Saturday, July 15, 2006

Chronicles 28 - Perfect Pitch, Perfect Silence

So, today is July 15th and I flew back from Cannes on May 26th. I had about 50 meetings in Cannes and sent out many copies of my script after the festival. Now, some of these meetings have already developed into something reasonably concrete, well, let's just say it's still in the mixer. I found a producer for my short film who actually committed to the project and has met with the director and the DP. He's already arranged a meeting with a special effects house for one particular scene. That project seems to be moving forward so that's all good stuff.

I pitched a producer who liked one of my animation ideas. We met in London and I'm writing a treatment up now that she will pitch to a big production company. Well, she's already pitched the idea and the big prod. co. is interested so I need to take it to the next level with the treatment. If the big prod. co. doesn't work out we've discussed other possibilities, so, some progress there.

I also met with a producer friend of mine and we swopped notes. We discussed my rom-com project and she suggested that I send my project to a European financier who would be able to invest 20% of the budget. I sent in the project details and they came back and said the script had received good coverage and that they would be interested in taking it to the next step when I have cast attached. Again, all good stuff. Another plate I can spin along with the others.

I also had a whole bunch of other meetings related to my rom-com with financiers, sales agents, distributors and other producers. Now at this point in the game where I have no cast attached these meetings are more in the "meet and greet" category. I don't expect a GAAP financier or a bank that offers gap finance to read my script. It's not really relevant at this point.

With sales agents and distributors it's just good to touch base and get their feeling on the project, the cast wish list, which names are sellable etc. Of course they will request the script, which doesn't mean that much since it's a convenient way to conclude the meeting ;-), still, if gets good coverage then you know you have an open door to walk into when your return with cast attachments. Unless you have a marquee director attached it is unlikely that they will commit to the script alone.

If you are pitching a potential co-producer then they need to commit to the script itself, irrespective of cast attachments. A producer is not going to produce unless he believes in the project. Independent producing takes so long and is so friggin' hard that you would have to be certifiably insane to take on a project you do not believe in.

Of course if I'm pitching I don't increase or decrease my enthusiasm level depending on the pitch-ee. A pitch is a pitch and if you are passionate about your project it doesn't matter if you're pitching to your dog or a major producer, you give it your all.

Every meeting will start with some small talk, or not, as the case may be. I walked into a meeting at Dream Works Animation and the exec. just said, "Hi, you've got 15 minutes". In this case you just get down to business. However, on the whole there will be some small talk so if it's Cannes it will be, "When did you fly in? When do you fly back?" or if it's LA it will be "When did you fly in? When do you fly back?". You get the picture. At a certain point in the conversation there will be a "So, what have you got? Tell me about your project", which is your cue to launch into the pitch.

At this point I will launch into a teaser pitch which encapsulates the premise of the story. I don't just pitch a log-line although I may start the pitch with the log-line or I may just start with the setting, the characters, the title, the genre and essentially the inciting incident or the turning point 1 moment followed by the basic premise. What I don't do is launch into a long pitch because I want to allow them to ask me questions. I want to gauge their interest early on.

Since I write comedy I need to first see if they get the comedic premise. If they respond in a positive way then I'll pitch some key comedic scenes and get them laughing, the more they respond, the more I can feed them but if I sense that they are not interested in hearing more and they say something like, "Can I read the script?" then I end the pitch there. After all I just want to get them motivated enough to read the script. Also when you are pitching as a writer-producer other conversations will come into play such as director, cast, finance etc.

A pitch is a two-way interaction. You throw out the bait first and see if they bite. A pitch is di-alogue not mono-louge. The more they participate, even by throwing in their own ideas the more chance you have of them remembering your project when they fly back home, (as in the case of Cannes), with a suitcase full of synopses and treatments from a whole bunch of people like me. If it's a comedy, make 'em laugh, if it's a thriller, thrill them, if it's a horror, scare them!

Of course when you are pitching you are totally enthusiastic, focused, and passionate about your project. Tony Robbins talks about the power of certainty, that it is the person with the most certainty that will get the deal at the end of the day. When you are pitching to industry savvy people who may know the market much better than you do then it is very easy to have holes poked into your "certainty aura". At this point it is best to stay focused on why you are certain about your project and convince them otherwise, after all you may not have given them the full picture. They may just need to gauge your commitment to the project. Of course, your certainty has to be based on reality, a general consensus that you have a viable project.

Now an intensive pitch fest such as Cannes or a meeting-packed week in LA can be quite deceptive if you get great responses to your pitch(es). It can lull you into a false sense of security where you can become convinced that:

a) They will read the script quickly - invariably they won't.
b) They will respond positively to the script - definitely no guarantee here - a genuine, passionate, highly positive response to a pitch does not guarantee an equally enthusiastic response to the script.
c) That they are an established company - they may be out of business a few months later. Happened to me. I pitched a dev. exec. who was very interested in moving ahead with one of my projects. A few weeks later the company went into liquidation.
d) The person going ape over your pitch will still be working for that company a few weeks later. They might not. Again, that happened to me. A dev. exec. was very excited about a project I pitched her at Cannes. 2 weeks later she left the company.

The danger of believing a, b, c and d is that you can easily buy into this 'legend-in-your-own-head' fantasy and that, in a few weeks, you will be fending off buyers in some kind of bidding war situation. This is unlikely. The likelihood is that you will perhaps find one champion for your project and spend some time building this relationship while you re-write the script. My first champion actually took months to get back to me post-Cannes.

This year I met with some producer/financiers that would no doubt be in a position to partly or fully bank roll my projects. The pitch went very well, I had the execs. laughing, they were engaging in the pitch, asking questions, taking ownership and saying things like, "This is a perfect project for us". Well, this one exec who was totally enthusiastic in our meeting and promised to read the script in 2 weeks - 2 months later? Nada. I've sent a couple of follow up emails. Nothing. Of course this could be for a number of reasons I'm not aware of.

Film funds come and go. This particular one was announced in the trades at Cannes so I seized the day, phoned the head office, asked if they had an exec in Cannes and touched based with the dev. exec. Now just because something is announced in the trades it doesn't make it a slam dunk. I received a letter of intent from a financier whose film fund has now, in the meantime, gone dormant because of difficulties with the local government's tax office. So who knows what is happening in the background. She might have even left the company - see a,b,c,d above.

The business is in a constant state of flux and as an independent producer you work on different fronts in the hope that when that day finally comes and your project is catalysed by a bankable name a kind of domino effect will kick in where all the elements that you've set up over the years will finally come into play, gel together and by some strange and mysterious alchemy manifest into 90 minutes of celluloid.

Until that day comes, it's perfect pitch followed by perfect silence ;-)

See Chronicles 27

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