“We’re only interested in one thing, Bart. Can you tell a story? Can you make us laugh? Can you make us cry? Can you make us want to break out in joyous song? Is that more than one thing? Okay!”

To be read with Hollywood bravura and Italo-American enthusiasm, Jack Lipnick, the studio executive in the Coen Brother’s Barton Fink, at your service, but it does sum up what pitching is all about. As simple as that. Even Barton Fink had to give in. Pitching is an art and one of the most essential skills needed for a successful career in the film industry. To quote Jack Lipnick once again, “It’s the carrot that wags the dog.” Do you believe in magic spells? Probably not. But if a filmmaker utters the right words to the right person at the right time, his or her dreams might as well come true. This is your time to shine and to show some personality and character. Your next magnus opus deserves proper respect.

But what makes a good pitch? What makes a pitch really sing? A very subjective matter as everybody pitches differently with different results, but the one thing everybody has in common is that you are the master of that imaginary universe you’re trying to sell. There’s no one out there that knows that world as well as you do and it’s up to you to make them believers. The people present will be looking at your world through your eyes and it’s your duty to make them realize, life is illuminating over there on the other side.  Plant a seed and cultivate it.  Be passionate, be confident and they’ll follow. Be like Charlie, Barton Fink’s Charlie that is: “Look upon me! I’ll show you the life of the mind!”

Of course, your pitch has to comprise the DNA of your script, clearly and concisely put. Keep the narrative momentum that carries you through the script in mind and make sure it contains all the elements necessary for the telling of a good story. It’s telling stories, and the goal of every screenplay, every movie, every story of any kind is identical: to elicit emotion. It needs to have energy and that energy comes from the most basic building-block of drama: conflict. Talk about character. As people relate to people, even in a business built on a foundation of hype, fear, greed, insecurity and ego. No one is immune to humanity. I’m smiling so you should be smiling. Cinema is all about emotional manipulation, isn’t it? So read your audience, find your hook and connect. Everything is acceptable. Everything is justifiable. As long as your heart is in the right place.

It’s all an act, an act of salesmanship, and adding a bit of theatrics and the occasional MacGuffin never harmed anyone. There are no prizes for reserve or understatement, even if that’s the style of your script. Think of the size of that big screen and make the language of your pitch match that space. Give them something to chew on, something with sizzle and pop. Life with the dull bits cut out, as Hitchcock would say.

But in the end, they’ll always be thinking, would I want to see this movie? Is it different than anything I’ve seen before, or is it the same old thing only with a slight twist?  “I gotta tell you, the life of the mind, there’s no roadmap for that territory.” Indeed Barton. Thanks for that. Very insightful indeed.

text: Win Vancker
image: Oana Barna

NISI MASA – the European Network of Young Cinema annually organises the European Short Pitch, bringing together 25 young European talents to rewrite, discuss and pitch their short film projects.

About European Short Pitch

The European Short Pitch is an initiative aimed at promoting the European coproduction of short films. It combines a scriptwriting workshop in residency, an online session and a coproduction forum bringing together scriptwriters and industry professionals from all over Europe.

Selected on the basis of their short film projects, 25 European talents gather to discuss, rewrite, and learn to promote their stories on a European level with the support of 5 tutors. They eventually pitch their projects in front of a panel of 35 producers, financiers, buyers, and distributors.

The European Short Pitch aims to bring young European talents into the spotlight, give them a high-end promotion opportunity, and develop short film coproduction in Europe. This initiative is about enhanced economic viability and European visibility for short film projects. In the previous editions (2007-2012), around 125 projects were presented that have resulted so far in the making of 23 short films – many of them having a very successful international career.