How would one define a good pitch from the point of view of a producer? In other words, what moves a producer? It would be easy to talk about potential and promise here, but in the end, everybody knows we’re all constantly on the lookout for the next best thing, be it suspense, laughter, violence, hope, heart, nudity, sex, happy endings or anything else that conjures up drama. This we know, therefore a slightly more human approach is needed.

Pitching could easily be described as an Idol for filmmakers, a gallery of assembled talents on display. It is very contemporary and blends in flawlessly with our consumerist and media ridden society. In the end, the principle is the same, only the audience take a more constructive and less condescending stance. There are no fancy pick up lines and malicious delight here. Yes, the attendees will be crunching numbers instead of popcorn; they’ll be slapping that pitch around like vicious loan sharks, and yes, they’ll be dissecting your story like true neurosurgeons. In the end, they’re human as well and act and react out of sheer intuition. We’re all in the same boat here and we need each other to make this work. There is some truth to the fact that this is show biz where it’s all about razzle-dazzle and appearances. If you look good, and you talk well, people will swallow anything. Suspension of disbelief as they call it. Trust me, honesty and sincerity sells.

It is a step into the unknown, both for the scriptwriter as well as for the producer. The only thing they have to hang on to is the pitch and most importantly, the person behind the pitch. It’s a lot like dating if you want and it never harms to take things step by step. Love at first sight and matches made in heaven do exist, but it stays a process one has to respect. Infatuation and initial attraction aside, there’s always going to be a certain amount of uncertainty involved. Is the feeling mutual, is the timing right, is this partner right for us? Whether new to this or getting back out there, nothing is as straightforward as makes it out to be. Finding common ground and mutual understanding to embark on and commit to an intimate and exclusive pact is a constant work in progress. Don’t expect unconditional love straight away.  We think big, but they think of the bigger picture. Rest assured, producers know how to spot a great story when they see one, but they also know that producing a film is a very long journey that requires the right amount of business acumen and vision, because it’s all about making things happen. The fluctuations and change in the industry are like turbulence, which is sweeping away the weak-hearted and the unsavvy so there is no room for initial hesitation.

Pitching might conjure up visions of a snake-oil salesman peddling questionable wares to an unsuspecting public, but it’s the basic foundation of the film business, be it formal or informal. As filmmakers, even if we know that this is the one, this is the film we’ll be remembered for, we’ll still have to impart our passion on others. Every film ever made was made as a result of pitching.  The film industry is a people’s business and since people move in mysterious ways, communication, be it verbal or non-verbal, trumps all. Visions are worth fighting for, but do avoid blindly and stubbornly holding onto the written word as we might end up being called names as Norma Desmond did so eloquently in Sunset Boulevard: “A writer? You are, are you? Writing words, words, more words! Well, you’ll make a rope of words and strangle this business! With a microphone there to catch the last gurgles, and Technicolor to photograph the red, swollen tongues!” The producers might push the eject button before you know it. Cockiness aside, you’re in this together and only an open and receptive mind finds willing partners. We all have dreams to remember. That is why we are here. As Norma Desmond would put it: “This is our life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark!” But so do producers. Let’s leave it up to Scorsese to put everything in perspective: “There’s no such thing as simple. Simple is hard.”

Ready for your close up Norma?


text by Wim Wanacker

image by Annamária Heinrich