Sunday, December 2, 2018

ScreenSavour: The Fine Art of Pitching

ScreenSavour: The Fine Art of Pitching
Pitching has attained unprecedented significance for a film project today

“An improvised family from rural Bengal at the beginning of the 19th century struggles hard to negotiate their abysmal poverty and eventually migrate to Banaras in the hope of a better future.” We wonder how this kind of an idea could provoke the interest of any prospective producer but Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali (The Song of the Road) released in 1955 deals precisely with this subject and has been recently counted amongst the best 100 films in world cinema by a BBC poll. It is the only Indian entry to make to the prestigious list.

In his memoirs Ray had written that he had made the rounds of nearly 15 producers to pitch the Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay novel but was turned down repeatedly till he decided to sell off his collection of rare Western Classical records, expensive art books and wife’s jewellery to raise money. And when he ran out of money during the production and the shooting was stalled for two years, he managed to seek a meeting with the then West Bengal CM, Dr BC Roy and showed him the edited footage of whatever he had shot. The CM was impressed enough to order the Publics Works Department to put in the money to complete the film because he thought it was a documentary on rural roads. A nervous Ray did not bother to correct him.

In contemporary cinematic parlance they call it ‘pitching’: to sell an idea to a prospective producer in a span of 10 minutes or less. Advertising industry describes it as ‘positioning’ – how my product is different from so many similar products available in the market and its uniqueness.

Pitching should not only encapsulate the film’s story in a limited number of words, through the premise or logline as they call it – a protagonist caught in a problematic situation trying to resolve it through action and the stakes involved in case he fails – but also provide an idea of the nature of the world in which it is set.

Pitching has acquired the status of specialisation today and has become a prerequisite for making a film. In fact, it is the first step towards its realisation. It is not enough to have a good script, it has to be pitched in a manner so that it arouses the producer’s curiosity enough for him to ask for a longer narration in which the writer / director can now get into the details of the characters and the plot.

In the West pitching has been a long-established tradition, thanks to the organised nature of its industry. There are regular workshops and sessions where elements of pitching are taught, including body language which the director or writer is required to adopt and the tone that he should assume while narrating. There are practice sessions and dummy narrations where the same story is pitched in different ways to figure out the right combination of words and gestures. Participants are taught about ‘elevator pitch’ where a story needs to be pitched between two floors inside a lift! The internet is full of examples of individual films and experiences and the ‘dos and don’ts’ of the art and craft of pitching.

In India it is only in recent times, since the corporatisation of filmmaking that pitching has started gaining currency. One of the earliest practices incidentally has been a ‘pitch festival’ involving documentary films held in Kolkata for the last more than 17 years – Docedge, where documentary    filmmakers from all over the country pitch their ideas to a panel of producers from across the globe at a public forum.

Films Division similarly has been holding pitch sessions for its commissioned directors. NFDC has been organising the ‘Film Bazaar’ which coincides with the IFFI in Goa where selected scripts are pitched to prospective co-producers. Two years ago, Screen Writers’ Association of Bombay held a pitching workshop where the panellists elucidated the nitty-gritties of pitching.

But as documentary filmmaker, scriptwriter and columnist Paromita Vohra opines, pitching cannot be the sole criteria of evaluating a script’s worth and the director’s passion. Well, there is a tremendous amount of food for thought here, because not all directors or writers have the gift of the gab.

Ranjan Das
ScreenSavour: The Fine Art of Pitching

Source: MDFC