How To Pitch, Part 3

17 October 2018

In the final part of his reflection on his Pitch experience Oscar Harding – whose pitch Clawback was longlisted in 2016 - talks about his experiences of entering the competition, and how he created a pitch that got through the first stage of the competition.

You understand the source material, why it’s worth adapting, and how you’re going to adapt it. You have a passion for your pitch… But now comes the tricky part: communicating that story, and your passion, to the judges.

What do I want to say?

I wanted to say something about inequality and classism. There’s an ever-increasing wealth-gap in our world. That’s why in my adaptation, greed wins and the honourable “servant” who invested his money wisely is punished for his selflessness. As I said in my pitch: “It’s a twisting of the moral, a corruption of the parable. This is a story about the times we live in. All you have to do is hold a mirror to the world - surely that’s criticism enough”

I made a cynical film for a cynical age, and turned the story on its head. Doing it this way worked for me because I know what I wanted to say: we’ve lost our way now that money is the new religion. I felt that my adaptation couldn’t be told any other time but now, and that’s why I tried to convey: that it was a story that needed to be told.

I couldn’t have done this with a Bible passage which had a more obvious moral, and if I didn’t understand the text in all its variations so well, I wouldn’t have been confident to do this. I found a way to merge what was on my mind at that time with a Bible passage that would allow me to say what I wanted to.

That year’s winner, Harry Lighton – whose film Leash went on to be selected for the London Film Festival – had something to say about Brexit, and how it spurred on violence and prejudice against immigrants from other countries. In his Pitch, he made it very clear what was on his mind, and crucially, what his movie was about. Subtlety is for when you’ve got your movie greenlit. It’s all in the word: “Pitch”. Make it clear why this movie has to be made, and why audiences need to hear what you have to say.

You’ve got to make voters and judges believe in your film. That’s going to happen through clarity, passion, and ideally a bit of showmanship, too. The good news is that there are so many ways you can do this.

2015 Winner The Widow’s Last went all out. Director Vanessa Perdriau went out in Ireland and shot a proof-of-concept as her pitch, out of her own pocket… and it wasn’t cheap! But this is standard practice in Hollywood - it demonstrates a real belief in your own material, and just how good you can make it if you’re given more support and resources. Vanessa’s investment paid off… much like it did for the first two servants in The Parable of The Talents.

Don’t be intimidated by this method, though - do what you think is best. Draw some concept art and provide voiceover to go with it, like 2016 runner-up Nour Wazzi did for her film Trespass. Or you can even simply deliver your pitch to a webcam. That’s what one of the winners of The Pitch South Africa, Mpumelelo Keshwa did for his winning film The Second.

Both pitches won not because of their production quality, but because of the quality of their ideas. You can make a pitch that costs 1p to make, or £1000, it doesn’t matter - if you have the right story. All you need to do is work out how to communicate that story better than anyone else.

When I was submitting my pitch, I didn’t have a lot of time left before the submission deadline, or a lot of money to produce a flashy pitch. But that didn’t stop me. I was a student in Canterbury, and lived with my best friend who just happened to be my director of photography on a bunch of earlier films we had made together. I went location scouting for somewhere reasonably classy and luxurious to emanate the setting of my film. I put on my best suit, to look like one of my characters, and spent half a day filming a stylised pitch where I talk through the plot of the film, and what I’m trying to say with it.

I had a good friend illustrate some concept art, and asked some actor friends’ permission to use their likenesses for the characters. I felt this would help the judging panel better imagine the finished film in their head. You can check out The Pitch Archive for further examples of how others have used these techniques. The archive has every single longlisted pitch submitted over the past 9 years…

Though I didn’t win The Pitch, taking part was a terrific experience. I think it’s the most supportive and consistently engaging film fund out there. There are thousands of stories in the Bible and thousands of ways for you to tell them. We look forward to seeing the results.

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