Directing Workshop with Mairi Cameron

Today my class did a workshop with SAE director and lecturer Mairi Cameron. I am a producer but have done a bit of directing and really enjoyed it. I also studied theatre and film acting in high school so am fairly aware in what goes into the making of character. Although i knew quite a lot of the techniques and practices Mairi was explaining to us, it was still such a good refresher on what it takes to direct an actor and get the best performance out of them. When I was acting and directing, I would often write out backstories, specific character traits and other general information about characters. This helped me connect with them in a deeper way and Mairi gave us some more ways to do this. She taught us about different stages one could go through to create a more 3 dimensional character. One of the exercises i hadn’t done much of was selecting action verbs to apply to a scene. By doing this, you could communicate with the actor the intent of the scene without telling them exactly what to do. To practice this we were given a scene and had to figure out the given circumstances and apply some action verbs. I worked with Jaden Bowen (another producer) and together we came up with a very solid and understandable idea. We were able to ‘direct’ it with two members of our class. It was a lot more difficult to actually communicate with the actors what our scene was meant to be but by using some of the action words and explain in detail what the characters stories were, our two ‘actors’ were able to connect with the parts much easier. 

I was chosen to act out a different scene with my friend Matt. In the story world we had a romantical and physical connection, which we don’t in real life. The directors were struggling to try and explain our emotions and goals in the scene but with Mairi’s help we were able to get to the level of understanding our motivations. I used a technique i used to use while acting which was to imagine a similar situation that had occurred in my life and tap into those emotions and connections. By thinking of these events i was able to really connect with my character and could give a good performance. What I found the most interesting about this was how difficult it could be to get into a characters headspace when the direction is lacking. The directors for this one were really struggling to express what they wanted without telling us exactly what to do. It made me realise how much extra planning needs to go into a directors work of character development. Although not all actors don’t need extra information to connect with their character, some do and it is really important to have a very developed story world.

If i venture more into directing and even acting, I would definitely do some more research on the different methods of acting and how to really elaborate and connect with every actor. I think it’s really important to be knowledgable on what it takes to be an actor if you’re directing someone. It’s so important for both actors and directors to know how to work together and get each other to the level they need for whatever is being made. My history with acting and directing helped me a lot in this workshop as i could hone into those skills i learnt over many years. That being said though, there was a lot that was refreshed and I also learnt a few new things. As it is ever developing, I think keeping up and doing lots of research on acting and directing is vital for an aspiring creative. I learnt a lot about how to communicate and take care of actors on set as well. The actresses were telling us about some difficult people they worked with and how badly they were treated and how that effected their performances. They gave us some really good tips on keeping communication lines open, on hearing and trying feedback and how to work and develop the character with the actors.

Overall, this workshop was really useful and it really encouraged me to try and direct and even act more! I plan on doing some more research on different directing techniques and practice some script development to try and increase my skills and knowledge.

‘Deathrito’ Tv Commercial

For pretty much my entire ‘career’ as a filmmaker, i’ve steered clear of commercials. They always seemed to lack creativity or artistic value to me. I was foolish very quick to jump to conclusions about them. I took on the role of Producer for a ‘Doritos’ TVC and it was a fantastic experience. Our TVC concept was based off a series of Doritos commercials released for the super bowl. They are always hilarious, well shot and edited while also being simple. I’ve always produced short drama films so actually having a brief to fill made the process quite a bit easier. I have never worked on a comedy project or on something that wasn’t trying too hard to be funny or dramatic so I learnt so many new things on this project that have encouraged me to work more on TVC’s if i get the opportunity. I had no idea how much thought and time had to be placed in every shot so the product captured the most attention. There was an incredible focus on making the Doritos stand out more than the acting or costuming, while also making sure they still worked well together. We also had a much smaller set and cast/crew than other projects. This may be because the TVC wasn’t overly complex but I also believe it was because having one or two people per role maintained the idea and brief to it’s fullest. I was able to tackle everything that went wrong on set head on because i knew 100% what was going on.

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One of our lighting set ups

The basic concept for our TVC was, that after arriving home from a long day of work, Michael remembers he has a cupboard stocked full of Doritos. As he is excitedly eating them however, the grim reaper appears and kills him. After talking to the grim reaper about the experience, the grim reaper explains that he only killed him so he could have some Doritos as well.

