Pitching workshops can be a bit brutal. They ask you to distill your film into a sentence or paragraph and sometimes simplify your film a bit too much. Focus is good, but you do need some unknowns to keep the mystery of the filmmaking process alive, and the urge to find out more.
Our commissioned Bridging the Gap filmmakers were relieved when they realised that the directing workshop with Mike Palmieri and Donal Mosher (October Country) was not about finding the great one liner, but going deeper into the heart of their films, uncovering what makes a character great, what made the filmmakers interested in them, and how to get most from them. It was an intense two days in which Mike and Donal gave themselves whole-heartedly to the films and filmmakers. Often it's not about discussing camera technique, or 'knowledge', but what you bring to the table as a person with life experience beyond your identity as a filmmaker.
The sessions were informed by filmmakers bringing along their trailers, interview excerpts, rough footage, animation samples. Often it can be hard to share materials at this stage, but even'unsuitable' footage generated productive discussion for the films. How do you bring these two characters together, do you need a third? How do we get behind the headlines of an idea and create a cathartic journey for the audience? How do you deal with someone who's not who he says he is?
Here are a few summarising thoughts on the 'Palmieri/Mosher approach':
- Do keep it simple and spontaneous. Don't put equipment between you and your character and setting. Strip the equipment to the bare essentials.
- Do your research and know your themes but treat "interviews" like a conversation between two people. Don't over-prepare.
- Find the overlapping interest in what you want to say with your film, and what your character/s want to get out of being in the film.
- Look at people closely. Is the action in someone's face, or what do repeated hand gestures say about a character? Try to capture the essence of the person, with as simple means as possible.
- Life is complex, so don't underestimate the intelligence of the audience.
- Use the mystery you have about your chosen character/s or story as a driver for the film.
- Don't outstay your welcome, know when you and your characters are "done".
- Good films can't be summed up in one sentence. Or rarely!
Mike and Donal also did a Q&A in Glasgow after screening October Country at the Glasgow Film Theatre, to very enthusiastic audience reactions. Rarely had they seen such a lyrical representation of a documenary about a working class family. We discussed the difficulties of "selling" the film in the UK, although it shares a working class film heritage. So far it has had no TV or cinema release here, and our screenings were only its second outing in the UK after premiering at Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2009.
All I could think of is: "How do you pitch a poem?" Some films you just have to take a chance on: see it, love it and spread the word.