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NAW2017: Pitching Steve Barr

Steve Barr presented on the art of pitching at the weekend’s Nga Aho Whakaari hui, sharing tips and tricks on how to advance a project.

He summed it up as, “[Title] is [Genre] about [an Interesting Person] who must [Do Something Difficult] in order to [Achieve Something Worthwhile]. It’s really about [Theme], and I’m the best person to make it because [Personal Connection].”

Barr worked in the Hollywood system for about 15 years before migrating to New Zealand in 2010 so that his wife could attend vet school at Massey University. In California, he has “produced, written, directed, edited, acted in, ADed, LPed, gripped, gaffed, boomed, and/or fetched the donuts on over 50 short films…” (the big idea)

In NZ he has continued his growth as a writer, script consultant and producer, perhaps most notably having co-written with Casey Whelan New Zealand’s first hip-hop feature, Born to Dance. Along the way, he has also become quite an expert at pitching – and in teaching how to pitch.

“Pitching As Sales;
Pitching As Development;
Pitching As Relationship.”

At a most basic level a pitch is an attempt to sell a project to a (hopefully willing) buyer. Pitching is also the part of the process of developing a project, looking for partnerships which will help bring it to fruition. And most importantly of all perhaps, pitching is about building a relationship that, with luck, will last the duration of the project.

“Writers pitch narrative.
Produces pitch a project.
Directors pitch a vision.”

But who are you pitching to? And how do you reach them?

Pitching is like being on a first date. Everyone is on their best behaviour – so if you feel there is something uncomfortable, discomforting, even weird, about the vibe from the person you’re pitching to, then recognize that you’re never going to work with that person – but with no sense of despair.

Rather, since you’re deciding you never want to work with that person, use the situation to experiment, to take risks. Try something out, experiment with your pitch content and style – practice your technique.

“The Title: Absolutely important!” said Barr.

The right title will capture the essence and uniqueness of your film, without giving away too much. But equally it must avoid creating any false expectation in a viewer – woe betide anyone whose title suggests some kind of horror/splatter and instead produces a gentle rom-com. Ultimately it is the title that has the first and best chance of inspiring somebody to fork out cash to see your film.

“The Big Why”: Instead of leading with the narrative of your project, lead with why it’s important to you. Explain what it is that you care about, and why you care. If other key people involved don’t share your motivation, the project is not going to work; and if they do (and you’re honest) they’ll know that they can trust you.

“If you go in with an attitude of I’m going to make it somehow, with you or without you, and it would be great if you join in, but equally okay if not because it’s going to happen anyway – you will pitch better!”

Your movie has an audience. But they are not the audience for your pitch. Be aware of the difference.

If you are in the situation of pitching to a series of people, doing the rounds of producers, Barr recommeds trying to do first the ones you care less about. “Use them as practice – because you will make mistakes!”

Barr also proposed that getting another person to give your pitch back to you is an excellent method of getting feedback, of testing both the pitch itself and your pitching skill.

It quickly becomes apparent how well you’ve got your idea across, and what mistakes you have made.

To Steve Barr’s excellent advice, I would recommend taking part in pitch competitions.

They are stressful, and can appear like an extremely artificial situation. Pitching to a panel of 4 or 6 and an audience of dozens or more seems unreal compared with the more common ‘real world’ situation of pitching to an individual producer or funder.

But every time you pitch the more you learn from your mistakes, and the better you become at it.

Top image: Steve Barr, Photo by Anton Sounes

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