The concept was simple to execute but also high in production value as it requires full body makeup, costumes, props and a very well written script. We were able to find spectacular actors and MUA. However we ran into some issues with costumes and props as they were costing more than anticipated.

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Our fantastic actor Patrick

We did have a few challenges that we encountered along the way. Most of which were easy solves. During the pre-production stage we had difficulties with costuming where we couldn’t find an affordable Grim Reaper costume. Our fantastic DOP Sarah ended up doing some DIY and MADE a grim reaper cloak and scythe. During production however we were told that we couldn’t film at the location on the second day and after a little bit of stressing of how we were going to finish the film, we spoke to the owner of the house and were told we could stay on the first day until we finished. Although this allowed us to continue filming and get it done on the one day, our main actor had to leave at 5pm and trying to get his shots done before then was very stressful. In the last 15 minutes, doing one of the final shots with him, we had to combine around 3 shots into one and make a completely new and improvised ending. Although our Director, Jono, was able to think on the spot and combine the shots, we still are unsure if the ending will work and wish we could’ve had the time to do the shots we planned. Although the stress on having to finish in the one day got a bit overwhelming and extremely exhausting, we were able to finish within 12 hours. I would’ve liked to have two days to film as our actors and crew were all very tired by the end, making things take a bit longer and will try and make sure we can do this on future sets. These negative things definitely set us back but it was our incredible actors, MUA and crew that kept us pushing forward and working harder.

The post production process was also very eye opening. After seeing the original cut (which ran for 1 minute and 30 seconds) we realised that it would be almost impossible to cut it down to 30 seconds and maintain the storyline. As none of us had done a commercial before, we had created a TVC that was directed and shot like a short film. Scott Hamilton (Lecturer and Cinematographer at SAE) sat down with us and helped Josh cut down the TVC to just over a minute. Josh then took his feedback and continued to cut away until he had made a 45 second version and a 30 second version. He had done this by cutting out almost all of the dialogue, the long tracking shots and a lot of the shots that were meant to ‘explain the story’. By cutting all this out, we were left with a clean and quick TVC that would be able to be put on the air. What was most interesting to me about this was how Josh was able to cut so much out but still make the story work. I didn’t realise how important the edit was to a TVC. Although we did lose a lot of our footage, the edit that could be aired is still a good quality TVC. We learnt so much during the editing process and now know how to properly film a commercial.

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Setting up a smokey shot

The brief for this project was to create a TVC for a company (or a fake company). I saw this as an opportunity to make something slick and extremely professional. I definitely think we were able to do that. As we took inspiration from the old super bowl commercials, I think our success will be measured on how the comedy side of the TVC comes out. The commercial fits within the client’s repertoire and although it doesn’t push the product on the audience, it makes them think about it. By highlighting the product so heavily in the shoot, it really draws the attention of the audience and sticks in their minds.

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Just a few bags of Doritos

I think we could’ve improved by spacing out our schedule a bit more. Although shooting in the one day has given our editor, Josh, lots of time to make sure the TVC is perfect, it also meant that we were running very close in terms of timing of costumes, auditions and permits/releases. I also think if we had spread our time more evenly in terms of shot lengths, we could’ve saved a lot more time on set. As some of the shots took around an hour to set up, there was a lot of time wasted. We could’ve easily fixed this by having a rehearsal and discovering the exact setup we needed.
Overall, this was an incredible experience for me and has taught me so much about producing and working on a completely different type of set. I was lucky enough to work with an amazing team that had brilliant morale and creative ideas. I’m very excited to share the final product.

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Our wonderful crew

 

Product Shot Masterclass

This week we had a masterclass that focused on lighting an object for a TVC. To do this we had organise backdrops, props, lighting and our general concept. My group decided an interesting challenge would be to try and do this shoot with a knife. We went through all the potential problems that would arise if shooting a knife, including the reflection of light, how we would present it and what we were really trying to ‘sell’. During this time we came up with solutions for most of the issues and felt confident going into the shoot. However, on the day we discovered that we hadn’t considered framing nearly enough. We had to spend quite a bit of time going through various set ups of our set. Our original concept was a few knives with the block next to them however when the camera was set up, we weren’t able to fit the entire block in the shot and missing a few knives looked odd. After lots of trial and error, we finally decided on using just one knife in a grapefruit.

