I first found out about the Bosch Foundation and their generous funding opportunities this past summer in Amman where I attended a short-film project market hosted by the Royal Film Commission of Jordan meant to help Arab writer/directors partner up with German producers. After some pitch training and meetings, I decided to join forces with an ambitious producer, Jessica Landt from Beleza Film, and apply to the co-production grant together with our short fiction project The Stork.
We were shortlisted and invited to the Nominee Forum with nine other teams, each working on either short fiction or documentary projects, also made up of Arab and German filmmakers. It was an intense few days of training rounded out with good food and conversations. I think we all left more prepared to officially pitch our projects in February to the jury during the 2013 Berlinale.
Since I found it so useful, I thought I’d summarize my highlights:
Pitch training with Cathy de Haan: I first met Cathy in the Amman project market, where she introduced us to the art of pitching, but here she had more time to expand on her advice. She reminded us of the essentials: to keep things clear, consistent and concise – reflected in everything from how we use our voices, our bodies and the design of our visual material. We’ve got to relax, to enjoy the process, because we’ll never have this opportunity again to speak to this particular audience about this specific film. We tend to get so wound up with our presentations and ourselves that we forget about our audience; who we’re actually pitching to and who has ultimate power. What do they know about the project already?, what do they want to hear and how/why will they be moved by your project? Even if they’re critical of the pitch in the end, we should be appreciative and answer their concerns seriously, as their questions and feedback is proof they actually took the time to hear our pitch.
We need to focus on designing intelligently structured pitches that allow a listener to follow along, confident you know where you’re taking them. It’s hard enough to try to do this on your own, but pitching as part of a team makes it more complex as all of your team members need to be in sync. This ‘syncness’ not only means your group will have a strong pitch, but can also foreshadow for a jury how well you will work together as a group. You need to plan the pitch together and deliver it like a three-course meal, with each member knowing what exactly is their role in the final presentation. All of these activities, while small and maybe unrelated to filmmaking, are a symbol for the jury of well you can get along together and actually make the film you’re trying to get funded.
Practice Pitches moderated by Cathy: This went well, and I think was a testament to how much Jessica and I had already discussed the project and the gaps in presentation material we knew we still need to address. It was also good to hear the other teams pitch their projects, to see their styles of pitching and how they divide up their presentations across the individual team members. After each pitch we gave feedback as a group; there was a very friendly atmosphere where it didn’t feel like we were competing against each other, but genuinely trying to help each other’s presentations with constructive feedback.
Seminar on German Cinema with Stefan Fichtner: This was basically a four-hour whirlwind through German cinema starting with the first cinematic images ever publicly screened leading up to present-day cinema, following the historical fault-lines of World War I, World War II, the Holocaust, the East/West demarcation and reunification. We ended with a screening of a 15 minute sequence from a very recent Reported Missing and a brief Q&A session with the film’s director. From the twenty-some clips we saw, I noted a couple of gems and classics I’d like to (re)watch in full sometime soon: Riefenstahl’s Olympia, Fritz Lang’s M, Wenders’ Paris, Texas, Maren Ade’s Everyone Else
Intercultural Training with Katharina Kilian-Yasin: This lecture/discussion triggered a lot of concepts and models for me to look into later. We started with a fairly broad group-generated definition of what the word ‘culture’ means. This led to the idea that each of us carries many different kinds of culture, different ideas and allegiances – and that we’re not just ‘one thing’. And while our outer appearance might give clues as to who we are, it can’t do justice to who we truly are in the inside – in this regard, we are like icebergs, with only a small part of ourselves visible to passerbys. One could say this rather basic idea – ‘dont judge a book by its cover’ – is something we all learn in kindergarten. But it becomes so critical when working with team members from other cultures, where misunderstandings and stereotypes can grow like a cancer if they’re not addressed.
Katharina also brought up the idea of chronemics, specifically of monochronic and polychronic ways individuals reach goals. Most of us in the group seem to adopt a style between these extremes, switching back and forth depending on the situation. It’s a rather simple model, but one that explains my own personal tug-of-war when I try to get creative projects completed – part of me really wants things to happen in a step-by-step pattern, where I meet all of my deadlines religiously, while the other half relishes in the circular, iterative nature of writing. These modes of working can also be seen across entire cultures, where Western countries like the United States work predominantly in a monochronic style while Arab countries like Egypt rely more heavily on polychronic means of reaching goals – being a citizen of both, maybe this explains my constant work-style identity crisis?
Screening Fidai: This was the last event of the forum and I was running on life-support at this point but I’m glad I got to see a documentary related to some of the themes I like to explore in my stories. It’s a personal story of the director and his great-uncle El Hadi. The two stir up the memories of El Hadi as they try to ‘rebuild’ and reenact the memories of the violent things he did to help liberate Algeria from French oppression. It seems like a very complex history, one I get a sense most Algerians and the French don’t like to speak about, and that’s somehow reflected in the microcosm of this simple man reawakening to the person he was, to the things he had to do as a young patriot.
These few days left me exhausted, but still the dense schedule made it worth coming out to Berlin in the first place and I’m a bit wiser because of it. Thanks again to Frank Albers, Christine Kopf, Karin Schyle and Gregor Wenzlawski for organizing this unique experience!
I’ll keep you posted on what happens with the jury result in February, wish us luck!