Preparing the Pitch

Woman reading a treatmentPitch meetings became more popular over the past few years due to its ability to quickly sift and sort the weak from the strong stories. Two weeks ago, I participated in a three-hour pitch session that included a couple dozen distributors and investors, along with a few dozen filmmaking hopefuls. Each person was given 5-7 minutes to share whatever information they thought might get them a significant followup meeting. The outcomes brought tears to the eyes of some newbies and hope to those who had refined their craft year after year.

When I wasn’t in a pitch, I took time to coach a few of the rookies with the hope that their next pitch would be improved. I asked one woman, who was sulking deeply, to share her pitch with me so that I might give her a tip or two. Hope filled her eyes and she dove into a very complex opening that I wasn’t able to follow. I shared a few adjustments and then watched her walk back into the pitch room.

Seven minutes later she returned to the prep room with a big smile on her face. She shared how the distributor enjoyed her pitch and asked for a copy of her script. I watched her dance around the room and head into the hallway with a sense of adventure stirring from within. Here are the three adjustments that I suggested:

  1. SHARE YOUR PASSION: Film is an emotional medium that takes people on a ride. The pitch needs to take on the same emotional tamber as the film. The explosive beats must be shared boisterously and the loving beats with tender care. If the listener can pick up on your emotional tone, they will be entertained and assume the film will do the same.
  2. BE YOURSELF: When a distributor or investor is listening to your pitch, they will judge the story on its merits, but from the perspective or through filter that you offer. Their decision to greenlight a project is based on three weighted factors: You (60%), your project (30%) and your business plan or ROI (10%). They want to know who they’ll be working with and whether or not you’re a storyteller.
  3. TELL A COMPELLING STORY: Pretend you’re hanging around a campfire and are taking turns telling stories. When it’s your turn, tell the story in a way that captivates their interest or raises a question that they have to have answered. Share some personal traits about your main character and the struggle he or she overcomes. And no matter what, don’t sound like a salesperson.

I used an iPad during my pitch sessions to show illustrations that reflected the style and design of the stories I shared. It quickly got everyone around the table onto the same page, saving enough time to discuss our next steps.

All but one of my meetings were successful. The odd one out was due to the exasperation of the distributor who had endured 2.8 hours of bad pitches. When I started to introduce myself with a handshake, he told me to sit down and dove into a lecture about what he needed, eating up 6.8 minutes of my 7-minute slot. I chose not to interrupt him. I knew he was exhausted and wouldn’t have been able to hear a word I said, so I just listened.

When he finished, he apologized for eating up my time and suggested it was my turn to talk. I said, “I have a story that meets every need you mentioned except for two.”

“Really? Wow, that’s great, let me hear it.”

“Unfortunately my time is up,” I said concerned for the next filmmaker awaiting her turn, “but I’ll be back in touch with you if I decide this is the direction I’d like to go. Thank you for your time.” I shook his hand and walked away. I glanced back to see a look of confusion on his face. He knew that his rant had blocked my opportunity and I wondered if he felt the loss of a potentially great story slip away. But I doubt it.

Film is a collaborative art form that requires all players to embrace some compromise in the melding of artistic values and ideas to be successful. While I might have raised some level of intrigue, I hadn’t given him any story information to merit him making a follow up call to learn more. I was the only one who lost.

Most everyone in the film industry I’ve met are polite and professional, not knowing who out of those they’ve met might launch their next level of success in the near future. Burning bridges is always avoided and being your own passionate, storytelling self is embraced.

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Copyright © 2018 by CJ Powers
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Embarrassment or Creativity

© IvicaNS - Fotolia.comCreativity is the one thing that brings everyone happiness. It founded our world and it created what many call the “happiest place on earth”—Walt Disney World. Unlike joy, which is eternal, happiness is fleeting at best. It comes and goes in the moment and can seldom be reenacted with the same level of enthusiasm that it originates.

