Pitch winner lands Hollywood film deal

Rob McLellan, winner of The Pitch in 2010, has landed a movie deal in Hollywood. Rob won The Pitch with his pitch to make a short film based on the story of Rahab and the battle of Jericho. The film was then selected for the London Sci-Fi festival and enjoyed such a positive response in LA that he got a manager and an agent in Hollywood.

Less than two years on from the first screening of Rahab, the fruit of all this is a feature film deal with MGM which will begin with production of ABE, based on a short he made earlier this year.

Rob is also in development, with Footprint Films and Reel Issue Films, on the much anticipated feature version of Rob's The Pitch-winning film, Rahab. Rob is also considering moving to Hollywood later this year.

Rob spoke to Hazel Southam about the film deal

HS: Getting the deal with MGM is obviously career-changing. How are you feeling? RM: I’m really excited. I’m just in a bit of a daze at the moment. It’s unreal.

HS: How did you become passionate about film as a child? RM: My Mum worked as a trolley dolly at Grimsby’s ABC cinema. We were a working class family and it was much cheaper to stick me in a film after school than get childcare. She worked there until I was 18, so my entire youth was spent at the cinema. The first film that I remember seeing was Return of The Jedi, and I loved Back to the Future and the Indiana Jones movies. That was life, watching films.

HS: How did your love of films translate into wanting to work in them? RM: I remember my Mum explaining to me that there was a director and actors who made the film. That opened my eyes to the idea that it all came from somewhere. That transferred into my childhood. I used to make little films with toys with my Dad’s camcorder. Well, it was several camcorders actually: I was always breaking them. I was into action films, so the toys who got cast were Luke Skywalker, GI Joe and the Ninja Turtles. I’ve still got those toys now. In the end my Dad gave me a camcorder when I was 12. At that point I thought, ‘I could do this’. But I grew up in a really small town where people’s aspirations weren’t exactly grand. By the time I left school there was nothing I could go on to. There were no film courses and getting into films was beyond the realms of people around me.

HS: You taught students to make films for 9 years. Did you think that was going to be your role? Had you given up on making films yourself? RM: Yes, I thought my role was helping other people make films. And I had a good turn around from students getting into the industry. I thought I was at the limit of what I could do. But I still had the ache to make films. By the time I saw The Pitch advertised I thought that I wanted to go for something more than I was doing. In fact, one of my students pointed it out to me. He said, ‘Why don’t you have a go?’

HS: And you won. What was that experience like? RM: It’s a really lengthy process. I remember before the Christmas when I learned that I was in the final in January, I just felt ill. The whole thing was just terrifying. But you do get to the point where you start thinking, ‘If I win, what will this mean?’ When I won I was laughing, but I was exhausted! It was such a high-pressure situation.

HS: How did you come up with the story of ABE, the robot in your short film that’s now been accepted by MGM? RM: I came up with it over a weekend: the idea of a robot who is in love. And I really liked it. I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to be human. It’s a theme that I always go for. What would be better than having a robot that’s literally trying to understand that? It’s an analogy of what it feels to be a teenager falling in love with someone who doesn’t even know you exist. There’s a feeling that you would do anything to make them feel the same way about you. To ABE, he perceives those who do not love him to be faulty, so falls back on his knowledge that if something is broken, then you fix it. Everyone says it’s scary, but I just wanted to create a character who has problems with the human experience... He’s not coming from a place of malice, but rather from not wanting to be alone. It’s an exploration of our own humanity and a cautionary tale of not considering the consequences of creating something that can feel.

HS: How did you react when the MGM deal came through? RM: Huh! Wow! I’m going to have a lot of work to do! No seriously, it was such a relief from a personal perspective. My partner, Liz, and I had invested all our savings making ABE and going to America to pitch it. It was a huge risk to do that, with no guarantees. It was absolutely terrifying. I was afraid of coming home with nothing. We saw 10 major studios and MGM was the last. The offers were coming in, so I knew I was going to be making a feature film. But MGM absolutely loved it and fought to get it. For them to invest in the film is great.

HS: What does the future look like now? RM: Well, it’s a life-changer. I was going to have to go back into teaching in September. Obviously that’s not happening. For the next couple of months, I’ve just got to sit down and write it. And then we’re going to move to Hollywood. It’s not bad for a boy from Grimsby.

HS: How did winning The Pitch help you get where you are now? RM: The Pitch was the leap that made all of this possible. It was the shift from making stuff with friends and students to meeting industry professionals. I never met the right people. I just wasn’t at the right level. The Pitch forced me into the next level up. I knew that there was no going back.

HS: How have your family reacted? RM: My mother’s not alive now. But my two Dads are alive and I let them both know. My step-dad, who brought me up on films, didn’t really react. He went very quiet when I told him about the deal. But people keep telling me that he’s doing the rounds telling everyone about it. So I think it’s gone down well. My Dad is immensely proud and excited about the road ahead.

HS: And how are you feeling now? RM: It’s terrifying. My 12-year-old self would probably have expected this. But when you’re that age you don’t realize just how tough things are. This whole world seemed unreachable. It’s well-known that your first film has to be good. It sets the standard for everything that comes after. You have to show that you are not a one-off. I still feel that it’s not real. I feel like it’s not actually going to happen. But it is. I’ve just got to grab this chance and not be scared by it.

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