How To Pitch, Part 1

There’s still time to enter The Pitch. The final closing date is October 22, but previously people have entered at the 11th hour and gone on to win!

The prize is so good – £30,000 to make your film, a trip to Los Angeles – that it’s well worth even a last-minute entry.

However, if you’re a little daunted – especially if you know nothing about the Bible, or how to pitch effectively – then don’t worry, you’re not alone!

My name is Oscar Harding and here is how I entered The Pitch – and how you can come up with an idea.

In 2017 I pitched my film, Clawback, for funding. A modern-day adaptation of The Parable of the Talents, it is covered in both Matthew 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-27. Though it didn’t make the finals, it did make the longlist, and was a great experience for me as a filmmaker.

I was also lucky enough to be invited along to the shortlisters workshop, which goes to show how The Pitch team will try to support you, even if you don’t make it all the way. Another testament to this is the experience of 2016 finalist Hannah Lee. Though she didn’t win, her Pitch Hagar appealed to judge Neville Pierce and they went on to attract further investment and support and make the film as Promise. I can’t think of any other short film competition that would offer such continuous support to anyone other than the outright winner.

First, a bit about me: I was raised Catholic, went to church and Sunday School for most of my childhood, but was never really religious. These days I don’t go unless asked by friends or family, and consider myself an agnostic. To say I wasn’t too bothered with the Bible would be an understatement, but when I discovered The Pitch, and what an incredible opportunity it was, I thought I’d be a fool to pass it up.

At first I thought I’d reformat another short film idea I’d written a script for, but realised that was a mistake, because it’s undeniable that the Bible is full of stories ripe for adaptation. Many of the best filmmakers of our time (Scorsese, Aronofsky, Gilliam) would agree, whatever their faith.

Still, I was at a loss of where to even start with such a huge book. Then I remembered a story that I used to love reading as a young boy, and revisited The Parable of The Talents. The story is pretty much the same in both the Gospels of Matthew and John. In short: a master, who has to go away for a while, leaves three servants different amounts of money. Two of them invest it, but the third buries it in the ground for safekeeping. When he returns the master is furious with this servant and has his bodyguards drag him away.

When I re-read this I really reconnected with the story and decided this would be the basis of my pitch. Still, I wondered…

Why am I drawn to this story?

I figured out that one of the reasons I liked it was that there was no clear moral - nobody was telling me what to think. I could interpret what this story was about myself. I thought more about it than any other Bible story I was told because I really had to think about it - there was no clear lesson to be learned. It involved effort and thought - that’s why it stayed with me all these years.

Also, it was emotionally engaging - we saw four very different characters’ motivations. The Master expected the best from his servants. Two servants wanted to please their master, whereas one cared what he thought too much and was afraid to take a risk. For a filmmaker, these are motivations that can inform a character’s journey, as well as the plot. They didn’t just do something wrong, or something right - each made decisions which affected them.

When you find the right Bible passage to adapt, you’ll know. But you need to know why that particular passage stands out for you, out of thousands of other passages. Does it speak to you on a personal level? Or is it something else? Does the story conjure up a particular moment or image you want to include in your film? Does it tie in with something you’ve had on your mind and not been able to find the right story to fit with it? What are the gaps in the story that invite further investigation and artistic interpretation?

It was through asking myself these questions – and reading commentaries about the passage – that I worked out my take on the story. I learned that some see the parable as a message about not wasting the gifts that God has given us. Others saw it is a reminder that “we reap what we sow”. Any one of these would be valid, since the parable invites us to ponder and decipher the meaning.

But it was William R. Herzog II’s interpretation that chimed with me the most: “The absentee landlord reaps where he didn’t sow, and the third servant is a whistle-blower who has “unmasked the ‘joy of the master’ [...] Hence, the third servant is punished for speaking the truth, and not for failing to make a profit.”

After all these years, I finally worked out what, in my mind, The Parable of the Talents was about: greed and injustice. I decided this would inform my adaptation. Tomorrow I’ll explain how I went about it. 

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