As I have mentioned in other posts, the pitch competition has begun to rise in popularity over the past few years, and, during the Austin Film Festival two weeks ago, I had an opportunity to hear some great pitches and catch up with some of the people behind them.
Pitch: The Republic of Bensonville
Author: Kent Probst
Synopsis: The mayor must find the courage to lead the Texas border town of Bensonville when they secede from the United States, because they’re fed up with unrepaired roads and little representation, risking an “international” war.
Kent’s pitch impressed, not only because it was a low budget, high concept, satirical comedy, but because the storyline he presented made sense and could easily be envisioned in the minds of audience members, but also because he himself “performed” so well, using voice inflections and physical body language to make the story come to life that much more. The Republic of Bensonville took 4th at the AFF pitch competition, but I believe (and hope) that we see Kent’s vision come to life in the near future.
Kent had a great pitch, but don’t want to boil AFF’s competition down to just brilliant story ideas, because behind every idea, there are real people with their own life stories.
Take, for example, Leigh Lewis. She smiles kindly as I ask her for an interview following the announcement that she has been selected for the final pitch round. We sit down in some chairs surrounded by busy foot-traffic as people rush off to pitches, screenings, and workshops. My ADD is getting to me with all the commotion, but she seems focused and unphased, clearly a skill that must come in handy as a writer. Leigh begins her story years ago. She tells me that she had a successful career in marketing before turning to writing. She first picked up work as a children’s author in Houston, but as time passed, she turned to screenwriting, starting first with a really awful [she chuckles here] dark comedy about the inventor “yo momma jokes” before taking some screenwriting classes and putting together her current feature-length Christmas comedy. She aspires to provide quality comedic outlets for older women. She’s been working on breaking into the industry for awhile now, and the encouragement she would pass onto others is simply that they write everyday, and to not give up. Leigh and I talk for several more minutes off the record, and I get to know her better than most people will, even after her first script gets picked up and produced. She is a real person with real dreams and real stories to tell.
That is why I love pitch competitions. Not only because they provide opportunities for people to break into the industry, but because they are great reminders that everyone in Hollywood started somewhere, that they are all human beings, and they all have pasts, presents, and futures. In this world of over sensationalized news, box office stats, and spoiler alerts, we must not forget the point of movies: to bring us together.