Public pitches are an excruciating, precious few minutes where months and countless hours of work are condensed into an air-tight, word perfect, streamlined artwork of communication. Dangerously short and over before I knew it. At least, those were the concealed thoughts at the back of my head before my first public pitch, presented at The Leipzig Networking Days in October 2012. This was a new three-day industry event hosting pitches, keynotes, panels and social gatherings. Director Gigi Berardi and I addressed over 40 invited commissioning editors and funding experts. The overall audience stretched to over 200 documentary professionals, members of two new networks created by Documentary Campus: The Members Network – broadcasters, film funds, foundations and production / distribution companies from Europe. And the Alumni Network – producers and directors who had developed projects with Documentary Campus’ Masterschool and pitched at Leipzig over the past 12 years.
Pitching at Leipzig to this seemingly formidable audience was the conclusion of an entire year’s work on DC’s Masterschool. Four week-long intensive workshops with leading industry mentors interspersed with months of research had propelled us to this morning. Our project, Love Me or Fear Me looked at chauvinism and domestic violence in India through the eyes of two men running a women’s shelter, who want to challenge patriarchal attitudes by making men take responsibility for their actions.
Our biggest personal attraction to the story had been our biggest concern. The idea of men being protagonists in a women’s rights story had solicited both extreme enthusiasm for freshness and a call for caution in our workshops. Although the split reactions did not surprise me, it made me wonder if we were actually ready to pitch. My worst nightmare was a unified rejection from the audience and a refusal to see the film’s potential for depth.
My fears eased seconds after the pitch. The diversity of the panel meant that different commissioning editors recognized different facets of the project. During feedback, a conversation started up not only with us, but between commissioning editors. As a producer, this sort of interaction is the most direct way of understanding both commissioning editors’ needs and your own most vital creative needs and priorities.
It made me wonder if we were actually ready to pitch.
At Leipzig Sybille Kurtz, one of the pitching coaches had told us we would love pitching, and this synthesis made me see one of the reasons why! I also realized how necessary a good pitch moderator is in herding genuinely constructive feedback to the project and empowering pitching teams. Rudy Buttignol (CEO, The Knowledge Network, Canada) and Karolina Lidin, (CEO, Film Kontakt Nord and moderator of the IDFA FORUM) held court here.
My concerns about the brevity of the pitch dissipated. It was a conversation starter rather than any sort of make or break. The conceptual ice between us and a commissioning editor had effectively been broken through spending extensive time with industry mentors in similar positions on the Masterschool. Our newfound ease served us well in follow-up meetings for further development with Al-Jazeera, CBC, Films Transit, Louise Rosen Ltd. and Sundance. With a project as sensitive as ours, the ability to feel out ideas with commissioning editors was illuminating. Just a month later, we had continuing interest from an executive producer from Documentary Campus’ member network to take the project to the next stage. While no documentary is immovable before shooting, I hadn’t anticipated seeing pitching as part of the development process quite so definitively.
Co-production looks set to stay, despite the calls for alternative models of funding across the industry. I felt that overall tone set for the Leipzig Networking Days was one that didn’t shirk the fact that funding has shrunk and become far more fragmented. Pitches no longer yield single, fully funded commissions, apart from a handful of exquisite outliers, and are far more about getting exposure for your project. One of the privileges that come with pitching at Leipzig is my eligibility to access the same crowd again through the Documentary Campus networks. Apart from commissioning editors, sustained conversations with producers from European production companies mean that co-production could be a friendlier and more viable option. The next networking event takes place in Sheffield, June 2013 and interim reunions within the networks are currently being planned. I’m sincerely hoping the regularity provides concrete results and combats the meet-and-greet ephemera of industry events.
To condense my thoughts to the irreducible, the best thing about pitching at Leipzig is the fact that I was forced to think about it for a year beforehand by default. No matter how well-connected one could possibly be, to quote Thom Powers, there’s no substitute for time and talent in the making (and pitching) of a good film.