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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:
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