|Local screenwriters pitch their film ideas at industry event|
Audience members mingled in the lobby, buying snacks and wine. They checked their tickets, filed into the intimate Manship Theatre and silenced their cell phones.
Yes, they were here for a movie—three, actually—but none of them has been filmed yet.
SeNSE, a Baton Rouge organization that lets local entrepreneurs present ideas to investors, hosted Pitch Night #12 back in March. Though SeNSE has hosted similar programs since 2009, this was its first film industry-themed affair.
SeNSE Founder and Chairman Sean Simone says they wanted to show investors that film has become a viable industry in Louisiana—but more than that, to highlight the homegrown talent and expertise that could make those films. He says in recent years Baton Rouge has become “a premier destination” for the film industry because of tax incentives and state-of-the-art production venues (such as event sponsor Celtic Media Centre).
The evening consisted of three local producers pitching their ideas (via PowerPoint presentations) to an expert panel, which included Jacky Lee Morgan of Cineworks, Amy Mitchell-Smith of Cienega Motion Picture Group and Daniel Lewis of Active Entertainment.
The first producer to go before the group was Wendi Hutchinson, a first-time screenwriter and mother of four teenage girls.
Hutchinson sat poised on a stool and discussed her romantic comedy Falling on Love. The faces of Hollywood hunks Patrick Dempsey and Josh Lucas flashed on the screen as the actors she envisioned in her dream cast. Her film's plot focuses on four middle-aged men, three of whom are primary caregivers to their children. Hutchinson described her work, co-written with Rick Foster, as “The Hangover meets Sleepless in Seattle.”
When Upload Films production executive Valerie Rodriguez Black took to the stage, the audience was immediately captivated by her charm. She was noticeably pregnant and has some stand-up comedy experience—the perfect combination, apparently, for that night's crowd.
Her psychological thriller, Three Loud Knocks, begins with Ollie, a successful, happily married young man. When he loses his job and his wife goes away for the weekend, a night out at a dodgy bar causes him to fall off the wagon. Ollie is forced to piece together the events of a blurred evening while receiving mysterious messages from a sinister character called “The Deliverer.”
After she pitched the suspenseful tale, using gritty images from similar films and photographs taken locally, an audience member had to know more. Black joked his curiosity meant she did a good job pitching.
Last, Huze Media Group producer Tom Bhramayana, wearing a suit and a “Zombie Research Society” badge, pitched Zombie Plantation. The audience was immediately captivated, hooting and clapping as an animated Bhramayana explained his presentation's main question: “Why Zombies?” With creative marketing and stats on the success of zombie films, he explained his project's new take on the “hot” genre.
First, he said, the film differs from other zombie features, because it starts 20 years after the apocalypse. This sets the stage for character development, which is atypical of the average, gory zombie flick.
“We follow the zombie rules,” Bhramayana said to the crowd's pleasure (this group apparently takes zombie culture very seriously). He said zombies should be gone after 20 years, as Louisiana humidity would cause them to decompose quickly. So the protagonist is shocked when he finds the dictatorial leader of a human colony murdering his laborers using a pit of zombies.
The panel critiqued each project, and through smart phone voting, Zombie Plantation won as the crowd favorite.
Sean Huze, the film's writer, said he appreciated the opportunity to pitch. He added that the evening provided a “great foundation and gave us something to build on.”
Bhramayana said they would do a SeNSE night again, as it led to a full week of appointments with investors interested in Zombie Plantation.
“I felt the audience was very receptive to all of the presenters. The expert panelists … gave me great feedback about my pitch and my project concerning the budget,” Hutchinson said, explaining that she participated hoping for exposure.
Black said she also valued the panel's comments and the opportunity to network.
“I met a couple interesting contacts, so we'll see,” she said. “The event was successful in garnering more support for the local film industry … which I think is crucial. Baton Rouge needs to know scripts and producers aren't just imported from New York and California anymore. There are talented and creative minds here in Baton Rouge that can compete with those cities and have proven [to be] capable of completing films from conception to distribution.”
Simone said he had positive feedback from entrepreneurs and producers, and, as they've since gone on to host Pitch Night #13 in May, he hopes to continue hosting more film pitch events.
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