Thursday, November 25, 2010

Here's the Pitch...

Here's the Pitch...

Depending on your personal view, giving a verbal six minute presentation can either be excruciatingly long, or ridiculously quick. This is what crossed my mind while observing the So You Think You Can Pitch competition at the Reel Asian Film Festival last week. Although the competition was designed to provide filmmakers a chance to garner funding for their next project, it also severed as a great way for industry folks to meet the filmmakers and do a little networking. As the event was open to the public as well I could not pass up the opportunity to observe a real life pitch session.

As much as I may occasionally crumble about having to produce online content on days when I have been put through the wringer at work, the life of a blogger is ridiculously easy compared to the life of a filmmaker. For all the criticism, commentary, and debates, movie bloggers have, at the end of the day, we are just talking about the end product of someone else’s journey. It is always easier to critique than it is to actually create. This is one of the reasons why I found the pitch competition so intriguing.

With only two cash prizes available, and a total of five filmmakers competing, it was not enough to just have a good film idea, but also to ensure that the jury and the live audience had the exact same movie playing in their heads. By time the pitch sessions ended the crowd was abuzz about which two film each person wanted to win. What made the two winners standout to the most in the eyes of the jury? To be honest, it all came down to the little things. Below are the simple things that I observed which anyone who is seriously thinking about pitching a film idea needs to do:

1. Know Your Story.
Regardless of whether you wrote the script, are an actor in the film, or are serving as a producer, ensure you know the story well enough that you can recite the plot in your sleep. Sounds simple I know. Yet when it comes to public speaking, or presenting in a meeting setting, nerves often tend to make people rely heavily on notes. There was a pitch in which the story, which focused on a struggling Asian actress, was interesting but the director’s reliance on his cuecards ended up be rather distracting.

2. Have Something Physically Ready To Submit.
Concept is nice in theory, but at the end of the day it often comes down to the script. Even if you do not have a full script ready be sure to have enough pages, including a detailed outline, to give the reader a good sense of both the plot and tone of the film. 

3. Visual Aids: Nice Touch.
One of the winning pitches was a documentary about the how English and Spanish colonialism led to the demises of the sugarcane industry in a particular section of the Philippines. As the director shared her vision for the film, her director of photography displayed images of the region in question on the screen. This helped to give gravity to the overall tone of the film. The same can be said for the animated film pitch about two inner city girls playing with their imaginary friend. As the story unfolds it is revealed that the imaginary friend is really the chalk outline of their dead friend. The two creators had rough sketches, and 3D scales, of both the characters and the playground environment.

4. Visual Aids: Nice But Not Needed.
Before you start scratching your head and referring back to the previous point, let me explain. While visual aids help to get your message across, they can also hurt you. One of the common traps many of the filmmakers fell into was simply regurgitating what was being shown on the screen.

5. What is the Cost?
This could easily be in the number two slot as money is always at the bottom line. Although every filmmaker had to submit a budget estimate, the jury was quick to raise the point that some of the filmmaker’s visions seem larger than budget. Investors always want the biggest return on the smallest investments so it is important to always be on the search for additional funding. This is why it is important to ensure that you apply for as many of the local grants, that most cities allot to the Arts, as possible. Local funding is a great help for first-time filmmakers, the interesting this is that most people do not realize that these type of grants even exist. 

6. Who Are You Pissing Off?
This is more in regards to the folks who are making documentaries, especially ones in foreign countries, who may need permission to film in particular areas. Sure you can try and go the guerrilla filmmaking route, but it is tough to finish your film while you are sitting in prison.

7. What Will Your Film Look Like?
Will you use minimal tones of Soderbergh? Or will your film be glossy similar to Spielberg? While you may consider this a minor detail, it is important to remember that we live in a world obsessed with comparison. Sometimes people need to associate your vision with something they are somewhat familiar with.

While the pitch session is merely one of the early stages in the overall filmmaking process, it is an important one that can derail an entire project. As a result, it needs to be taken as seriously as the other elements in filmmaking.


  1. Great advices for all people looking to pitch a movie CS! Knowing your own story being #1 is for a good reason :)

  2. @Castor - Thanks! I felt really bad for the director who was fumbling with his notes. His film idea was actually good. I just kept wishing he would talk directly to the jury and audience instead of reading off a script.

  3. Nice post. As a film maker, I appreciate your empathy ;)


  4. @Yolanda - I am constantly amazed at the struggles filmmakers must over come to share the passion with the world.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.