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July 26 at 8:15am

A New Era Requires A New Pitch, Pt.2

By Ted Hope

Yesterday, I tried to provide context as to why we must change the manner we pitch our stories, films, and storyworlds.  Today I am pondering what a pitch for today might be?

The question though is much bigger than that.  We have to ask what is the creative process — particularly the one that can hope to have a financial payoff of some sort in the end — when we have to look in so many directions and dimensions? If linear tales, no matter how well told, can not gather enough traction to make a dent in our collective attention in this era of superabundance, how do we begin to tell of our efforts at far fuller worldbuilding?

When there was a limited supply of stories that could actually be executed, a hope of successful mass market distribution for them, a fair price for rights acquisition possible, and a belief that people would pay attention when encountering a good story well told, we all could focus on getting that fresh take on a tale of transformative emotional truth packaged into its various necessary forms so that it could be funded, produced, and distributed. We started often by developing a pitch, a story we could tell quickly and in a manner that would make the listener even more to come. Whether it was the log line, elevator pitch, or development exec coffee chat, we knew what it was. That was then.

But that is not today’s world by any means. Today’s world requires a much different approach.

One of our greatest problems is we are still human beings. We have developed habits, desires, and essential rituals. We have needs. Stories – the linear sort with a beginning and end – have served us well for centuries. We are addicted to them, both as creators and appreciators. Stories, of the linear variety, are now embedded in our neurological code. What once was a workable practice is now a rut, deep and rigid, locking our wheels in line down a road to ruin. Our imagination starts in a place that is no longer truly applicable to our cultural or business practices. How do we change? How do we wean ourselves from that linear trap of a one-off movie?

The challenge to establish an ecosystem around a new variant of our culture industry  is really just another case of a consistently moving finish line. We need to acknowledge that nowadays we are not yet done when we can tell the story in a manner that sparks others imagination and entices them to want to be involved. What a remarkable and satisfying feeling that was! We told a story, leaving room for more, and they heard it and got it and wanted to be involved. It was lovely. But now those that think that is enough, I don’t want to work with. Their method won’t work. The movie won’t get made. Or if does it won’t have the cultural impact I aspire to. It has to go further. Both the tellers and the listeners need to recognize we need more now.

There are far more great stories than our current infrastructure can effectively consume or engage with. There is however a shortage of well developed storyworlds. We have to show how and where and by whom those worlds can be built. Today’s pitch needs to reach to those further realms where our tells don’t just inspire others to listen in their seats but to get involved and add on and riff, build a balcony and a build a swing – whatever it is, it must get us out of the rut and the ditch and show a universe of new paths.

A good number of the movies that I have gotten made, partially got made because I could provide context to how the marketing of the film might be handled. I tried to always come up with at least ten different approaches so that executives would feel that if I had ten decent concepts they, being experienced marketing executives, could surely come up with at least one really good one.

We are now in an era where that same approach I used to funding my films by riffing on the marketing needs to be applied to world-building from the get-go. Show them ways that people can expand upon the narrative, where the background can be deepened, why people will engage deeply and often, and why they will feel they have a greater takeaway, a greater return, of the investment of their engagement. A pitch in this era of abundance needs to be a many armed beast of varying layers and depth. That is the pitch we need create.

Start with a core story.  Show how the rules or the the themes of this world has the room for many more iterations.  Explain how a supporting character has many stories of their own.  Demonstrate how people want to connect around this theme, issue, or idea.  Provide a tool, or character, or prop, that other creators can use to riff on the world and incentivize them to do so. Extend other objects into the physical world, be at as a badge or clue, that can unite folks on different platforms.  Discuss how you are going to play the cards.  Spark their imagination, not just with the story, but with the platform and the strategy.  Leave them wanting more.  If they add water, they’ll not only have dinner, but they will have learned how to fish.

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7 Comments

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  1. cj / Jul 26 at 8:15am

    I got to the storyverse, storyworld, transmedia, cross-platform, whatever one calls it, conclusion by visiting Comic-Con in San Diego at the insistence of a friend over a decade ago. Having never read comic books, I resisted. He patiently explained that it was not only about superheros and correctly described it as “the largest arts convention in this hemisphere, adding that, “it may not be art that you like, but it is art.” Artists I had never heard of had developed characters and stories with worldwide, passionate followers, some of whom had homemade character costumes and saved for over a year to come to the convention. The creators and their fans shared in a “come play with me” world where they were equals. The “come play with with me” worlds were not only fantasy, vampire, zombie, Sci-fi earth apocalypse worlds, but prosaic, occupational, hyper-realistic worlds, with characters involved in mind-numbing, repetitive jobs such as fast food workers or meat inspectors. The common thread was that the creators kept the story and characters in the contemporary zeitgeist by constant transmedia iterations: video, stage, games, print, real life role playing etc. This is what Marvel and DC do well and Disney did less well with John Carter and the Lone Ranger but it can work as well on the indie level because the constant iterations of your “storyworld” and the following you build negate the need for a huge P&A budget.

