How I Screwed Up At The Richest Pitch In The World

Mike Slawomir Cecotka

Talking Pictures alias






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Banff, Canada – The International TV Festival. This year John Cleese from Monty Python's Flying Circus, David Suzuki from Discovery Channel, and A& E Network (USA) received a special recognition award. The reason I say all this is to let you know that this was not a Mickey Mouse operation. Before I get to my 10 minutes of fame at Banff, let’s get an overview of the richest pitch in the world.

April 29, 2002, was the deadline for submitting ideas to the festival. The beauty of this festival is that you are in, based on one page synopsis, that’s all. No names of your parents and shoe sizes, multiple copies of this and that. Once you are in it’s fast - 10 minutes and you can walk away with the $50,000 first prize. 

Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars are given away during this event. I was one of six finalists to present my idea to CTV Documart. You present your pitch in front of 30 to 35 commissioning editors  form TV stations from around the world (people who will sign the cheque). This year the decision makers were from Canada, USA, Australia, UK, Germany and France. Behind you have hundreds of audience members watching you getting fried on two large screens.

So there I was ready to make my big pitch. When I initially got the email that I was going to be one of the finalists I decided to put my whole 3-minute pitch on video, so just in case I passed out or threw up from nerves I’d be able to pull myself together and be ready for the Q&A session. I used stock footage with music and a voice-overof an actor reading a former spy’s diary explaining how he escaped communist Poland. Then I had a storyboard trailer with music and an actor doing 10 voices with accents, which explains how the protagonist became a Canadian spy. In retrospect I really made the wrong call by using video footage. I thought that I’d impress them with a variety of video clips. It was all too cluttered and confusing. What they were waiting for was a story and as many details you can squeeze in 3 minutes. One person asked, “sorry I didn’t follow the story, can you highlight it again” So I started again, but it was too late, the first impression was gone, there was no second chance.

Of the three winners, two did not even use audio-visual material. It all came down to who had the most interesting story to tell. No matter how much flash you have it will always come down to story. After the presentation I did have complements from the audience on how great the story was, but one major opinion was that the story is too risky and too political for Networks to do. You can be the judge of that by going to:

If I could turn the clock back I wouldn’t use video at all. I would simply tell them that Forgotten Spy is a true story about a former Polish spy, trained by the KGB, who escaped communism by hijacking a plane. He then offers his skills to the Canadian Secret Service and then…Did I get your attention - maybe a little?

All and all I don’t regret coming back empty handed…Disappointed yes, but no regrets. Another credit card dead for the cause, but at least I will not wonder for the rest of my life what would happen if I didn’t go. It is all a part of life, one moment you are up, the next you are down, but if you are not willing to take a chance nothing is going to happen. 

And finally...Anybody can enter. Outside Canada – make sure you have a Canadian co-producer attached to your project. The 2002 third prize winner was an Australian – Canadian team who pocketed $20,000.

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Article written by Mike Slawomir Cecotka – Polish-Canadian Filmmaker.
You can contact him directly at 416-880-6878,

Also see Robin Hill's two part series:

Dark Visions Part 1: What Price Glory?

Dark Visions Part 2: The Tiny Glass World

Or David Fitzgerald's:

Rejection Letters

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