice was:
1- Tell the panel what your idea is for: a short or feature film.
2- Work on your ending.
3- Be upbeat and enthusiastic about your idea. Practice it with supportive friends and family to gain more self-confidence.
The seventh pitch was given by Sophie. It was for a short, offering a modern and metaphorical twist on the old “damsel in distress” fairy tale archetype. The panel really enjoyed Sophie’s agreeable demeanour and delivery. They were however a bit confused by the ending of her story.
Their advice was:
1- Do not forget to tell the pitchees what you have brought for them, should they be interested, (script, etc.). Moreover, if they do not like your pitch, they may still like you and be interested in another of your projects. So make sure you have one or two alternative ideas up your sleeve.
The eighth pitch was delivered by Juan. His idea was very different as it was for a non-narrative film. Juan is from Columbia, where he has been working for years with sound and performance. His film would consist of six stories which are linked together and explore the themes of the self, of identity and of “going beyond”.
The panel’s advice was:
1- Even if your idea is non-narrative, it still needs to be presented like a story.
2- Find out about your panel’s backgrounds and tastes before doing your pitch (they may not be the right people for your idea).
The ninth and last pitch was given by Loyd. He described his short as “a reflective social drama / coming of age comedy”. His idea was about two students, drifters, who find escapism in drugs. Their story is contrasted with one of the boys’ uncle’s who has led an exciting and adventurous life. Loyd, pressed for time, gave his pitch first by reading it off a piece of paper at warp speed. The panel asked him to do it again without reading his paper, which resulted in a much improved pitch.
The panel’s advice was:
1- Tell what your connection is to your story/characters.
2- If ever your idea is reminiscent of another, mention it and use it to your advantage (instead of letting the panel make the connection for themselves).
3- Keep eye contact with your panel/audience and engage with them (do not read your piece of paper, only use it for backup).
So, to conclude my notes on the latest in Cineformation’s series of ever informative events, when you pitch your film: believe in yourself and your project; be open and enthusiastic; know your pitch well – rehearse it in front of friends and family; and remember that FEAR stands for “Felling Excited and Ready”.
Véronique Martin, email@example.com, www.myspace.com/cubicstone
Cineformation – Pitching 20th November 2008
Pitching: the terrifying ordeal of trying to persuade a producer that your idea for a film deserves their money – in about two minutes or less. This was the subject of November’s Cineformation event, held at the Watershed during the Encounters Short Film Festival. An open call for anyone willing to test their pitching skills before a panel of supportive – but realistic – producers and communications experts produced a room full of brave souls willing to have a go, their numbers swelled by a healthy number of current and future film makers attending the festival.
The four panelists were Chris Moll of South West Screen, Paul Appleby of the BBC, Vicky Brophy from Bristol’s Wonky Films, and Melissa Kidd of Coaching Creatives. All four stressed that any criticisms they gave were meant to be creative, intended to help boost the participants’ confidence and ensure that their pitch was up to the challenge. Suitably reassured that this was not going to be as quite as stressful as Dragons Den, the pitchers got stuck in.
Throughout the night, no two pitches were exactly alike, which made the exercise fascinating to observe. The pitchers adopted a variety of tactics: some concentrated on the plot dynamics, some on the atmosphere of the story, and one was a performance pitch done in the character of the story’s protagonist. All the pitchers acquitted themselves with honour, and the panel was able to supply a range of helpful tips and advice. These included:
Watch your body language: Melissa’s advice concentrated on the physical aspects of persuasion. A clear, confident diction was essential of course, but she suggested that excessive hand gestures were off-putting. One of the pitchers read from prepared notes, but all the panel warned against doing this, as confident eye contact with the people you are hoping to persuade was critical. Another pitcher used a laptop, which was excellent for displaying storyboards or character sketches, but could easily turn into another physical barrier between the pitcher and their potential investor.
Don’t miss out the ending: Paul was particularly keen that a pitch should include a mention of the story’s length and conclusion, so that the producer knows how the characters finish up. This relates directly to the feelings an audience carries away with them from a film, something any producer cares about deeply
Don’t leave yourself out of the pitch: “Make sure you tell me what has driven you to do this particular story,” Chris urged the pitchers. “I want to hear why this story is so important to you that you’re standing in front of me now.”
Get their attention: The brave individual who delivered his pitch in character from the moment he walked on stage earned a deserved round of applause, although the panel agreed that it wasn’t an approach for everyone to try. “It’s always a risky pitching approach, but it will get you noticed and creates space for a dialogue with the panel,” said Paul. “You need an excellent understanding of your audience to make it work, but then that’s exactly what you must have before any conversation about your film can start.”
