Here's the Pitch
Cam and I began preproduction in early November, planning to shoot the following July. And with all of the challenges I knew lay ahead, my first thought was: We are definitely going to need an experienced producer. Cam had a few producers in mind, people who might be able to advise on and help navigate some of the trickier logistics involved, as well as providing contacts and opening doors, and I fiercely wanted one of those producers onboard. “Well,” Cam told me, “make a pitch package.” I responded, “What the hell is a pitch package?”
Our pitch package, Cam explained, should be a collection of materials that would elucidate what this movie was all about, what making it would look like, and why making it was the greatest idea in human history. He suggested I start a DropBox folder including, along with the script, some references for the look and sound of the film, as well as an executive summary.
Sound references were easy. I had written the script while listening to Josh Ritter’s album ‘Golden Age of Radio’ on repeat, and the music was so encoded in the story’s DNA that certain scenes matched up with certain songs in my mind. So there we go, the album goes into the pitch package.
Discussing visual references was a challenge for me—it had been years since I'd analyzed what contributed to the look of a film, and what effect that look created in the viewer. I was hard-pressed to articulate the look of any movie, let alone what I wanted mine to be. Cam prompted me to generate descriptors for different sequences in West of Her, colors that came to mind, the emotions I wanted to create. He pulled frames from movies whose look he liked—Into the Wild, Blue Valentine, The Wrestler—and I would mentally attach them to different scenes in my script, figuring out how the feelings they produced in me could match the emotions I wanted to produce in the viewer. I’d pull Mickey Rourke or Michelle Williams out of a scene, and insert Dan and Jane into those color palettes and lighting conditions.
This was a huge step for me. When I write, I tend to watch the scene from a distance rather than moving my mental camera around. I was invigorated by figuring out what the shots in my movie would actually look like, seeing it in my mind more clearly than I’d pushed myself to before.
The executive summary was a single page into which I poured all the hopes and significance I’d been building up over the past year. I ended with:
“We will employ a bare-bones crew. I value responsible spending and the creative use of resources, and so our budget will be a fraction that of comparable mainstream indies. We’ll eschew Hollywood excess in favor of a guerilla-style approach that will suit the film’s independent sensibilities and highlight the script’s emotion. We’re thrilled to be working on a project that we know will be beloved by audiences, but we need all the help we can get in order to make sure those audiences have the opportunity to see it.”
But when Cam and I looked over that executive summary, we found ourselves wondering: what, exactly, did we need from a big-time producer? We needed to hire a crew, book the travel and transport. I had a script I could direct, Cam knew what equipment we needed and how make the pictures look nice. So what were we asking his producer contacts to do again?
Wait a minute, were we the producers? “We don’t need anybody’s permission to make this movie,” Cam pointed out. “We just need to make this movie.” In trying to convince a producer that this could work, we’d ended up convincing ourselves.
But that didn’t mean our pre-production team was fully assembled, so check back next week to meet a couple of new characters…