Selling people on the emotional arc, look, narrative structure and characters of a doco – while still retaining a unique perspective and making the film relevant – proved to be a huge ask at the annual Pitching Competition.
As Pat Ferns said in an earlier session, there are as many ways of pitching as there are of telling a story, and the 11 pitching teams illustrated this, some to their advantage, some not.
The panel included many of New Zealand’s experienced decision makers – Sue Woodfield (TV3), Richard Driver (Documentary Channel), Jude Callen (TVNZ), Haunui Royal (Maori TV), Graeme Mason (NZFC), Ewa Bigio (Smiley Film Sales) and producer John Barnett (SPP). Fiona Lawson Baker (Al Jazeera International), Julia Overton (Screen Australia) and Hans Robert Eisenhauer (ZDF/Arte) flew the international flag.
The range of projects being pitched was broad, covering themes of specific local and international interest. Pat Ferns drove proceedings along with his customary sensitivity and good-humour, allowing teams to run so they could finish their point and asking useful questions.
The projects to look out for in years to come were 4.20 New Zealand (now renamed as NZ Green: Cannabis Culture in New Zealand), Savage/Rik Reiss; Army with no Guns, William Watson; Asexuality: The Making of a Movement, Angela Tucker; Bring It On Home, Simon Burgin; Electronic Wasteland (now renamed as Electronic Chernobyl), Esmeralda Kasmara; Eye of The Land,
James Marbrook and Clarisse Feletin; Helen Clark PM, Claudia Pond-Eyley and Susi Newborn; Into The Slums, Bevan Crothers, Megan Jones; Ringcon, Prue Langbein; Whale Like Me, Malcolm Wright; and Whare Maori, Karen Mackenzie.
A flaw common to many of the pitches was the desire for projects to achieve a theatrical release. A number of panellists commented on this to various pitchers, while John Barnett made the general observation that teams should be clearer on what they really wanted.
It seemed some of the lessons from Pat Ferns’ pitching class and Leanne Pooley’s proposal writing class (both held on Monday) had escaped some of the teams pitching. Points that raised their heads more than once in panel questions and comments were the need for projects to identify and communicate what salespeople call USP – unique selling proposition.
A number of projects pitched covered ground much covered previously without being able to say what would make their take on the subject matter stand out.
The commissioners made useful comments to individuals on matching narrative style and content, on establishing and maintaining mood, and building character and structure.
After a secret ballot, conducted after lunch, a winner was discovered. Two special mentions were also made, although none of the pitch teams knew the outcome until the Wedneday evening Award ceremony.
Whale Like Me, pitched by Malcolm Wright, won a Special Mention. The autobiographical account of an accidental journey into the world of Japanese whaling, and a resulting trip to the Cook Islands on which he took a Japanese whaling family to swim with whales.
William Watson’s Army Without Guns won the other Special Mention. It telss the story of a coalition army lead by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) and local women during a civil war in the Pacific. Doc Edge’s Alex Lee and Dan Shanan are the producers, but had little influence (and less control) over the outcome.
The winner was Simon Burgin’s Bring it on Home, about Simon and ‘porn-king’ Steve Crow returning to their small rural hometown to re-visit the scene’s of Crow’s formative years, discuss the adult industry and embark on a controversial project: a risqu? charity calendar featuring porn-stars in his home province.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the interest centred around the sex and celebrity angle of the story. A suggestion was made to rename it Minister’s Son Meets Porn King. The panel felt Simon should emphasize the purpose of Steve’s return more (to do a porn photoshoot in his home town).
The populist and prurient nature of the material might have caused a few noses to wrinkle but, as has been noted during a number of the sessions over the three days, projects need to know – and find – their audiences. There was little doubt Bring It On Home would have any difficulty with that.