The lovely Carol and Garwin!
Who doesn't secretly dream from time to time that they work in the film industry? Come on now, fess up.
Whether you're a total cinephile and fantasize about combing through your script with Scorsese over a glass of whisky, or you're just a People magazine junkie and wish you had Angelina's lips - I bet almost every one of you has at some point imagined yourself up on that stage at the Oscars, sniveling and bawling and thanking God for all of your good fortune. I know I've imagined myself being all charming and cool and the pride of St. John's many-a-time.
The 24th annual St. John's Women's Film Festival is happening this week in our fair city, and one of the great things about it is that in addition to all of the screenings, there's a series of Industry Film Forum events throughout the week that allow filmmakers in all stages of their careers, from all over the world, to interact with and learn from the experts. Some participants are already quite established, and some are just trying to figure out how to start their career.
What's awesome is that ANYONE can participate, even common folk like me. Events like this will allow me to indulge in my dream of becoming the next Diablo Coady and making a big, sweet pile of that dirty Hollywood money.
So over the next few days, I hope you'll join me as I ever-so-slightly, temporarily go on hiatus from my usual blog format. The original focus of Wicks on Flicks was movies, and so this week I'm going back to my blogging roots. I'm going to pretend I work in the film industry, and attend one Industry Film Forum event per day.
Yesterday, I trotted into the festival's kickoff event – Reading the Room & The Ethics of Pitching.
The interactive session was led and moderated by two-time Governor General Award-nominee Carol Whiteman, co-creator of the Women in the Director's Chair (WIDC) program, and Garwin Sanford, a successful actor cast in such series as Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantic and Hawkeye, and producer of over 60 short films.
The duo also happens to be an adorable recently-married couple.
“I follow this woman wherever she goes,” he said, as he introduced himself.
Carol and Garwin generously and enthusiastically poured out their experience and insight on the importance of knowing your product, your audience, and yourself when you're pitching a project.
For those who don't know what pitching is, it's when a writer/director gets a chance to sit down with a film company and present their idea. If the big shot they're talking to likes their idea, they'll purchase the screenplay or TV series for development.
A pitch is a big deal for many reasons, and it's a lot more work than you may think.
If you're a mere neophyte starting out in the field, you should really have a full script written, as well as a treatment (sort of like a great big outline). You need to know all of your characters as if you've been trapped alone with them in a barn for two weeks. And if you've never tried to write a script, you have no idea exactly how taxing it is. As you try to figure out what's going to happen next and page two turns into page 22, you can't remember which character is which because they all start to melt into one and you don't know how or if the damn thing is ever going to end and...oh God. It's rigorous. Don't ever belittle a screenwriter or filmmaker for being a lazy dreamer again, or I'll cut you.
Although there was a wealth of information shared during yesterday's full-day forum and I could never do the full event justice in this brief blog entry, I'd like to brush on the three topics of the day that impacted me the most - storytelling, fear, and confidence.
Essentially, when you're pitching, you're telling a very short, three-minute, (hopefully) riveting story. And if you're good at it, your story is going to make the people who hear it want more (ie., pay you).
Why do we tell stories?
We all paired up with a buddy in the room and shared our thoughts.
Many of us had similar responses.
When we tell stories, we want to evoke sensory responses. We want to feel a thrill in our body. We want to inspire change and celebrate who we are. We want to entertain, engage, educate, and enlighten (what Garwin referred to as, “the four e's that ease”).
We want to, “let the universe reveal itself,” said one wildly insightful participant.
If you're familiar with the three-act screenplay structure, a pitch is essentially a condensed version of that. Your pitch must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You must identify your protagonist or hero, and articulate what he/she goes through and how they change from beginning to end. You must immerse your audience into the world of your story.
If your story is in the style of another story, reference that other film. If you have a visual of how your story will start, describe that visual. “My story begins facing an old, dilapidated barn house on a grey, rainy day. The white paint is faded and chipped, the shutters are hanging by the hinges, and the monsoon rain is sweeping through the broken living room window, soaking through the rotted floor boards,” for example. It will provide a jumping off point, will clearly communicate your setting to your audience, and get their imagination going.
Stories connect humanity. Whether your story is funny, tragic, moving, inspiring, or enraging - if you can tap into an element of your own story that you know others will relate to, do it right from the start of your pitch. It will invest your audience in what you're about to say.
This is true not only if you're pitching a movie or TV show, but with anything in life. If you can relate to people on some level with a story, your communication provides a greater impact.
Did I mention that doing a pitch is freaking TERRIFYING?
I mean, you go into a room with a few big wigs that you've most likely never met before, spill the beans on this project you've probably been pouring your heart and soul into for many months, perhaps years, that's probably actually an extension of your soul, and they might just reject it.
The number one fear, above death, is public speaking. Fear of the unknown is what causes this fear, and the way to conquer this fear is to know yourself.
I feel that knowing yourself is vital not just while pitching a movie or TV series, but in any situation in your life, EVER.
Trying to convince your boss you deserve a raise AND five weeks vacation? Know yourself.
Trying to convince your husband or wife that you deserve – no, NEEEED - that trip to Vegas? Know yourself.
Trying to convince the cop that you didn't just fall asleep at the wheel and there was a bee in the car? Know yourself. And in that case, get yourself some help.
Now, this is going to sound kind of manipulative, but here goes...if you know yourself, then you're confident, and if you're confident, you are therefore more effective when trying to convince someone to do something you want them to do.
But how do I get to know myself? Do I take myself for a walk on the beach and share a bottle of wine with me? You may ask.
Carol and Garwin spoke about introverts and extroverts, and how different minds benefit from distinctive strengths. Introverts prefer to let their thoughts percolate through 500 French press coffee machines before they present them to a group. They're the ones who take themselves for walks on the beach.
Extroverts, on the other hand, prefer to vocalize every thought through as they come into their minds with a group of other people. No filters in their Bodums.
Like many people, I feel that I'm borderline (introvert-extravert, not sane-insane, ya saucy brats).
I asked Carol if she had advice for how to figure it out, and she said, “If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life, what would scare you more – that you would be without people for eternity, or that you would be with people for eternity?” In other words, would you go more insane at the thought of never being alone again, or being alone forever?
If you can't stand the thought of never being alone again, you're more likely an introvert, and if you can't stand the thought of being alone forever, you're an extrovert.
Both introverts and extroverts have their own sets of strengths and challenges, but what's important is to figure out how your own mind works and what you're comfortable with. There are mountains of personality tests on the internet to help you figure out whether you're an extra or introvert, and a plethora of literature, from Carl Jung to Myers-Briggs. It really is fascinating stuff, so if you've got four hours of free time some afternoon, by all means, dive right in there!
One overarching message I took from the day that stuck with me is:
If you can conquer fear by getting to know yourself, you will be a confident person. If you're a confident person, you will get more out of life.
For fear of sounding like a self-help book, I feel I should conclude for now (although Carol recommended some reading on confidence that I've already downloaded onto the old iPad, so don't be surprised if I revisit this topic at a later date).