The Cross Channel Film Lab’s pilot screenwriting lab is focusing on ‘pitching’ as a root to the heart of the story. Concurrently, some of the discussions I’ve had about defining the visual focus of a story through VFX or Stereo 3D have highlighted the idea of the poster as the simplest visual form of an idea.

I wonder if the idea of the poster will become more important to us as we explore the potential of the kind of films we want to help get made – low budget features with strong stories and distinctive visual sensibilities. Is the poster the ultimate pitch for a film like this?

A few thoughts on pitch and poster as we’re exploring them so far – I’d love to hear about anyone else’s experiences of working in this way.

THE PITCH

I’ve always used pitching later in the process – as more of a sales tool once the idea is fully formed. So it’s interesting to see the impact of our French partners’ approach of pushing towards a pitch at an earlier stage. As with every approach, some writers are more comfortable than others with working in this way – but so far, it seems to have produced some compelling results.

Our guinea pig writers pitched their ideas to each other after just 4 days of intensive development – they didn’t know where their stories were going yet, but they had a starting point, a mood, an intention. The challenge to immediately hone their idea into a concise pitch wasn’t dissimilar to working on a logline, a one page outline or a short synopsis – all of which can be useful development tools at the right stage in the process.

In our second lab, the writers will again focus on their pitch – filming revised versions of these to present to a public audience in Brittany – and then a week or so later, to an audience of producers at the Dinard Festival of British Film. They are further along the line now, but working on short documents, outlines and treatments rather than first drafts.

Their focus is on honing the core of their ideas, and exploring the most potentially appealing aspects of the idea from the audience’s POV. So a public pitch should provide a scary but valuable opportunity to get direct feedback from their potential audiences as the ideas evolve…

THE POSTER

Poster for Street Dance 3D courtesy of Vertigo Films

I’ve also been looking at ‘the pitch’ from another angle altogether. As we explore ways to work effectively with VFX and Stereo 3D, we’re looking at pre-visualisation work and marketing packages that can convince financiers of the viability of a low budget feature idea.

We’re looking at helping production teams to hone practical budgets and schedules, test ideas, and to develop storyboards and high quality taster tapes to demonstrate their vision. But at its simplest, perhaps the pitch we’re looking for here is the poster: the visual representation of the core story idea.

The poster is of course also all about engaging with your audience – what will get them into a cinema to see your film? How can you encapsulate what that experience will be in one simple image? It may be that they see nothing else before they enter the cinema, so it’s your one chance to build expectations. Misjudge it and you leave them disgruntled and disappointed. Get it right, and you can generate a significant audience who know what they like, and hopefully, like what you’ve done.

Can you see the poster for your film? How would it affect your project’s development if you had that image in mind from an early stage?

While I’m still nervous of defining an idea too early in the process, I’m also intrigued by how exploring these ideas (without forcing yourself to follow that line throughout the entire project’s development) might help a screenwriter to understand what it is they really want to say. At least, at that point. Their vision may of course change in the next draft…!

GOING PUBLIC

I’ve also been wondering about the potential of moving a ‘public pitch’ online. At it’s most minimalist – on twitter, there’s ‘logline Friday’ where writers tweet their logline to script doctor Eric to win the approval of their peers. Within writing groups, writers share their projects as they develop. Collaborative online film-making projects draw co-creators from all over the world. But what kind of outlets exist for writers to share their developing ideas with the general public, to engage with their potential audience and find out what they really think?

What would it be like to get direct audience feedback on your poster or your pitch before your project was even a first draft? Might this have value from both a development and audience engagement perspective?

Or could that be more destructive than helpful? It would certainly take a sturdy writer to survive public dismissal of a much-loved but relatively newborn idea. Great ideas could be lost before they have a chance to grow, simply by asking the wrong audience the wrong question. But if you’re making films, you want them to be seen – so there has to be value in getting audience feedback as you progress.

I don’t know how our UK-French way of working will develop yet – and whether we’ll go on to explore any of these ideas in our future work together. But I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the value of using a pitch or poster as a focus for the early development of an idea. Have you ever done that and how did it work – or not?

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