Alex Boden i David Pope. Fot. Marcin Kułakowski, PISFAlex Boden i David Pope. Fot. Marcin Kułakowski, PISF
14 April 2014
There is no one industry voice. Interview with David Pope

There is no one industry voice

Interview with David Pope

By Anna Bielak

David Pope is a filmmaker, consultant and training provider, who has consulted on single feature film projects and slates based in US, Europe, Middle East, North Africa and Asia. In 2013’ edition of New Horizons Studio in Poland he served as a tutor and conducted pitching-workshops for filmmakers. He has also extensive experience in screenwriting, directing actors and visual storytelling’ trainings. On a regular basis Pope is co-working with The Rotterdam Lab at CineMart. He is a member of the British Council's Creative Economy Pool of Experts and a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts. Apart of T-Mobile New Horizons Studio and among many others, his clients, funders, partners and collaborators have included British Film Institute, Cannes Film Festival, Edinburgh IFF, New York Film Academy, The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, BAFTA and Irish Film Board. While our conversation David Pope unveils secrets of good pitching, elaborates on the common problems many filmmakers have nowadays and puts the emphasis on the importance of a good research every screenwriter, director and producer should do to conquer the world. 

Pitching is part art, part science and part salesmanship. Do you agree with that statement? If so, could you elaborate on those three categories?

I would agree with those categories, but I would probably also add a category of humanity. I think it is very useful to look at pitching as a conversation. I think that people within the film industry respond very well to having conversations rather than listening to the monologues. Through a conversation they may learn not only about the project, but also about the person. Filmmaker needs to sell himself along with the project, which is only a basis for the future professional relationship among people. If we consider science as a preparation, I must say it is absolutely essential component of a good pitch. However, I do not agree that every pitch can be delivered to a single model. I think it depends on the person, who is pitching, the people who listen and the project being pitched.

You had workshops with Polish filmmakers during New Horizons Studio last year. Would you say that they are ready to conduct fully professional conversations during meetings on the international markets?

Yes! I do not think there is a national issue. My experience in Poland was no different from the experiences I have had in other countries I’ve been working with young filmmakers. Everywhere I’ve worked emerging filmmakers have common problems with pitching, which are lack of preparation, difficulties with structuralization of the story (giving equal emphasis to the story’s beginning, middle and the end). Running out of time, what results in mindless rushing to the end is also a very common mistake one can make. Filmmakers also need to remember that they’ve been given permission to take a certain period of time and they do have a control over it. You can craft the way you end the pitch and choose the line to conduct the conversation. Once again – all what is matter is an art of establishing a relationship. What I’ve noticed is that since filmmakers are familiarized with that, they feel relieved. It helps them with perceiving themselves as human beings, not tape recorders.

Speaking about the preparation could you tell me what a good pitch should include?

One of the main issues in pitching is confidence. People you are pitching to cannot do their business without things that you have. While pitching you do offer your talent, you do not ask for help. Obviously pitching very slightly depends on who is doing the pitch. Screenwriters, directors and producers will all pitch a bit different content. From screenwriter people want to hear the story, therefore screenwriter needs to be able to reduce down the plot to a pitch. It requires lot of hard work. You may have take out lots of things you love, because there is no place for them in a short pitch form. From producers people want to hear the assets the project is attached to, by which I mean money, cast, director and any business relationships that have been already established (such as sales agent). Yet, the producer should also be able to tell the story. Ability to recite the finance plan is not enough for a pitch. Directors should give sense of directors’ vision of the project, which may contain the style of working with actors, visual sensitivity and a way of approaching storytelling. Yet, every filmmaker is going to be pitching in lots of different environments; with his team or alone – therefore he or she needs to be prepared to take up all of those roles and unveil the story with passion and commitment.

You put an emphasis on the differences among screenwriters, directors and producers. What is the difference between pitching a feature film and a documentary one?

All films are born three times – first time during writing, second time during shooting and finally during editing. In documentaries the emphasis is put towards editing, because stories are often found through the process of filming. Therefore while pitching a documentary people usually want to know what is the main topic of it. Most probably they would want to know the subject, by which I mean who is the person that is going to lead viewers into the documented world. The question is – do the filmmaker has access to the protagonist? The other thing is the planned structure (footage, stills, photos, interviews, animations etc.). Yet, at the end and as always, the story is everything.

Would you say there is a trend for any particular stories nowadays?

I would rather not think about trends and write what I love. First of all you are going to spend lots of time writing and by the time you have the story written, trend will be different and the market will be different. If you’ll be writing to trends, you’ll always be left behind.

You mentioned different environments and I wonder what places (film festivals, international markets etc.) are the best pitch-choices for a filmmaker?

I think that this decision requires lots of research, because the answer to that question would be different depending on the project. Certain markets and festivals go towards diverse kinds of projects. If you are working on an arthouse film a CineMart in Rotterdam may be the most appropriate market to attending. If you have something more genre-based or commercially focused, I use those phrases very carefully (!), you should want to go to Cannes. However, wherever you go, you should set up meeting in advance.

If you are not an established writer or producer, how can you set a meeting and interested in yourself an executive working for and established film studio?

Again and first of all, research needs to be done. You should now if the people you want to meet are making the kind stories you want to tell. Screenwriters and directors would waste time if they would not do research beforehand and check if all the people in the room are interest in developing same kind of stories. Once research is done and all the information (available on the Internet) is analyzed, filmmaker needs to develop honest comparables between his project and the studio’s interests. Next a filmmaker should check if the certain representative will be going to the market you’ve chosen to participate and simply ask for fifteen-minutes meeting. Producers are quite generous with their time and most of them would be able to give you this quarter of an hour. Yet, it may occur that you are pitching to somebody who does not have power to give you anything, but this person’s job is to go to own boss and report back. Whatever happens, at the end you knew, you have had your time.

Would you agree that not every good idea is a picheable idea?

Filmmaking is a collaborative art form and a collaborative business venture, so you going to have to work with other people and discuss your project with them. You have to be able to communicate. If you are not able to pitch an idea, maybe you should reconsider the art form you have chosen? Maybe writing a novel based on it would be a better choice for you? You need to be fully prepared for all the doubts and questions you my get – first from the professionals during the pitch, later on – from you crew on the set.

What kinds of questions should one expects?

Producer could be asked who is the audience for his film. Director would most probably need to elaborate on why does he want to tell this particular story he brought to the pitch. If you are not prepared enough, it is difficult to find those answers during a tense meeting. You are going to be remembered if you have a great project, which is ready to be pitched. If you’re not an actor, do not act confidence and passion. If you want to gain more confidence, it would be better for you to have in mind that you can be responsible only for things you can be responsible for. What do I mean by that? You could be responsible for is the project good, is the project ready to be pitched and are you pitching it to the best of your abilities. You cannot control any of things that are outside of those few mentioned above.

What is next for filmmaker if his or her idea was not selected during a pitch?

Filmmaker needs to be aware of that he or she will be pitching a lot, so it is essential to learn how to deal with rejection. You may be rejected even if people love your story and like you.  Moreover, there is no one industry voice. Everybody has different opinions based upon their social, economical and political status. It’s going to take time to find people to work with. You need to be able to handle that and it will be much easier for you if you love your project. To sum-up confidence in yourself and passion about the project are two things that a filmmaker needs to develop and that people are interested in seeing.

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