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Setting the knife in the grapefruit

We wanted to capture reflections and highlights off the glinting knife and we needing a lighting concept to match. To do this we focused on the one knife and also the grapefruit. We wanted to capture the beautiful colour contrast and the shiny objects. After spending a lot of our set-up time on the composition of the shot, we started to set up the lighting.

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Our original lighting set up

As a producer, I rarely am responsible for lighting or camera work on set however I am very eager to learn as I would like to be well-rounded to help me in my future endeavours. Due to my lack of knowledge, i was foolish enough to believe that the lighting would only take around an hour… not 6. Going into this fairly blindly was quite a shock to me but also a very important learning experience. We had to use multiple different types of lights, cutters and reflectors to make the knife look ‘beautiful’. The lighting states went through multiple different stages as Nick Paton (guest cinematographer) helped us find the best look for the shots. We started very simply with 3 lights. One was a direct light illuminating the knife, there was one behind it to give the knife handle depth and another on the side to brighten the grapefruit. On first look, we thought this looked fine and would’ve been happy to shoot.

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Our original shot choice

However Nick explained to us that if we wanted to show more detail, we needed more lights. We took his advice and added a few more lights that we cut sharply with the barn doors and the cutters so they lit up the details of the handle, the grooves on the knife and the back of the grapefruit.

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Our improved lighting set up

By the end of the setup for the first shot, we had a very complicated and busy set of lights, but the shot looked incredible. By having all the small beams of light on the details of the knife and grapefruit, you were able to capture all the reflections the knife gave off while spinning the lazy susan.

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Our improved shot- you can see the difference so clearly!

Our next shots were a few closeups so we moved the lighting slightly. Due to the close proximity of the camera, we wanted as much detail on the objects as we could. We removed some of the harsher and larger lights and focused on the smaller ones, manipulating their source until they lit the specific element (grapefruit skin, grooves on knife etc).

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Sarah adding more cutters for direct light

As we had to change the lights for every shot, it was a very long and complicated process however the shots came out incredibly detailed and beautiful. The contrast from our original setup was very noticeable

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Closeup of the knife

Although our final shots were very different to our original idea, the general concept remained the same. ‘Baccarat’, the knife brand only had one promotional video and it was flat, boring and didn’t sell the product well at all. Watch it here:

We wanted to create something beautiful with lots of depth, which is why we chose to highlight the beauty and detail of the knives, rather than what they can do (like in their video). We only had time to do one of the knives however if we were hired professionally to do more, we’d shoot them similar to the main knife but with added details of the other knives (serrated edges etc).
Overall, I think we did very well on this project and it was an incredible learning experience. I think my group could’ve improved if we had done a practice test before actually shooting. If we had done this we would’ve realised that we couldn’t exactly film it the way we originally envisaged and instead of wasting time on coming up with something new during the shoot, we knew exactly how to fix it. I think having a better understanding of lighting specific objects would’ve helped a lot more as well but also I believe that was a major learning experience for this project.I’m very happy with the shots we created and i’m excited to use the techniques learnt in our major product TVC for Doritos.

 

Green Screen and Composting

After completing the compositing workshop, I feel much more knowledgeable in the area of special effects, editing and even cinematography and set design. The six hour workshop was split into various sections and teams. I learnt how to design and dress a set with green screen so it doesn’t affect other objects in the editing process. We also learnt how much time and effort goes into green screening certain things. For example, we were using green screen for a window and we had to make sure the lighting and camera angles were all exactly the same as they would be in an actual apartment building. This is all extremely relevant in my role as producer as if i was producing a film including green screen and there were delays or issues, i would be aware on how much extra budget/time would be needed to continue shooting.

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On set

To properly shoot and edit a scene involving green screening, one must first take lots of measurements and extra steps to make everything blend together smoothly. As our scene was a window with a green screened ‘outside’ and our camera was moving during the scene, we applied tracking markers to follow the movement. You’ve almost definitely seen tracking markers in any behind the scenes video including green screen. I thought they were just to mark the area of green screen. In some ways this is correct. Tracking markers are used to help the editor during their edit! In new editing softwares, we are able to use the tracking points (which are all in the same colour and shape to help it out) to create an automatic tracker. If we didn’t add the tracking markers, when the camera moved, the footage would’ve become distorted and the plate wouldn’t have moved with it. The four white tracking markers were placed just inside the ‘window’ on the green screen. They were placed here so when we were editing, we were able to crop and adjust the plate quickly and accurately. If we hadn’t put in the tracking markers in that specific position, we would’ve encountered problems with the camera movement and the automatic tracker in the editing program.

