It’s been a while since I have posted anything. Work has been busy; some really interesting projects have come my way, and I have had the pleasure to work with some excellent clients. But in my spare time I have been working on another project – a pitch for an animated short film, which was entered as part of The Pitch Film Fund competition – www.EnterThePitch.com
When two wounded soldiers are rescued from the battlefield, they are faced with a dilemma – should they trust their rescuer or forge their own path forward?
Entered into the ‘Drama’ category, my short film idea FIRES made it all the way to the finalist stage – from a couple of hundred entries back in September, through to the final 5 ideas. After presenting my idea to the final judges yesterday, my part in the competition came to an end.
Though I cannot deny that I am a little disappointed and felt a certain anticlimax after so much work had been put into the idea, I am really pleased for the filmmakers who have made it through to the last pitching session today – all of their ideas really deserve to be made!
Proof of Concept
Ok, to whet you’re appetite, I’m going to share the Proof of Concept animation I created as part of my pitch.
The Pitch is typically concerned with making short live action films – pitching an animated short is a little out of their zone of expertise, and so in order to help describe my aesthetic vision, I created this short proof of concept, taken from the end of the story.
FIRES is set in a small clearing in a deep, dark forest with one rule:
“Never, under no circumstances, light a fire in this forest! There are beasts within that do not take kindly to the flame”
I wanted to place the audience in the place of darkness – but rendering that effectively would be a challenge. I wanted to ditch key-lights and fill lights and focus more on back-lights and silhouettes against the grey of the mist – I wanted to give the impression of the action, rather than show it in glorious full colour!
I had a specific look I wanted to go for – the harsh etched look in the lighting, the scribbled mist between the trees. I went through a number of processes to try to find the best way to produce this look, and there would be further look development to go, but as a proof of the idea, it sold what I wanted to sell.
Below is a sequence of shader tests within Maya.
Part of the USP of The Pitch Film Fund is the requirement to link the idea to a Bible passage. You can read more about why here.
The Bible passage I chose is Isaiah 50:10-11
10 Who among you fears the LordIsaiah 50:10-11 (NIV)
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let the one who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on their God.
11 But now, all you who light fires
and provide yourselves with flaming torches,
go, walk in the light of your fires
and of the torches you have set ablaze.
This is what you shall receive from my hand:
You will lie down in torment.
The first time I read this passage, I had a thought of a number of bickering groups lost in a forest, each one lighting their own torches and making their way deeper into the woods, getting more lost and more argumentative as they go.
In order to pitch an idea for a short animation, I had to simmer this idea down. Rather than having groups of characters, I chose two characters to represent two sides of the argument – one wants to stay, the other wants to go.
An interesting part of this passage is the concept of lighting flaming torches. One commentary talks about the torches representing the “false light of one’s own wisdom”. This phrase that blew me away when I first read it – if you believe in a God who created heaven and earth and all the life within, the idea of thinking that I, in my limited understanding of life, know better than He does is completely crazy! Why not trust the one who wrote the instruction manual?
This idea finds its way into my story in the form of a local civilian woman who knows the lay of the land. She knows the forest, and gives the two soldiers a warning – not to be mean to them, but for their own safety. Themes of trust and obedience – especially through dark times – are the focus of the story, along with the a personal growth of strength and confidence – not to run, but to stand your ground.
The Pitching Process
The Pitch Film Fund has a pot of money to make short films. This year the pot was split between two categories – Drama and Comedy.
Back in September, when entrants submitted a 2 minute pitch video (shown below), my concept was very loose. I had an idea of where I wanted to go with it, but no concrete structure. The idea was there, the visual concept was there, but it was full of holes and lacking any sophistication.
In October, the ‘In Consideration’ list brought the number of competitors from around 300 down to 50. In November, that number was reduced again to the 20 pitches in the Shortlist. At each stage, the entrants were encouraged to attend online seminars focused on Idea Developing (an area I really enjoy), writing synopsis and Beat Sheets, as well as putting together a pitch deck to send to producers to sell the idea.
Last year I made it to this stage with my idea ‘STONE’ – the first pitch I had ever put together, and I found that every step of the way, the hosts of The Pitch were completely routing for everyone of us. They created such a warm environment to encourage, nurture and grow the entrants that it was impossible not to find the entire process completely enjoyable!
This year, after submitting my Beat Sheet and Pitch Deck, I made it through to the finals! Again the number of entrants grew tighter, from 20 to 10 – 5 entrants for each pot.
