How to (Pre) Sell Your Movie: Lessons Learned at The Pitch @ Industry Days

thepitch_1On October 25th, Fawzia, Brian, and I pitched “Signature Move” at Industry Days, a new event organized by IFP/Chicago and Chicago International Film Festival. “The Pitch,” as they billed it, was a chance for six local filmmaking teams to vie for a handsome package of in-kind services from various Chicago-based film companies. Sort of an “American Idol” or “The Voice” for film projects.

“Signature Move” was lucky to be chosen as one of the six contestants. Ultimately, the $20,000 prize and bragging rights went to Cornbred Films and their project “Oriole Park.” We were excited to walk away with an honorable mention, though, as well as a lot of great feedback from the jurors and the team of industry professionals who helped us prepare the weekend before. Of course, we would have loved to have won the big prize (we did receive a generous in-kind award of free office space from IFP/Chicago), but the lessons learned were in many ways more valuable.

Here are some of the main take-aways:

  • Know your audience.
  • Know how you’re going to reach that audience.
  • Have a realistic sense of what your movie’s going to cost to make.
  • It’s never too early to start talking with distributors and sales agents.
  • Talent matters—if you can attach a recognizable name to your project, the conversations with distributors, sales agents and investors will go a lot better.
  • Tone matters—people need to be able to figure out what your movie is, both in terms of plot and tone, very quickly.
  • Genre matters—even if your film doesn’t really fit neatly into any genre, you need to be able to talk genre; industry people think and talk in those terms.

download (1)I’m not sure we were entirely clear on all these issues prior to the pitch. But through our preparations and conversations with industry professionals, we figured out a lot of things. Most importantly, we learned that our excitement about this project is widespread—people almost universally responded to our pitch with a comment like, “I’ve definitely never seen a movie like that!”

As a producer, this is very encouraging because it’s affirmation of what I’ve believed all along, namely, that “Signature Move” is a truly unique story that will resonate with a wide audience. It’s also a movie that makes sense within the parameters of the characters, identities, and worlds that it explores. Yes, it’s kooky and quirky, and just became more so with the addition of Jennifer Reeder as our director. But people get it. The judges at “The Pitch” got it. Our fellow filmmakers in the audience got it. And we’re optimistic that the momentum we have coming out of “The Pitch” will continue to build.

So what’s next? Personally, I am not looking forward to any more “American Idol”-style pitch sessions—doing a song and dance in front of an audience is not my forte—but I know I can talk about “Signature Move” more clearly and confidently, because our team has taken some significant strides forward in understanding our own project. This will be invaluable as we continue to have conversations with investors, distributors, casting agents, and all the other allies we need in order to get this film made.