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The ‘afternoon’ lighting on the back wall

 

One of the main things to consider while shooting green screen is the lighting setup. Our scene had interior and exterior elements. We got the shots for our plate off the top of the building of SAE with the afternoon sun high. This meant we didn’t have to light or really do much for the plate, this was pretty helpful. However, this meant that we had to be really conscious of where we were putting the lights on set. It’s incredibly obvious when the lights aren’t correct and they are shining in all different directions when there’s one main source (the outside window). This being said, we can’t exactly film with zero lighting. Our gaffers worked to create a lighting state that showed the afternoon sun as if we were in a high rise building. The lighting will also help the editor and their continuity as they place the footage and the plate together. Another thing to consider (that is also simply just common sense) is the colours of the set. I worked with a few other students to dress the set and we had to make sure that we had no green objects/props in the same space the green was. Our set was relatively easy as we only had the one big green rectangle. However if on a bigger set with a bigger green screen someone had been costumed in something green, it would follow with the plate and cause heaps of issues with the editor. This also applies to shiny things! If something has the green reflection on it, it’ll also get the plate put on it.

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Shooting outside

I didn’t know how essential decent lighting and set design were to green screening and i found it extremely interesting to learn about. I found it extremely challenging to understand the reasons behind lots of the technical things at first. Lots of measurements were taken and the set was changed around quite a bit to work this. After it was explained however, I was able to understand that the technical element of the filming process was to help in the edit suite (although this baffled me at the time as well). During the editing process i struggled a bit with why we were doing the specific things we were. However after Cathy and Josh (pro-editor in my opinion) helped me out with the automatic tracking and the placement and adjustment of the planes, i found i felt a lot more comfortable with it. I’ve decided to do a few ‘edits’ (basically just the same edit over and over) on this scene so I can really understand and be capable in my editing abilities. Overall this was an extremely rewarding experience and i’m very grateful that i had the opportunity to participate in the masterclass.

Experimental Film

The most difficult part of this assignment was trying to come up with a concept that we could execute effectively. I’ve always struggled with ideas (i usually take on the producing roles) but was very excited about working on experimental film and with my group. I believe we form a solid team so we were able to work together pretty well to try and find a concept. We went through a few stages of ideas and concepts but most of them felt too cliche or not ‘experimental’ enough. I spoke to my friend about what he usually makes (he is an experimental filmmaker) and how to get inspiration. He gave me a list of films and told me to start watching a few of those and see how they make me feel. After doing this and speaking to the rest of my team, we decided on a concept that we believed we could execute quickly and to the best of our abilities.

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I definitely have a new appreciation for the planning and concept building that goes into making an experimental film. Before this process I just saw experimental film as random and weird shots and music that a creator enjoys. I definitely didn’t think of it as deep or well connected to the world and society as i do now. I have more understanding of how much work the editor has to do to put together an experimental film. Josh spent a really long time trying to cut the loosely tied together film to try and create meaning. If I got the opportunity to make another experimental film, i would really like more time to fully develop an idea and find actors, locations etc. It would’ve been really great to have a massive and detailed film but due to the time constraints, we had to stick with a simple idea. I think my team will be making one soon.

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I know that i will definitely be able to take lots away from this experience and also be able to use all that i have learnt in my own films. During the lecture from Huw, the slide and topic that really caught my attention was about why student films were so terrible. After discussing this, I came to the realisation that the reason most of my short student films were terrible was because they lacked any sort of creative or artistic form. All the films i have made, i have had the vision of them being very unique and different but was unable to execute that vision properly. Instead of them being filled with colour and interesting technique, they became bland and flat. In all of my future films I plan on challenging myself to add at least one element of experimental film. I would like to make horror films and it would be really interesting to add elements like change in form and increased symbolism. Some of the artistic choices made in our short film OD.exe featured these elements.

