The CEO of Disney India who will soon launch his own production company has green lighted several unconventional scripts like Barfi!, Dev D and Paan Singh Tomar. Here he tells you about what writers and directors must keep in mind before meeting with a studio
- It Should Be Emotionally Charged
If I have to think about the best pitches I’ve heard, the first one that comes to mind is Anurag Basu’s presentation for Barfi! As you could tell after watching the film, it was total stream of consciousness filmmaking in many ways. It’s so difficult to communicate what you want to make when it is so much about the tone, texture and feel rather than the plot. But Basu sat with Ronnie (Screwvala) and me for about 45 minutes to an hour and was able to emotionally convey to us what it was that he wanted to make. He was so beautifully able to communicate this relationship between a deaf-mute boy and an autistic girl. He also convinced a fairly commercially-minded studio to back a movie of that scale.
Even for Life In a… Metro, which again is Anurag Basu, he had worked out all the music with Pritam and they came in together for the meeting. Basu narrated the whole thing to us standing up with Pritam by his side strumming a guitar.
- Be Confident
I remember Anurag Kashyap came in to pitch Dev D with Abhay Deol barely two weeks after No Smoking. So he probably picked the worst time possible to be pitching a movie to a studio. But he came in with so much confidence to a packed conference room. Everyone was keen to know what he was going to make next. He just went for it and gave a narration. It was visceral and sexual and so in-your-face. Half the conference room hated it and the other half loved it. Obviously after Anurag left we had an intense debate about whether we should be making it, before eventually green lighting it.
My suggestion is to always have an elevator pitch ready – that is, if you get into the elevator with someone you really want to impress, you should be able to convey to them within the time it takes to get to the floor they are going to, what exactly it is that you want to sell them.
However overconfidence and the sense that it’s a take or leave it situation is a red flag in the long run because filmmaking is a collaborative process. Also, if you’re looking at someone merely as a financier, it means that they just want to take the money and get out of your office and make the movie they want to make.
- Prepare an ‘Elevator Pitch’
If you’re having a lunch meeting with someone, you’re not expecting a detailed narration. But if you’ve fixed a meeting especially for a detailed narration then you set a time for three-four hours and and listen to it – preferably before lunch! In a studio like ours a script has usually gone through various stages and people before me have already liked and enjoyed it.
But if you’re going to an individual producer, he will want to hear a quick plot, etc. So my suggestion is to always have an elevator pitch ready – that is, if you get into the elevator with someone you really want to impress, you should be able to convey to them within the time it takes to get to the floor they are going to, what exactly it is that you want to sell them. It’s an advertising term and it’s hard to do it with film, but the point is to be able to convey your vision in as pithy a way as possible and then interest someone in setting another time for a longer narration.
If someone is telling you that they are already committed to a full slate and they’re not looking at any more material at this point of time, it’s unlikely that they intend to give you a meeting.
- Come With A Detailed Screenplay
If it’s a detailed screenplay it’s always great. The ideal situation would be a complete screenplay with the Hindi dialogues because then you know exactly what’s going to be created. The next best option would be the English dialogues that will then be translated into Hindi. What’s not ideal at all would be just a story narration. It could be a complete story idea but would still be just a rendition of the events as they occur in the film. So it’s definitely going to be another round of meetings before you can think of green lighting it.
- Find A Gripping Story
A lot of films have stories that sound great but finally it doesn’t make a great movie. The other way to do it is to interest someone in a story and then co-develop it with them. For example, Paan Singh Tomar was a story that Tigmanshu Dhulia came to us with when he was shooting for Bandit Queen with Shekhar Kapur. He had spent some time in the badlands of UP and that’s when he heard this story about a dacoit. When he tells you a story like that in a few lines, you’re immediately sold.
So we actually invested in the research for Tigmanshu so that he could spend some time there, go meet the family, understand the setting, and then put it down on a screenplay. Honestly, there aren’t many producers who invest in research. But I think that would be the best way to do it because then you’re involved from the get go.
The ideal situation would be a complete screenplay with the Hindi dialogues because then you know exactly what’s going to be created.
- Casting Before A Screenplay Doesn’t Work
Nowadays when directors come to pitch, they make short videos, show references or use footage from other movies and piece it all together to make their own trailer. If I have to be really honest, that doesn’t work before you listen to the entire screenplay because you rather not know what the person wants the movie to be pitched as. You want to know what the movie is in the first place. Then if someone wants to show me the references or the characters, potential casting, look and feel, and costumes it’s great!
It can be off putting if they assume that you are someone who will be impressed with what the film is going to be in its external trappings and try to sell that to you like an advertising campaign.
- Don’t Say ‘My Film Is A Blockbuster’
There are some people who say, ‘this is an award-winning film’ or a ‘guaranteed blockbuster’ during a pitch. Often they claim that they have already spoken to actors and they are on board and now they are just looking for someone to fund the film. This pre-supposes that all I really want to do as a producer is back certain actors. This gives me a sense that they are not completely confident about the material and are there having to sell you on other things.
Nowadays when directors come to pitch, they make short videos, show references or use footage from other movies and piece it all together to make their own trailer. If I have to be really honest, that doesn’t work before you listen to the entire screenplay
I think it’s these are conversations that can happen later, you first need complete belief in your material. Having said that, I do agree that there are producers whose first questions to a director will be ‘who’s the actor in mind or have you approached any one’. This is my opinion but I’m sure writers have a different perspective – a lot of them might say, ‘Sure, you ask me to just focus on the screenplay but 8 out of 10 producers ask me about actors’.
- Be Open To Feedback
I think it’s important to feel that the person pitching to us is listening. They don’t have to agree to everything. They might even have valid reasons for why everything you’re saying is not true but on both sides there needs to be that openness. There are some people who get very defensive about feedback which is a red flag.
But there are also some people who are so confident about their material and why they have made certain choices that they can give you very specific and cogent reasons for why what you’re saying might not work. And those are people i respect tremendously.
- Know When To Stop Pushing
Some people get desperate and you can’t blame them because the truth is that it’s not easy to access the limited bunch of people who have the wherewithal to back movies. So the demand – supply situation is always going to be skewed. At the same time if someone is able to demonstrate professionalism, courtesy and a compelling pitch through an SMS or e-mail, that will hold you in good stead.
If someone is able to demonstrate professionalism, courtesy and a compelling pitch through an SMS or e-mail, that will hold you in good stead.
But when someone is sending you a message a day on a consistent basis after you’ve indicated that you can’t meet them, it’s a complete turn off. While it’s important to try as hard as you can, also respect the fact that if someone doesn’t seem accessible to you, then step back and find another route. If someone is telling you that they are already committed to a full slate and they’re not looking at any more material at this point of time, it’s unlikely that they intend to give you a meeting.