05 July, 2008

Movie Mogul Fund

I didn't really vote for the best pitch in this micro-budget crowdsourcing project. I didn't even read them all, I just voted for someone I knew, Brendan. Now I wish I had read them all as I'm puzzled by the eventual winner.

The next round requires members to write an outline for the winning pitch. I was actually looking forward to it - until I read it:

Genre: Black Comedy
A melancholic life insurance salesman finds his attempts at committing suicide unwittingly thwarted by his disgruntled customers.
Copyright © Ryan Hooper

No disrespect to Ryan, but the problem is I wouldn't have a clue how to get an outline from that and I don't think that's entirely to do with my lack of talent. The central paradox of a life insurance salesman wanting death is interesting and I could do something with that. However the rest of the pitch - which has to be in the outline - requires too much hard work to do convincingly. I'd have to spend a great deal of time trying to work out
  1. why he would try to kill himself in public
  2. how his customers could intervene without realising what he's doing - several times
  3. why the customers would be disgruntled.
  4. how to fill the remaining 70 minutes after the premise has played out
Perhaps the salesman is in the woods about to hang himself from a tree when a customer comes along walking his dog and says "you haven't paid me back for overpayments". And then for some reason he doesn't try again when the customer leaves.

Or maybe he's not in public at all but at home and there's a succession of different customers phoning him or dropping by just as he is about to slit his wrists and he somehow feels obliged to stop what he's doing to answer the phone or open the door.

The outline seems to require ignoring truth and logic, discarding believable characterisation and embracing excessive co-incidence. Your typical British low-budget film then. But even accepting that as just a fact of our "industry" which only the picky care about, can an audience really be convinced that for a whole movie someone can be stopped doing something which is really easy to do, several times by chance?

Negotiating Life won the members' vote - which just says you managed to get enough friends and family to become members and vote for you - but it also won with the jury of film producers. However the pitch tells me nothing about the story or why I should want to see it, never mind why I should want to try and write the outline.

The pitch or logline should give us an actual story with actual developed characters, not just a comedy sketch. Although, to be fair, this is by no means the first comedy sketch pitched as a feature film and it won't be the last.

All micro-budget movies have are the characters and story and they have to be right from the concept. The British audience will avoid British films, especially low budget ones. But I believe a strong concept and solid script can attract a stellar cast and crew happy to defer which will then attract a bigger audience.

We are creating art but realistically we have to think beyond that to funding, audience, distribution and marketing.
Three and Out was a biggish budget black comedy about attempted suicide that was actually quite well-written and had a proper story and characters but it flopped due to the marketing campaign which over-emphasised the controversy and suicide aspect. I'm concerned because there is no other aspect to Negotiating Life and I think the restrictions in the pitch prevent it being given more depth.

But if any of you think I'm an idiot for failing to understand the blockbuster potential of the pitch then, rather than swear at me, join Movie Mogul yourself and get your outline out there and prove me wrong. It could be the big money winner. The deadline is 31 July.

This is my previous post on pitching


ryan hooper said...

I appreciate the commens made on Negotiating Life and understand there are difficulties on how to approach writing an outline for it.

However I do not think that your criticisms are entirely well thought out, for example there are a number of reasons customers would be disgruntled, most obviously the fact that the life insurance sold to them was bogus.

Also, rather than 'struggling to fill up the extra 70 mins' maybe this could be seen as the oportunity for another writer to stamp their authority on to the script.

Although there are restrictions to the pitch, I think it would be far better to see this as an opportunity for lateral thinking, as opposed to an insurmountable object.

Thank you for your interest, I hope you decide to write an outline, even if you are not entirely happy with the pitch. I would be interested to see what you came up with.

Robin Kelly said...

And I thought I was good at lateral thinking. A bogus life insurance salesman rather than a literal one does open it up for me and provides a character throughline to the end as well as a theme and story.

But there's still the public suicide/co-incidence thing to incorporate and keeping it psychologically true.

Although, saying that, I think it might be possible to work around it and still be on brief.

I was seeing that pitch as the whole film, I've certainly seen similar low budget films, but you're right in that it could become a jumping off point.

It's certainly a challenge we could all try as a writing exercise, at least.

Dave said...

My own view of the standard on pitches in the contest was that the majority were not good but Ryan’s was definitely one of the best.

I think the problem we had Robin was that our pitches had to be 25 words or less. Therefore it was very difficult to incorporate story and characters into our pitches.

Mine was a horror called Generation aXe:

“When teenagers start being murdered on their sixteenth birthday, a small town realises they’re dealing with a serial killer with an axe to grind.”

I realise this contains almost zero story and even less on character but I think the most important thing to do when doing a 25 word pitch is to convincingly sell the concept enough so people will be interested enough in wanting to find out more. If I was stuck in an elevator with Joel Silver, the above is what I’d tell him (and also to give Shane Black some money to make a sequel to Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang) because then hopefully he’d be interested enough to stay longer in the lift to find out about the characters and the story.

I think Movie Mogul decided to have a 25 word or less pitch for the first round for the very reason you are critical of Ryan’s pitch; so that the writers in the second round will have freedom to develop a story and characters around the brief.

Like you I won’t be entering because I’d struggle to tell this story but I’m sure there are some writers who will find the brief right up their alley. And I agree that the suicide aspect does need toning down to attract a wider audience. Groundhog Day proves that suicide can be played for laughs but those scenes only made up a small proportion of the actual film.

However the most important point I want to make is that you voted for Brendan and not for me!!! Even after I referenced "the Internet's ultimate pitching resource” on my blog when I tried to drum up support for my pitch!!!

"Et tu, Brute?"

Robin Kelly said...


It is hard to incorporate story and character into our pitches but unless it's particularly high-concept then we need to try. It doesn't need much, I don't think.

Your pitch for instance is a great concept that's at first glance hard to mess up (although saying that Cherry Falls managed to mess up with something similar). If you told it to me in a lift I would say "Does this look like my office? Do I look like I'm at work? Fuck Off!" But I would be curious to find out more.

For instance, how you deal with the gaps between birthdays and why all the 16 year olds don't just leave the town once they realise what's happening. (Making it a big city might help). But what's going to help sell it to me are the characters.

I want to know whose point of view the story will be told from. Instead of "a small town", you could focus on someone in that town who the events will have a direct impact:

"Timid Ben must find the courage to invite Judy to his 16th birthday party - and escape an axeman killing 16 year olds on their birthday."

Or it could be from the point of view of a 15 year old girl, a copper, a parent or even the axeman himself:

"An axeman has to kill the 16 year olds in a small town - who are all the spawn of satan - before they destroy the world."

Your pitch could generate loads of different stories depending on who the main character is and your point of view and theme. Which might be fine for MMF in giving writers freedom in the second round but in real life you'd have to make a choice.

The follow up questions from Joel in the lift will be "who is your main character?" and "what do they want?"

And Dave, I had already voted for Brendan before I saw your reference to "the Internet's ultimate pitching resource". There was nothing I could do about it. I was kicking myself. Really hard.

Dave said...

As long as it was "really hard". And in steel-toe capped boots then you're forgiven.

I did actually write a pitch about the protagonist's perspective but didn't feel it was as catchy. But you would always advise trying to write a pitch that includes your central character(s)?

I can see how it does make sense from a producers viewpoint as your choice of protagonist informs on your intended audience.

Robin Kelly said...

I would advise it as it's the difference between an idea and a pitch. Producers don't need ideas, ideas are ten a penny, they need stories.

Dave said...

Cheers Robin!