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Some of the main experimental choices we made in our project was our use of overlaying stock footage/audio. We wanted to create the feeling of connection with the outside environment within our filmed footage. As the film was about ‘overdosing’ on social media and society’s need for technology, we thought it would be good to show the perspective of decay and death from animals and plants, as every human is technically still ‘animal’. We were inspired by the scene from the 2014 film ‘22 Jump Street’ by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (even though it technically isn’t an experimental film) because it showed the subconscious of human thought really creatively. We wanted to capture something similar to the crazy and random things happening in the characters heads. Another film that influenced me personally was the 1949 film, ‘Puce Moment’ by Kenneth Anger. The film was really unique to me as everyone who watched it really enjoyed it but it also made them think. To me it was the representation of femininity but to others it was something completely different. It made me think more about how femininity is represented and how we can show it in different ways. I wanted our film to contain shots that spoke a certain message but was able to be widely interpreted. I thought our use of stock footage and also the simplicity of the shots really bought this concept to life.

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I think our group definitely could’ve improved on this project by having a clearer idea closer to the filming date. Our concept was slightly last minute and it was only during filming that we started to understand what we were doing a bit more. I think doing more research and also watching a wider variety of experimental films could’ve helped us. We were also very focused on trying to avoid the ‘shit student film’ stereotype and i think this took away from what we knew and were good at, thus making the filming take a bit longer than anticipated. If we had a better idea of what experimental film was and had done more films like it, we would’ve been able to have a better grasp on the assignment and maybe gone out of our comfort zone a bit more. Although I enjoyed our final copy of the film, I do believe that the idea was a bit old and dated. That being said, I think we took it and moved it into a new realm which i was really proud of. Overall, i’m really happy with OD.exe and the work each of my team members put into it to make it great.

ABC Project

The ‘ABC Project’ was where a group of two people got given a letter of the alphabet and told to make a 60 second short film based off the letter. The theme for the overall project was ‘Blood’. So the letter had to have something to do with blood. This is almost identical to the film, ‘ABC’s of Death’, where 26 directors got a letter and made a short. I watched the ‘ABC’s of Death’ quite a while ago so i understood the basic concept for this project however it was quite a difficult process to finish our idea. Our film was called ‘Bruised’ and was showcasing the violence in a relationship.

The most difficult part of the creative process for me and my partner was actually coming up and agreeing on an idea. We got the letter B and decided to do a short list of what concepts could work with that letter. After agreeing on a few words, we expanded each of them into stories so we could see which would make the best short film. It took us quite a while to agree on the concept for ‘Bruised’. I eventually caved in as it was my partner’s idea and he seemed very interested in it and thought that it would be the best one to execute effectively.

Although my partner was very confident in our abilities for this project, it was a difficult process to organise and film. I’m used to doing most of the pre-production work (i’m a producer) and he is an editor so the actual production aspect of our project became an issue. As neither of us are proficient in camera use or directing, we separated the roles. The final look of the film was a bit different to what we originally envisioned because of this. We had to change some of the shots so they were all extreme closeups rather than wide or mid shots because we didn’t have professional actors. Our initial vision had many more types of shots, different locations and the edit would’ve included flashbacks and more visual effects. Due to multiple restraints we weren’t able to execute these ideas. Although a lot of our original concept wasn’t included, the final product still conveyed our idea clearly.

Our concept for ‘Bruised’ was that a young woman was stuck in a violent relationship. It showed her partners growing violence over time and how she was hiding it. We agreed the concept was very simple but also effective. It captured the audience’s attention in a few seconds and held them there as they cared about the outcome of the protagonist. It also related to the overall idea of the project (blood). One of the major strengths for this film was that we didn’t have to write any dialogue or have to physically explain anything in the film because if we captured shots in a chronological order, the story would explain itself.

There were a few weaknesses for this concept that definitely affected how we filmed and how it was received by the audience. Domestic violence is an extremely painful and difficult topic to speak about. As it is such a universal thing, we struggled quite a bit to find a way to write about it in a respectful way that showed the difficulties for those who suffer/suffered from domestic violence. I spoke to a few people who i know have personally experienced domestic violence and showed them my rough script. I got feedback from them about how it was written about and what i could change to not offend or undermine their struggle.