  2. Paul Snow / Jul 26 at 8:15am

    So far I haven’t seen a way that transmedia/story worlds can become the norm without limiting the kinds of stories that can be told. The kinds of worlds that have success now are almost entirely sci-fi, fantasy, or very stylized crime – in each, cool costume designs matter at least as much as intricate characters and themes. Where is the place for “Girls” or “Seinfeld” or “500 Days of Summer” or some other property that resides very close to everyday life? It seems like Stanley Kubrick, with his history of besting every genre he came across once, would fail miserably in this system.

    Even most of the attempts of studios and other to do this multi-world expansion don’t go over well, and their lofty ideas about immersion boil down to a new web widget or a t-shirt.

    And I notice that the most emotionally intense and critically acclaimed video games basically have the story tacked on, and get their power from scenes where you push buttons as necessary to keep the movie going.

    Also, I just feel like stories (and all art, really) are defined by what they leave out, as well as what they include. Creating programs that rely on the audience actively producing material to fill in every blank seems very constraining. Personally, I just don’t look forward to a career of making sequels and spin-offs of whichever of my stories find success first. I’d like to have an audience that followed me like they follow their favorite musicians – they’re willing to go with the artist to new places out of trust.

    Maybe we just haven’t figured out all the ways to expand, but right now this approach only suits a few types of movies and TV shows really well.

  3. Nathan Glen McWherter / Jul 26 at 8:15am

    I still don’t see a difference between storyworld and fan fiction. And that’s fine, but I agree with Paul, it’s not an area I’m interested in. CJ’s connection to Comic Con is good and I feel there’s a difference between comic culture and film culture.

    I don’t think film needs to jump on the bandwagon of blockbusters. I find films to be incredibly immersive still. Only God Forgives, Spring Breakers, Place Beyond the Pines, To the Wonder are just a few movies this year that stayed with me and made me thirst for those stories. Not more of the tale, but a better understanding of them. To think on the intricacies. To digest this work so concentrate that it was impossible to fully understand what I had just experienced right out the theatre.

    I don’t think film needs to change what it’s been doing. I think the mainstream has changed and this storyworld model has worked for some things, but I don’t think that’s the only option. I think Ted’s idea for filmmakers to act more like rockstars (going on tour and making an experience of watching a movie, like a live show) is a great option. It opens up a film into a forum, allows viewers to interact and discuss with each other and the filmmaker. I think THAT can really change cinema in a way that’s beneficial and makes sense.

    But maybe I’m missing a piece of the storyworld puzzle….

  4. brian_newman / Jul 26 at 8:15am

    ted, always love the spirit of your posts, but while I agree with the problems (superabundance, etc), I don’t agree with the solution. I don’t think it lies in transmedia at all, but in something that should be much simpler – just building a better connection to your fans, and the ones doing it aren’t transmedia pioneers, but YouTube stars. My thoughts were too long for this space, so I wrote a longer blog post in response, here: http://www.sub-genre.com/post/56986998514/transmedia-why-im-not-buying

  5. Ted Hope / Jul 26 at 8:15am

    there are multiple solutions to these problems. It’s not an either or. I agree that a real & authentic connection to your community is key. In fact I think YOU have it wrong by keeping it regulated to “fans”. Ultimately it needs to be community and regular flow between both sides — at least in the ideal.

  6. Ted Hope / Jul 26 at 8:15am

    We need to make room for multiple approaches. The key for artists is to not get stuck in the rut of the uniform think. There are new ways to do things and we limit ourselves we follow the line. The point is that there is no template. The world has changed and its time we demonstrated that.

  7. Nathan Glen McWherter / Jul 26 at 8:15am

    Completely agree. And I always appreciate and take to heart your posts offering up new ideas and paths to follow. Thanks for the reply.

    On the subject of your idea for filmmakers to act like rock stars and go on tour: what artists do you see really embracing that model and succeeding?

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