For the creative soul, or the creator, the release of art is more precarious than most would think. Stepping out fully vulnerable with a creative performance, concept, or product can cause the recipient of a mediocre response to feel embarrassed. The newfound boldness of the audience can bring great praise or a debilitating embarrassment capable of shutting down a vulnerable heart.

Creatives need to protect their heart, yet remain open for their creativity to be successful. While that notion sounds like an oxymoron, creatives will always find someone to hate their work. They will also find someone who admires it. This makes the protection of the heart difficult.

The only way for a creative to protect his heart is to learn from the experts. While this is true in all fields, the entertainment industry seldom employs experts to help a creative get to the next level. All too often the creative person is seen as an end unto themselves and not as one key factor among others who collaborate in a successful product launch.

I was fortunate to have a professional actor as a next door neighbor when I was growing up. We produced numerous plays in his garage for families living on the block. While it seemed to be a hobby for the girls, every guy that participated in the plays went professional later in life.

My good fortune continued in high school when I had great phone conversations about directing with Ken Burns and Ron Howard. I also had a theatre coach that developed shows during the summer at Disney in Orlando. He took me under his wings and taught me a lot about the collaborative process. I was thrilled to be mentored by a pro.

Those who submit themselves to a mentoring process find their skills excel beyond the average creative. The most important reason is the additional confidence created from the relationship. However, for those who can’t seek out a mentor, there are four steps that can be taken to instill a similar affect of growth and confidence building.

STEP 1: Find the current expert in the field that can supply a solution to the creative problem. If we are confident that a particular person has what it takes to solve the dilemma, by researching that person and the steps they took to arrive as a master, it’s possible to shift our perspective in parallel to brainstorm solutions.

STEP 2: Mimic the master. Learning from a master includes the understanding of his perspective, style and panache. By trying these behaviors on, our mindset will change and give us ample opportunity to see things from a new perspective and energize our creativity.

STEP 3: Follow the expert’s methodology. All professional creatives have a process they follow for the sake of speed and profitability. The standards were proven and later developed into a process over time. By reenacting the process or using a version of it, the creative can open his mind to new opportunities and solutions.

STEP 4: Seek the risky solution. Creativity is at its best when we’re on the edge of what we’re comfortable producing. During the times we stretch ourselves to be competitive with the expert, we force ourselves to a higher level of performance. These moments that balance on the proverbial fence between creativity and embarrassment drive success to an all time new high.

The key to learning from others is realizing the difference between a great idea and one that was polished by a pro. Those who must hold fast to their ideas and won’t consider other perspectives are doomed to a short creative lifestyle. But those who consider various pieces offered by other professional creatives can polish off the bulk of their idea with experience, which will be evident in the final product.

No creative wants another to change his idea, but the good ones will allow the pro to improve his idea. Sometimes a simple sentence from a mentor can change the entire tone of a product to something more suitable for a different generation. The comraderie alone is of great value, but the output of the relationship will be impressive—Giving rise to confidence, not embarrassment.

Copyright © 2016 by CJ Powers

 

The Toy Story 2 Argument: People vs. Ideas

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

Ed Catmull offers business lessons from Pixar and Disney in his book, “Creativity, Inc.” I agreed with his perspective on the value of people over ideas, which runs counterintuitive with the majority of production companies.

Most of his philosophy came about during his work on Toy Story 2, a production that originated as a direct to video release, but took a sharp turn and became one of the most successful theatrical sequels of all time. Unfortunately the success and its lessons came at a great cost that formed Catmull’s philosophy.

The argument comes from the business value that either the people or the ideas are more important. The determination of what a company values most determines the processes that exploits that value. If ideas are more important, then the company churns their employees in search of great ideas, but if the people are more important they see to their needs knowing that they will create great ideas.

“If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up,” says Catmull. “If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.”

Putting a team of the right people with the right chemistry together is the necessary precursor to getting the right ideas. But not everyone agrees with this philosophy. When asked among industry peers the responses to people vs. ideas generate a 50/50 response. This statistically suggests that no one is responding to fact or experience, but rather are all guessing, picking a random answer, as if flipping a coin.