Pitch the story, not the plot: “Try and avoid making the storyline sound complicated, even if it actually is,” said Vicky. “Don’t risk confusing your listener with a host of difficult names." If the story has an obvious connection to other films (“It’s Bourne Ultimatum meets Old Boy” was one part of a pitch the panel responded to very positively) don’t let the connection be made by the panel; get in there first and deflect it. Explain what you have done with the material that is different and original.
Understand what you want to get out of the meeting: What specifically do you want to leave the room with? If money, then how much? If collaborators, then in what roles?
You’re there to build a working relationship: “Make sure you know what you are going to leave them with, whether it’s just a business card or even a complete script, so that the relationship doesn’t stall as soon as you walk out of the door,” urged Chris. He also emphasized the importance of having a second or third idea in your pocket, ready to produce if needed. “When your listener says ‘No thanks. What else have you got?’, that can’t be the end of the conversation, You are not just there to pitch your story. You are pitching a future working relationship every time you begin speaking. Don’t forget that pitching is actually a dialogue.”
Perhaps next year’s Encounters festival will screen the fruits of the panel’s advice.
(Tim Hayes 24/11/08)
Digital Shorts and Digital Nation
Nurturing the talents of new writer/directors was the focus of October’s Cineformation event at the Watershed. Sarah-Jane Meredith and Arilda Tymko of South West Screen discussed the Digital Shorts and Digital Nation programmes with Menekse Meech, before introducing some of the short films made through the schemes in the past.
“In Digital Shorts we are looking to commission up to six short film ideas from people based in the South West,” explained Meredith. “There are four strands in the scheme, one of which is specifically for an animation project, but all of which have strong roots in the region and involve working with local partners. We want to hear from people with innovative ideas which they want to realise.”
Digital Shorts is open to applications from teams made up of a writer and director, or individual writers, directors, or writer/directors. Once the shorts are selected, producers and developers are allocated, and from there the development process is kept intense and productive. Budgets will range from £7,000 to £17,000 and any genre can be considered, although Meredith stressed that the ideas needed to be realistic as well as suitable for a range of distribution platforms.
Tymko explained that the deadline for submissions was 10th November 2008, after which a short list in each strand would be prepared. Interviews would then follow in January, to pare the applicants down to an eventual group of 6 commissions. “So it’s an X-Factor process,” asked Meech. Tymko didn’t disagree too strongly.
The Digital Shorts scheme involves South West Screen and the UK Film Council, and Meredith explained the distinction between the aims of the two bodies. “South West Screen has a cultural remit through the Regional Development Agency, and acts as a development agency for the creative and media industries in the region. It aims to grow creative businesses, develop skills, and promote our area. The UKFC aims to promoting the UK’s film culture film industry. So although some people from past Digital Shorts are now known to be rising talents, the scheme is not necessarily intended to produce the next household names. It’s much more about nurturing the culture.”
Meredith and Tymko ended by enthusiastically welcoming all applicants. “All you need is an idea for a film. And to know who the audience for that film actually is.”
The first film shown was One To One, selected by Meredith and Tymko despite being a product of the Digital Shorts scheme from back in 2003. A cameo portrait of the shifting relationship between two girls and shot almost entirely on the top deck of a bus, it was said by Meredith to be an example of the kind of low-key personal film that could be realised by its creator through the scheme. With a simple concept and a relatively low budget, the film went through the Digital Shorts process and into reality quickly. It was an example of what could be done.
Next was Off Beat, an animated short from Will Becher in which a lugubrious claymation Everyman embarks on a small-scale crime wave, only to find that others have had the same idea. “I was working at Aardman animation, but wanted to a more personal project when the Digital Shorts scheme came along,” said Becher. “It allowed me to make my own film, would have been impossible otherwise.”
Becher explained that his film inevitably went through some changes during the Digital Shorts development process. “I worked with a script editor whose take on it was a bit different to mine, and it drifted away from what I wanted it to be at one point. But I got it back. In short films you work with people who are doing it for the love of the film, and who want to be involved. That’s the great thing about shorts.”
The third film was Luke And The Void, presented by writer/director Matthew Freeth and producer Alison Sterling. A charming 1980s-set fantasy with a distinct nod towards Joe Dante’s Explorers, it follows a young boy’s withdrawal from quarrelling parents and horrid classmates by building a spaceship in his back garden from household junk.
