The 31st Short film Festival interfilm Berlin will once again be the host of interForum short pitch forum, in December, where Daazo is handing out every year the Daazo FSS (Festival Strategy Service) award for one of the great pitchers. The forum was created to build up a conversation between professionals and talented young filmmakers. We reached out to the winning pitches of the 2014 edition and asked a round of questions about the forum and pitching in general. Here’s Matthew Murdoch, who left this great city with the award of the Best Script Pitch, for his project ‘Suilven’.
How did you experience the winning the Best Script Pitch at the forum? What was the feedback on your script for Suilven?
My experience at the Interfilm Film Festival’s Interform Short Script Pitch event was fantastic. I benefitted from 4 days of creative script development with experienced filmmakers; Wim Vanacker and Nadja Dumouchel as well as the invaluable insight from the peer-group of other filmmakers in the competition. It was a wonderfully generous and creative opportunity to intensly develop my project with live feedback and input from colleagues who later became friends. The fifth day was the script pitch competition itself and I know we all wanted to convincingly pitch our stories to the jury and the audience, so we could confidently take our projects home and hopefully move on the the next stage. I was very humbled to by singled out for the first prize. The whole week was a richly rewarding, creative experience which has a lasting legacy on my practice as a writer and director.
The feedback from the jury was very positive. One jury member encouraged me to consider thinking about the story as a longer form film or even a feature, to take the themes and subject matter and expand it to a larger canvass. I found this very encouraging, and in fact that was my next step on returning to London, to see how I could develop the investigation of my short film script into feature length, through an outline and then into 90 page 1st draft.
How is your project going?
I have subsequently developed my short film script ‘Suilven’, into a feature film draft. I started by expanding the themes and context of the story, writing additional scenes for the main character’s history, most of which never made it into the draft. Once I felt confident with the emotional through-line of the characters I plotted the important moments of the story which are most significant to the pathos of my main character and then worked on the draft. I currently have a feature draft of ‘Suilven’, I’ve recruited a producer and with a couple of shorts as a showreel, we’re hoping to raise micro / low budget financing to hopefully take the story from the page to the screen.
Why do you think these pitching programmes are important?
Pitching is important because it is a skill that enables a writer / director to confidently and succinctly, communicate the essance and vision of their story. I believe that if I can’t effectively tell the essence of my story in 2 minutes, then how can I direct a cast and crew to scale that story up to the cinema screen. Pitching is not only important to raise financing, but also to recruit talented cast and crew to get involved. If the heart and soul of the story doesn’t make sense to them, how and indeed why would they work on it at all. When I’m working on a story, I try and test it by informally ‘pitching’ to friends and colleagues, to guage their reaction. For me, telling a story in this way makes it more obvious than merely reading it. Pitching, or ‘testing’ stories in this way shouldn’t impede the creative process of inhibit the writer from committing ideas to text and developing them on the page, but to pitch the story allows the writer to benefit from an immediate audience response which should inform and not hinder the process.
What would be your advice for a filmmaker who is just about to pitch their ideas for the first time?
When pitching, I think it is important to communicate the key ‘big-picture’ ideas of what your project about, without getting bogged down in the narrative journey, which may hinder the audience from creating an initial image of how your film will look and feel.
Personally, my approach is to start by explaining, without ambiguity what the film is, to identify the genre and style so we jump off in the right direction. In this first sentence the audience now has a clear idea of what kind of film is being proposed, which sets up some level of expectation. The next thing would be to say what the film is textually about. This is the heart and soul of the story that should identify a main character, who has a conflict to overcome with the potential for failure. What is their problem or crisis? What impedes them? How do they plan to overcome the problem? Is the crisis resolved? How has the character changed at the end? I would advocate explaining how you as the writer / director want the audience to feel after they have watch your proposed film. For me, this is very important because this explains your motivation to tell the story. Finally, practice your pitch. Rehearse it privately and time it, so you stick to a rigid structure which gives you confidence that you’re not boring the listener.
Could you tell us something about your project? When do you plan to shoot it?
My project is a character driven, emotionally intelligent drama called, about the breakdown of a twenty year marriage between Colin and Mary, caused by the trauma of their only son being convicted and imprissoned for committing an brutal rape and murder of a teenage girl. The film aims to examine the complex nature of how loving relationships are challenged and undermined by the intervention of significant trauma. I’m currently trying to raise financing. I hope to shoot in 2016/17.
Did you make a moodboard or some other visual material for the script pitch?
The use of visual materials, moodboards and storyboards can be very effective in a pitch, to help the audience visualise your film. However, personally I would only use visual aids if they are absolutey necessary to communicate the vision. For genre films which may rely on complex visual devices, using visuals may be imperative. However, I consider myself more of a dramatist, so my approach to pitching is to clearly and succintly tell an engaging story, which captures the imagination.
However, I’d encourage any pitcher to use a strategy which makes them feel comfortable. It’s not just the story that your selling when you pitch, the audience can’t help but judge you as the teller. So i think you should always go with what makes you feel comfortable and confident, because that will really help in presenting a successful pitch.
interview by Janka Pozsonyi