The simple secret to a great pitch

Monica Obaga of the Talent Press Durban 2014 reports from a Durban Talents workshop, hosted by Neiloe Whitehead, Elizabeth Radshaw and Bongiwe Selane, abut the art of the movie pitch.

Elizabeth Radshaw from HotDocs at the workshop in Durban

30 filmmakers and an introverted geek walked into a self-presentation workshop. The eager young filmmakers were fixed, with eyes open wide enough to absorb any scraps of knowledge that may have escaped their ears. We were all here to learn what we could about pitching, to navigate the rough waters between art and commerce.

The three panelists, Neiloe Whitehead (NFVF), Elizabeth Radshaw (HotDocs) and Bongiwe Selane (SAFTA winning producer) came prepared and having met before the workshop, fit an impressive syllabus into less than an hour, including these gems: Pitching is like dating, so listen and ask good questions. And like a first date, context is key. One wouldn't pitch the same way at a party between drinks as one would at an industry pitch event. One also wouldn't ask for favors at once, but naturally progress the relationship until the right moment presented itself. An awareness of their values and personality would help indicate "the moment", so do your research. Practise your pitch ahead of time, with your peers, and even your mom! If she doesn't understand it, no one else will.

Three filmmakers pitched their projects. They were well prepared and knowledgeable, but the pitch did not sell until the audience was emotionally invested. A typical pitch begins with context and data, leaving the emotional core to last, which could mean too little too late in less than convivial circumstance, so here's the great pitch cheat sheet (say that fast, 10 times): Open with a hook, lead with your protagonist and clearly articulate your story and the lasting effect you want it to have.