Sunday, April 25, 2010

The video pitch gets more intensive - video freelancing

"This is to confirm that I have known David Dunkley Gyimah for 10 years as a journalist of exceptional talent and innovation and I would have no hesitation in recommending him. .....He regular pitches ideas, several of which have developed into interesting and watchable news stories. David is not only a creative talent but is a team player who puts his shoulder to the wheel when required".
Guy Kerr, Managing Editor Channel 4 News, 2002
More of reference here

Seems I had something in television. I'll call it over exuberance.

However refluxing an earlier post last year on pitching, with everybody a video maker, the art of pitching will increasingly play a vital role in earning a living.

Pitching to who? Well, given the number of platforms aggregating video in an agency-brokerage format, it could be any number of outlets, not necessarily traditional broadcasters.

So here goes. I'm basing this post on my experience in broadcasting from when I first joined the BBC in 1997 , 1987 but more specifically at Channel 4 News and BBC WS where I regularly freelanced.

Firstly it has to be said pitching an idea can't be divorced from the you.

At a visit to the stock market in the late 80s, when considering a career in the city, we were asked to trade imaginary stocks. We almost all failed: "too cautious" was the Managing Directors advice. There's a reason we go for East End boys, he said to our bewilderment.

The Pitch is the message, how you tell it determines whether you'll get the sale or not.

Hollywood vernacular has refined this process: Taken: it's Bourne-like. This short hand instills the appropriate message.

For the doc/feature maker, pitching to commissioners, it can be a long arduous round of meetings and is often not separated from whether you're:

  • part of the club
  • have a history of programme making.

Otherwise in the pitching exercise we undertake it follows protocols and outcomes you're likely to encounter in commissioning circles.

A rough idea of pitching
1. If you've sent in a one pager about your idea. Stick to that idea, adding a little bit more detail, but DO NOT deviate from your initial idea.

2. If you've submitted an idea; refine it, refine it and refine again. ( practice your elevator pitch. If after 10 seconds your commissioner is lost, you're climbing a slippery mountain. Cut out the waffle

3. Your commissioner wants a story that is populist, but with its own unique subjects/angle, say updated for modern times. Think audience and where it will show in broadcast channel terms.

4. In all likelihood the idea you're pitching will have been done before in some way. PLEASE research the net. Don't think you're the first person doing something on drug addiction.

5. Get to the point: who your central character or characters are; why its interesting; where the conflict is (though don't use the word conflict) and how it might get resolved.

6. Convince the person why you can make it. If you've never done espionage in your life. DO NOT pitch about tracking criminal gangs. Firstly you don't have the contacts. Secondly for your safety we'd never allow.

7. Dress for it. Look the part.

8. Have all your papers prepped. One for you and how many others for commissioners. DO NOT say, "Oh I thought I sent you one already". Commissioners trade lots of papers, and may have lost yours. So coming in with a new batch gets them of the hook and shows you're prepared.

9. Leave time for questions and have some idea what they will be.

Pitcher: I'm looking at prostitution........
Commissioner: so where will you find these prostitutes

10. Know the ecosystem of the idea e.g. Prostitution - social.. The society against prostitution. ..and some of the obvious research. Have you looked up the national stats office on this?

And finally, testing on a critical friend: Pitch to a friend under near conditions and ask for harsh feedback.


From an earlier post in 1999

There's a scene in Black Hawk Down where a nerdy Ewan Macgregor's character explains to a bewildered superior about how the taste of coffee is all in the grind. He's not wrong!

But it had me thinking at the art of story telling Videojournalism, or otherwise and that it's all in the pitch.

As the number of videojournalists explodes, they'll come a time when just as a features editor may commission a writer, it's likely they'll set out their stall for videojournalists to offer stories.

Channel 4's news film fund already does that, not discriminating against full crews or Videojournalists, in so far as the story is right.

And you don't get to the story, without the pitch.

Last week I had the task of listening and reviewing 24 of our Masters students. A post is not the forum to discuss how they fared, but they will know the emphasis we place on this.

Pitching is an art form, and differs across genres, but the basic principle is the same.

In roughly 10 seconds you're going to tell a story that's going to light your listener's fire. In 10 seconds you're going to paint a vivid picture of what could be. In 10 seconds you're going to create an illusion powerful enough for your listener to buy more time from you.

"Uhum tell me more"

Working at Channel 4 News as this recommendation from the Managing Director in 1999 illustrates gave me the chance to observe a facet of pitching and also often refine and make my own.

In fact such is the art of pitching, that I have considered it a chapter in a forthcoming book for a US publisher which is gradually taking shape.

There are two yardsticks that measure the value of a pitch. What is it? And why should I care?

In other words, if you're planning on going for an interview for a media job, chances are you've listened to your potential employer's output and found something to offer that suits their style.

Furthermore, it's got to be a story, which in all likelihood your listener has either not heard before, or you have a unique way of saying it.

Remember it's a pitch, not an exposition of your ability to hold and dispense of a great deal of facts.

And all great stories involve a person or persons you have or will get access to rather than a big themed issue.

And if you're really up to speed you'll spend endless hours sometimes rehearsing it. TV is all about creative ideas and those that know how to speak in that mimetic fashion of experienced pitchers have a career ahead of them.