This past Sunday was my second time stage-managing the So You Think You Can Pitch competition and I’m really glad to be a part of the process.
Despite having done it only a year ago, it was still a huge learning curve for me as we are now holding the pitch in the Royal instead of Innis. The fact that it was in the Royal certainly made the event much grander in scale but it also proposed quite a few challenges for both the staff and the pitchers. For one thing, the space on the Royal stage is a lot smaller than Innis so both our emcee, Keith Cole, and the pitchers had less flexibility in terms of their movements during the presentation – we definitely would not have been able to have a “Dragged Out Affair” style pitch in that space. The pitchers had to either stand on the side of the stage with a spotlight on them, forcing audiences to look in two different directions if there’s a screen presentation involved or stand in front of the screen but because they were on the same level as the projection screen, they risk blocking whatever they chose to project or being masked out by the projection itself.
Another is that the jury could not be on stage since there is so little space. At first I thought this would make things awkward from a showman perspective since the audience wouldn’t be able to see the jury react to the pitches or when they ask pitchers questions about their projects. But a positive note is that the audiences’ eyes are solely focused on the pitchers themselves. It also added a bit more of that inevitable American Idol comparison with the jury being in the front row facing the stage (with Lila proudly claiming the title of JLo).
Despite walking in with those differences in mind, I knew that the pitch as an event was going to be awesome in many ways. Let’s face it, the space itself, regardless of how much harder it makes operations, is prettier in every way and that’s one of the first things audiences will notice. From a technical perspective, everything at the Royal is top-notch since the theatre’s equipment is up-to-date that makes it a suitable space for high-definition post-production work during its daytime hours. This allowed pitchers to really make full use of any high resolution photographs and HD video presentations they wished to use. Couple with the fact that the pitchers are elevated on a stage with fancy red curtains and lush comfy seats for the audience, I think having the event at the Royal definitely left quite the positive impact .
The day started off with Aram and I arriving at the Royal by 8:30am to setup – the subways weren’t even running then and kudos to the pitchers from the suburbs who had to trek all the way there so early in the morning. We scrambled to get all the mics, laptop and videos setup for the pitchers to do their rehearsals. Despite being so early in the morning, everyone was oozing with energy due to the excitement that the next couple of hours would be. Some of them were already hard at work in their own space, mentally and physically, standing in a corner trying to make any last minute perfections to their pitch before they got some time to do a tech check with the theatre staff. I wanted the pitchers to see their intro videos so that they won’t get any surprises during the event and they also got the first glimpse of last minute advice from John Galway, our pitch clinic coach from Astral’s Harold Greenberg Fund. Shortly afterward, the audiences started to trickle into the lobby one by one and the smell of the city’s best theatre popcorn filled the building, a sign that the show was about to start.
I must say, the pitches this year were AMAZING. Everyone was well prepared and I had a good idea of what their projects will look like. It made my job of cutting people off that much harder because they were all really well done and I wanted to hear more about their projects. But someone had to play bad cop and I had to take on that task to ensure everything was on time, especially since we had such a short turnaround time between the pitch and the first film presentation of the day. The fact that there were more pitches than last year but less time for the event overall kept me on my toes.
Jason and Victoria were the first team to pitch “Yung Men”, a family Christmas drama and as someone who has done concert recitals and theatre, I know going first can be nerve wracking but I knew if anyone could set a first strong tone for the next hour, it was these two. Then came Keith with “The Magic Charm” who decided to abandon his pre-planned audio visual presentation and went straight for verbally describing the nitty gritty details of his project, which in my opinion actually made his presentation better. I know out of all pitchers, he was one of the most nervous ones but as soon as he’s on, his game was on. Elaine set the tone for the emerging pitches with a powerful presentation on stage about “Amalgamations” to the jury’s applause, giving us a sample of her film along with great visuals that allowed anyone to clearly see what her film will look like. Chantria followed suit with a psuedo-video conference from her filmmaking partner for “Voices of the 1.5 Generations” in Europe. Stephanie, imagining everyone in the audience in their underwear, took on the challenge of pitching her dramedy, “Little Miss Jihad” without any audio-visual support, hoping to wow the audiences and the jury with her inherent sense of humour and passion for her film. And Tricia pitching “Gravity” finished off with one of the best stage presences I’ve seen from a filmmaker pitching a project. Whoever wants a shot at it next year will definitely have some BIG shoes to fill both for the jury and the audience.
A huge congratulations goes out to Keith Lock and Stephanie Law for winning the 2011 So You Think You Can Pitch competition in the Established and Emerging Artist categories respectively. I can’t wait to see “The Magic Charm” and “Little Miss Jihad” next year at the festival. And to echo Stephanie’s sentiments during her speech, regardless of who won, I hope to see the entire “pitch posse” make their films and shown on the big screen. Last year we had a really good year where four out of five pitching teams managed to finish their films – let’s try to break that record!