Don’t give your main character cancer.” “Get to the story quickly.”
Those nuggets of wisdom perfectly illustrated the two kinds of advice at Independent Film and Television Alliance’s Pitch Me! panel at AFM in Santa Monica on Saturday: Have a great idea, and know how to sell it.
“I translate the creative part to the commercial part. I cannot separate them,” said Lerner, who frequently asked participants to outline the actual story and not the extraneous details that might lose or bore an exec, producer or potential investor. Lerner, who has worked on more than 200 titles, exec produced “Stone” for Overture this year.
Panel members pointed out that aspiring filmmakers want their listener to get to the next step, and that means hooking them quickly. “Pitch to people, not at people,” said Baron, the producer behind “Capote” and “Monsoon Wedding.” “Be conversational, be engaging.”
The experts also warned of killing people’s pets, a plot point that might backfire both onscreen and in a pitch meeting.
“You can kill people. You can’t kill animals,” said producer Heidi Jo Markel, whose films have included “As Good as Dead” and “Solitary Man.”
Panelists also told participants to consider their audience and suggested who might be best targeted for financing a particular project. They also stressed the importance of the cast in getting other filmmakers and investors onboard.
Most important, they agreed: Pitches must be concise and flow in a way that gets the listener excited.
Film ideas pitched from attendees ranged from Palestinian-Israeli lesbian love triangles and drug-trafficking single moms to the day’s biggest hit, a love story between a detective and investigative journalist-werewolf. “Just go for broke,” said Bickel, the prexy of Orpheum Communications to Evan Koons, the aspiring filmmaker behind the werewolf story. Koons got the audience laughing and applauding in one of the day’s shortest pitches, a fact that Bickel pointed out as working in the aspirant’s favor.
“It’s an American movie,” said Lerner, a co-chairman at Nu Image of Koons’ film pitch, titled “That Time of the Month.” “You’ll have to get your financing from here because it will be very hard to sell overseas.” Bickel pointed out that while many indie filmmakers might have an easy enough time soliciting funds from a relative, friend, or acquaintance, preparing themselves for a meeting with a busy studio exec is a different kind of animal.
“(Pitches) have to be sophisticated,” he said.
One big critique was that pitches did not outline the tone of the film well enough. Tone, the panelists agreed, helped target a potential audience, which would in turn help target investors. “Is it a romantic comedy?” asked Lerner more than once.
Koons, the only participant who received an invitation from Lerner to speak with Nu Image, was one of two attendees picked at random to hawk their concepts.
“I can’t even hear words right now,” he said as he got to the stage. “There is a god.”