As there were a few struggles in the actual concept of our film, the execution also became a bit of an issue. We were trying to focus more on the female character and her reactions and body language so the audience would pay more attention to her abuse rather than her abuser. To do this we took more footage of her and when she looked afraid, cut it to footage of her partner so it implied she was afraid of him. By not making the film about the abuser, we felt like we were able to make something that spread awareness. Another issue with our execution (as mentioned above) was that my partner and i weren’t very used to actual ‘production’. We both struggled with setting up our set and filming. A few days before we were scheduled to film, our actors, makeup artist and location all quit so we had to find replacements very last minute. Although this set us back quite a bit, we were able to pull a fairly successful film due to how strong the concept was. The script and original idea was definitely the strongest thing we had going into this production. We were able to edit and adapt the script to the various situations we were put into.

Elevator Pitch

“An elevator pitch is a sales tool that helps you get the meeting you get the investor immediately interested in your film.” (Levinson, 2013). It took me a while to fully grasp the idea of an Elevator Pitch (and i didn’t fully get it- i’ll explain later). When assigned to create an idea for a short film and then pitch it, i was a bit frightened. I’m not very good at creating stories and even worse at explaining them. So i did a bit of my own research to see what was really required of me and discovered “The 7 Keys to a Great Pitch” (Scriptmag, 2012). The 7 steps they outlined are:

  1. Never try to tell your whole story
  2. Focus on revealing the essential elements of your story
  3. Begin by revealing how you came up with the story
  4. Leave the buyer in suspense
  5. Finish your description with a title and a log line
  6. Follow the log line with a question
  7. Answer the buyer’s questions succinctly

So with these 7 elements, i set out to write my own elevator pitch. As this was a pitch in front of classmates and not a potential buyer, some of those steps weren’t too relevant to me. For this example, i wanted to be fairly clear and concise with my story and how it ended, as i’m not a scriptwriter, i’d need a person on board to do the scripting and it was important for my fellow students to understand where my vision was heading.

I believe the most successful pitch was done by Maureen. Her idea was captivating and unique but she was able to present it in a very professional way. She began her presentation by handing out photographs to the audience. Although this is very untraditional with an elevator pitch, it definitely provided an extra element to help the audience connect with her story. She had thought of almost every aspect of her film, had began writing and scheduling and was able to answer every question that was asked of her with clarity and confidence. By using more visual references rather than text, we were able to listen to her and not be distracted trying to read. She utilised almost every element of a successful elevator pitch.

Although her pitch was filled with confidence and reference material, it also became very difficult to keep up with her story and her idea. As she had gone into so much detail already with characters and sets etc, i became lost in the story world. I believe a few of my classmates felt the same as many questions were asked. She had put so much detail and thought into every element of her story and potential film that she lacked the brief and attention-grabbing feature that is required of a pitch. This being said, I instantly connected with the film idea and story world as it was something unique to me and sounded very interesting to work on.

As mentioned previously, i definitely did my own research to try and understand more about what was asked of me however when it came to my actual pitch, there were some strengths and some weaknesses that are worth mentioning.

For my own pitch, i believe that one of my strengths was that my idea was fairly clear and simple to execute. I had figured out most of the details of my shooting, including possible locations and props. I tried not to explain that too much during my pitch so i wouldn’t confuse the audience. My pitch went for the desired amount of time and i spoke about each element just enough so the audience would comprehend it but was also intrigued. Overall i believe that it was a successful idea and i had a realistic goal set for it.

There were a few weaknesses however as i am not the most confident presenter. I struggled a bit with how i spoke and tended to ramble if i looked away from my notes. It wasn’t as ‘catchy’ as i hoped and this made the audience loose focus slightly. I also don’t think i was as clear as i could’ve been because there were lots of questions at the end. That being said, i was able to answer them confidently and with answers that were satisfactory.

Overall i believe this pitching experience was extremely helpful and i know that i’ll keep the skills i learnt for future projects.

CaroliScriptmagcom. (2012). Script Magazine. Retrieved 16 November, 2016, from http://www.scriptmag.com/resources/pitch-festivals/7-keys-to-a-great-pitch

Wright, J. A. (2013). Animation Writing and Development: From Script Development to Pitch, Burlington, US: Focal Press.