Sterling explained how the Digital Shorts program throws directors and producers together, without necessarily guaranteeing that the result will be a strong working relationship. “I was brought on by South West Screen to produce this and one other film, so Matt really had no choice about me at all,” she said. “And yet, we are still talking to each other…”
“We do have to work with which ever producer that we get,” confirmed Freeth. “But I got lucky.”
Sterling emphasised the need for Digital Shorts film makers to appreciate the importance of their working relationships with the producers and other creative staff. “I would stress that the whole thing is about relationships, and how every single choice made will affect the final film,” she said. “It’s all about making relationships that work.”
She also advised potential applicants to have a clear view about the film they wanted to make, and not tailor the application to suit what they think the scheme is looking for. “Don’t guess what the commissioners want; you’ll never get it right,” said Sterling. “Only make something you are passionate about. And make sure that it’s achievable. Avoid huge projects and the huge problems they will create. If you can’t describe your film in one sentence, it’s not a short idea. Go back and think about it again.”
The final film was Detour, an atmospheric tale of the unexpected from Kodjo Akeseh Tsakpo about a grieving father and a hitchhiker who can foresee when people will die. Detour was developed through the Digital Nation scheme, a larger version of Digital Shorts, intended to develop writer/directors who are ready to make the leap to more ambitious cinematic short films with larger budgets. Digital Nation involves an intensive tailored development process designed to hone scripts and allow film makers to find their voice.
Despite the bigger scale, Tsakpo admitted that some things stay constant. “Even going from Digital Shorts and a £5k budget and moving up to Digital Nation, there’s still never enough money,” he said. “But my next project has benefited from the experience. I’ve gone back to an old script, written ages ago but left on the shelf. When I went back to it, I realised how much I had learned about writing from going through the Digital Shorts and Digital Nation process. That’s a very positive thing about the scheme. As well as simply opening doors and meeting people who can be helpful, you learn about yourself too.”
You can read more about Digital Shorts and Digital Nation and apply online at www.swscreen.co.uk
By Tim Hayes
The Final Edit
Up your skills levels and get some great insights from top industry professionals (Paddy Considine, Anna Pangborn, Eddie Hamilton) when you sign up for the Encounters Film School. Running from Friday 21st to Saturday 22nd November at Encounters Film Festival Bristol, this two-day intensive training is supported by NFTS, London Film Academy, Aardman Animation, Apple and Avid:
A full day of masterclasses (editing, sound design, VFX, Film to digital and grading)
A full day of hands-on training by accredited trainers on a software of your choice (numbers permitting!): FCP, Avid Media Composer, Protools and Color
Because of our SkillSet funding, we are able to offer all this for the extraordinary price of £80 (inc Vat) (Oh yes and did we mention that lunch is included?)
Find out more about the sessions and download an application form:
Calling all Camera Crews
As you are aware, Wildscreen 2008 the world’s largest and most prestigious festival of wildlife & environmental film commenced in Bristol this weekend running from Sunday 19th until Friday 24th October 2008.
Cineformation Camerapersons and their Camera Crew and who are not Wildscreen delegates, are warmly invited to a Camera and Equipment Exhibition in Waterside Rooms 1, 2 & 3 at The Watershed, Bristol on Tuesday 21st October from 5pm until 7pm.
Exhibitors include : Panasonic, On Sight, Aerial Camera Systems, Visual Impact, Lake Image Systems, Polecam, Panalux Bristol (for Panavision Europe), Quadlogic, Big Squid, ARKive, Earth-Touch, Films at 59 (supported by Top Tex), Wild Film History and Arri GB.
A wide range of new film and HD cameras will be on display including two new Panasonic cameras straight from the UK Press launch that morning, the Arri Super 16mm 416 and the very recent Arri D21 HD camera.
Space is limited and you will need a pass to get in. If you are genuinely interested in attending please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org<mailto://email@example.com> so that an Exhibition Pass can be made up for you. Please supply Martin with your Name, Job Title and Company or Freelance status”.
Full details can be obtained via www.wildscreen.org.uk<http://www.wildscreen.org.uk>
Tel: 01442 381593 Mobile : 07805 039 290
7.30pm Thursday 20th November 2008, Delegates Area, Watershed Media Centre
Would you like to get your script read by the movers and the shakers of the film industry? Can you keep the panel and audience entertained for two minutes and get them begging to hear more. Well then come along to our Cineformation Pitching event during the Encounters Short Film Festival. We’ll have a panel made up of producers, directors and funders all keen to seek out new talent, have you got what it takes or will you be asked to stop before your time is up. This is Pop Idol for filmmakers.
Sign up by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org or turn up on the night. This is your chance to shine.
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