One of the core joys of being a finalist is being invited to The Residential Course – a weekend at the incredible Low Wood Bay hotel at Lake Windermere!
Over this weekend, we had the excellent opportunity to pitch our ideas in person, starting with a 2 minute synopsis of the piece on the first day, and a 5 minute extended version on the last day. We also had some excellent teaching from the wonderful Justine Hart, time in the spar, excellent food, and the joy of sitting and meeting everyone in person. Getting to know the other finalists and talk about our ideas was an absolute joy!
But let’s talk about the live pitching for a moment.
Now. I don’t really have an issue standing up in front of people and giving a talk, or teaching Swing Dance (as my wife and I do regularly at Leicester Lindy Hop), but this was something else. During my first pitch, the two minutes felt like an eternity – it took all of my will power not to simply crawl under my desk.
I was terrified.
Over the course of the weekend I got to know the other finalists, had excellent discussions about their work and mine, and really loved the encouraging nature that everyone brought! So I figured that, after becoming more relaxed with people, doing some learning and settling into the weekend, I would be fine for my 5 minute pitch.
Spoiler. I wasn’t.
The night before the second pitch, I was sat in the bar until midnight, trying to put new ideas that I had gained into the pitch. I wanted to show that the idea had developed, become deeper, showed a real internal and external conflict and character development. But I struggled.
When I finally got to bed, my brain then kicked into gear and ideas started sprouting until 4am. I had to be up at 7:30am to write up a new pitch, and make some notes. It didn’t go well.
I was nervous before I got up there. I wanted to run, to hide. My notes made absolutely no sense, and I froze. Completely overwhelmed by the situation, stood in front of everyone, their eyes on me, I couldn’t control my own mouth and nonsense came out. Though I knew they all were cheering me on and wanted me to do well, I fell hard. I was looking at my notes, and all I could see were words – letters. They held no meaning for me, and I felt like I was up there alone, looking stupid. Panic.
After the session (it was the last of the weekend, then lunch and everyone leaves), I ran and I hid. I couldn’t face people, at all. My chest burned and I a steady hand was a billion miles out of reach.
The competition hosts found me and we talked. It was incredible how much care and love they had for me, and for everyone else in the competition. I was really moved by it all.
The residential weekend was incredible – it was myself who had the issue. The issue of lacking confidence, not knowing my content and struggling to stand up in front of people. So that gave me a number of hurdles to overcome.
In the month between the Residential and the Final Pitch, I developed my idea, writing and rewriting until I knew I had it down. Then I focused on making notes, getting really consumed by the content so I knew what each note meant, then going even further to tell my idea without needing notes! It was difficult, but with the help of some mentoring sessions (both sought out personally, and provided by The Pitch for all of their finalists), I was ready to overcome the obstacles that stood in my way!
So we come to yesterday – the final pitch.
My story had become more about a character overcoming his fear, finding the strength to stand, the courage to do what he needed to do. It was a story I felt that I was living.
The finals had moved to Zoom rather than in-person (thanks Covid!). This definitely made me feel better, but wasn’t quite the beast I wanted to slay. I wanted to prove to myself that I could stand in front of the judges and give the best pitch I could. Online would have to do though.
And after pacing around my kitchen rehearsing and rehearsing, I entered the meeting, and gave the best Pitch I could.
And it was great! Apart from a couple of stumbles at the start, I felt like I gave the pitch everything I could! Afterwards I got some great compliments, it seemed the judges really liked my pitch and my ideas. Unfortunately some of the other ideas were more suiting, and that was the end of my line. But I am fine with that. I did what I set out to do, and I gave the best pitch that I could.
And I wish all the best to the film makers who won, they are all wonderful people and they absolutely deserved it!
The Future of FIRES
So what now?
Now that I have a story fleshed out, one that I am really happy with and that it seems people liked – what do I do with that?
Well, I could either throw it away as an idea that didn’t win a competition, or I could set to to write it. And that’s what I will do. Over the next couple of months, I hope to write the screenplay for FIRES, and hopefully a couple of other ideas I have for shorts – STONE as mentioned before, and an interesting idea called That Creepy Thing in the Corner.
Getting these ideas written is the first step, and even though I love to write (you can see a number of my writings in my blog), I have never written a screenplay. So let’s get it done!
After that, I can quite happily continue to develop the visuals of the piece, and who knows? I might make the piece myself.
One step at a time though.
One step at a time.
Thanks for reading, and if you know any Producers interested in producing animated shorts, send them my way!