“To me, the answer should be obvious: Ideas come from people,” says Catmull. “Therefore, people are more important than ideas.”

The key is determining what makes the people the right people for a project. Some would suggest character alone is sufficient, while others state the importance of mastering one’s craft or holding years of experience. I find that what makes for an ideal person to join a team is one who subscribes to a continuous pursuit of knowledge, the endless exploration of their craft, and a willingness to learn from peers.

“In the end, if you do it right, people come out of the theater and say, ‘A movie about talking toys— what a clever idea!’ But a movie is not one idea, it’s a multitude of them. And behind these ideas are people,” says Catmull. “The underlying goals remain the same: Find, develop, and support good people, and they in turn will find, develop, and own good ideas.”

It’s no wonder that master craftsmen are drawn to others who have mastered their craft. Nor is it strange that excellent creatives gravitate to projects that attract like-minded creatives.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers

10 Things to Know before Loving a Creative

Emotions Run Depp within CreativesI came across an article by Justin Gammill that helped me understand there are scores of documents proving that highly creative types think very differently than the average person. They’re hardwired aptitude for the arts generate amazing works that we benefit from. But for their lover, it’s important for them to understand the ten things that come with the creative’s unique mindset.

  1. Mind is Always Working

The creative mind runs at full speed all the time. It allows for spur-of-the-moment fun, but their lover sometimes finds it draining. Creatives also tend to bounce between projects throughout a day. Their lover can seldom keep up and soon realizes they will never be able to control or manipulate the creative into a clear schedule.

  1. Life Takes on Patterns

Creativity ebbs and flows, bringing emotional highs and lows to the creative in regular patterns. To some it might appear to be a manic behavior disorder, but its simply part of the creative process. Their lover must understand that their lows are temporary and bring about a new perspective for the creative, who then ramps up with more ideas.

  1. Need Down Time

While some people assume that many creatives are introverts based on their withdrawal periods, most just need to pull away to deal with their thoughts. The same holds true when chats become limited or quiet. The creative hasn’t lost interest in their lover, but instead is temporarily stuck in his head working through ideas.

  1. Hyper Focused

When hyper focused on a project, the creative can lose track of time and find sleep altered based on his workflow. This can be difficult and frustrating for the lover, as he is ignorant and irresponsible at one point, and brilliant and responsible at another. The lover must remember its part of how the creative is wired.

  1. Emotions Run Deep

Creative people feel everything on a deeper level. What seems like a small thing to the lover could be a much bigger deal for the creative to the point of feeling crushed. The lover must remember that it’s the same passion he uses to create art that expresses love.

  1. Think and Speak in Stories

It takes the creative a lot more words to express his experiences, instead of just saying what he wants to say. This storytelling process ascribes his humanity to what he shares, but can be hard to follow at times for the lover unless she reads between the lines.

  1. Wage Internal Battles

Creatives can take several hours to come up to speed and accomplish a task on one given day and jump out of bed for a project on another. It’s impossible for the lover to slow him down and she soon learns to be patient during the slow times, as surges of activity will quickly show up.

  1. Thrive on Intuition

Creatives rely on intuition over logic due to their intense emotions. They typically go with their gut and are right far more times than logical people care to admit. While lovers might be concerned about what appears to be impulsive tendencies, the creative is actually following his depth of experience and passion.

  1. Struggle with Confidence

Creating for a profession develops second-guessing in all creatives. While some lovers might be concerned about the creative’s need for acceptance, he is typically just seeking to understand the needs of his audience. This comes from the vulnerability of having to wear his heart on his sleeves for the sake of art. This in turn leads to questions about whether or not his work is ever good enough. The lover’s most important role in maintaining her relationship is being supportive of the creative – protecting his heart and ability to continue loving.

  1. Play

Creatives know how to let their inner child play. At times, the lover might think he’s being immature or impulsive, but he’s just being a child at heart. This is an innate part of the creative’s brain and thinking process. The lover has to remember the things that make the relationship fun and playful are the same things that might become frustrating during serious times.

Copyright © 2015 by CJ Powers