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Monday, June 09, 2008

My First Experience In Pitching My Film In Japan

PITCH (filmmaking)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A pitch is a concise verbal (and sometimes visual) presentation of an idea for a film, generally made by a screenwriter or director to a producer or studio executive in the hope of attracting development finance to pay for a screenplay to be written. Pitches are usually made in person, although they can be made over the phone or, occasionally, pre-recorded on audio or videotape.

A good pitch is generally between five and ten minutes long and lays out the premise, hook and essential beats of the story, along with thumbnail sketches of the principal characters (often including the names of actors who might play the roles), and a clear idea of the genre, tone, likely audience, and budget level.

If an executive is interested in a pitch they may ask to see a treatment. If not, they will often follow up with "What else have you got?".

For this reason, a wise supplicant will be prepared to pitch a second and possibly third idea without hesitation.

I've been gripped by this vaguely familiar feeling of melancholy in the past few days. I wondered whether it had anything to do with the ELEPHANT AND THE SEA trailer I was editing, or the fact that my laptop adapter had gone crazy (laptop abruptly switches off by itself when it's plugged in, no problems when using batteries), or the awareness that I was going to get sick, or because I was stuck in limbo between productions, maybe none of them, maybe a little bit of all of them.

I was already starting to cough last night, and needed to take some pills before I went to sleep. Then I woke up at 7 with a slight dizziness and an immensely dry throat. The cough was still there, but a dry one. Checking my comp, I was slightly surprised that my previous blog post about the phone calls I received after the Akihabara stabbings had been linked by Japanprobe (and later in the day, Cowboy Caleb).

I took a few more medication and left for uni a few hours later. Today was the day I was supposed to pitch my new short film, YUKI (tentative title. Mentioned in this blog post) to the university's film department/lab. If approved, the film will be funded by them, and I will also have access to performers from a famous Japanese talent agency.

It was raining. The world was entirely grey. I trudged my way to uni, almost everyone around me held a transparent umbrella. So do I. Why are the umbrellas in Japan often transparent? Where goes the colourful umbrellas on a colourless day? Despite the rain, I was sweating profusely underneath my black jacket.

I had lunch with producer Maiko and her friend first. For weeks I've lived my life like a peasant, eating only bread for lunch, but I wondered whether my illness was caused by malnourishment. Thus I decided to eat something else instead of bread, yet the food was slightly tasteless. A pity since I know that under normal circumstances, I would've enjoyed the meal much more.

Maiko continued voicing out her misgivings about the ending I wrote for Yuki. There was something 'missing' about it. And despite trying to maintain some ambiguity similar to what I did with CHICKEN RICE MYSTERY, she felt that the ambiguity was still too clear-cut in its delivery, my own moral stance regarding the situations portrayed in the short film much too clear, too black and white.

My professor and the other two gentlemen whom Maiko and I would pitch our film to later to brought out the same point. The screenplay was good, yet its weakest point was the ending, not because of its ambiguity, but mostly because of its inconsistency with the characterization, as if I had suddenly wanted to become too preachy. At that time, of course, the entire exchange was in Japanese, so I wasn't really clear with what was happening until everything ended.

We were all seated in a room. My professor and the other two gentlemen were sitting at behind a table, while those pitching their ideas would sit behind the opposite table. (The other two gentlemen, Maiko whispered to me, one is a famous producer, another is the screenwriter of JAPAN SINKS.) Those waiting for their turns would sit at the side. We were the last to go, the whole thing lasted for a bit more than 2 hours, and Maiko would occassionally write me notes translating to me what was going on, what the others were pitching, what the committee members thought etc.

So I was excited when it was finally our turn. I apologized and said that I would speak in English, and was about to weave my magic. I was struck by vague memories of pitching GIRL DISCONNECTED more than two years ago in a different university half a world away, almost during a different lifetime. I also had memories of talking about THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA to an appreciative audience at the Santiago International Film Festival in Chile during an increasingly distant ten months ago.

After all, public speaking is something I never shy away from, my ego feeds upon the attention, relishing upon the faces of spellbound audiences, and often I grow more animated and joyous as I speak.

"Yoroshiku onegaishimasu! YUKI, is a ten minute short film (possibly more) which I intend to do with one single take!" I said, and paused dramatically. And then, with equal drama, I started describing the screenplay, unlike the others, there was no need to look at notes or papers, everything was already committed into my mind.

... then I was interrupted halfway by my professor.

"It's okay, we've already read the script. Just tell us your message."

"... oh." I remarked.

All right, that's quite a letdown.

Still mustering some dramatic tones, I started explaining the message of my film, the multiple layers I was working with, how it was a character psychology drama, then an allegory of modern society.

Then Maiko started translating what I said in Japanese.

... And the rest of the conversation veered towards the Japanese language, with me staring cluelessly at the exchange between Maiko and the three men.

My professor asked another guy to translate their conversations for me, so the guy sat beside me and started translating. But having not read my script, he was unclear of what was happening, and the whole exchange between the only female in the room and the three men behind the table were in such speedy rate that he himself couldn't keep up either.

When it was over, everyone stood up swiftly and hurried off.

"Ehh?" I blinked.

I left with Maiko and went to the uni cafetaria, still lost, still confused. The smattering of lines the guy managed to translate for me sounded a little discouraging. ("they said... by using single take... your messages aren't clear... the ending, it's weak... the character... inconsistent... it's not strong enough...") Of course, I looked unfettered and concealed my slight doubts with my normal impassiveness and mild grin in front of that guy.

Some of my worries were unfounded, the problem had only been with the ending. Just like what Maiko had said during lunch, and also yesterday. But what changes can I make? How can I still preserve the essence of the original ending while improving upon it as they have all suggested? Thankfully a solution was reached pretty soon after a quick bout of brainstorming with her, and I managed to find a satisfying middle ground between what they suggested and what I wanted.

I've just emailed the latest draft to Maiko for her to translate before I wrote this post, now the waiting begins. I'm aiming for a June 22nd shoot date, I believe in self-imposed deadlines, yet I have a slight suspicion that I may not be able to shoot it in time.

I hope not.