Pitches in the wild

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SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Joanna Sterkowicz writes…A panel of local and international commissioning editors and distributors at last week’s Wild Talk Africa Film Festival & Conference in Stellenbosch faced a barrage of pitches from filmmakers– on topics ranging from an anti-shark finning campaign, the role of traditional dogs in the Transkei, discovering the Greek coastline, a lion sanctuary, flying around the world in a prototype light aircraft, and an anti-rhino horn poaching project.

These were just some of the projects presented at Wild Talk Africa’s Soap Box pitching forum on 29 March, with the panel including Andrew Jackson from BBC NHU, Ellen Windemuth of Off the Fence, Vyv Simson of NHU Africa, and representatives from National Geographic, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and TopTV.

Shiver, the anti-shark finning project presented by Dave Charley with Tim Chevallier set to direct, was described as being a combination of conservation, organised crime in China and drama. The promo reel clearly demonstrated all these elements and the panel received the project well, emphasising that it should be presented as a personal story.

First time filmmaker Louis Bolton’s Dogs of the Transkei, pitched as a 13-part series, looks at Africa’s indigenous dogs in the Transkei, pointing out that the species remains pure as it has not been subjected to Western breeding. The panel judged it a good first-time pitch but that it came across more as a subject rather than a story. “You need to package all the information and embed it into a story, which has a beginning and an end and “characters’ that go from A to B,’ advised Windemuth.

Jeremy Norman and his partner Derek Frost, of Two Men in A Boat fame, pitched a travel show where they would go on a boat odyssey to discover the coastline of Greece. Simson said the project had the ingredients of a successful travel show but felt it would work better around the concept of “a quirky couple’, something that was lacking in the pitch.

Feature film and TV drama series producer Brigid Olen pitched a project, Lion Hearts, which she described as “Born Free meets The Ozbournes’. The film is about Paul Hart’s lion sanctuary and about his family. Hart has rescued 32 predators from zoos, circuses and illegal trading. The panel emphasised that many lion sanctuary films had been made before so the project needed to have a unique aspect that would attract broadcasters.

Telani Lithgow’s pitch was full of dramatic footage about rhino horn crime cartels and grotesque cruelty to rhinos. Lithgow is the presenter of the series with sister Louise as writer / producer. The panel reacted positively to the pitch although they advised that the series engage rather than preach. All documentaries should have a five-act structure, just like a drama, said one of the panelists. Jackson added that the revelation of facts does not constitute telling a story.

In the session’s liveliest pitch, James Pitman revealed a six-part series based on a flight around the world in a new light aircraft. The footage showed Pitman and his fellow adventurer pilot in a series of bizarre situations with lots of engaging adlibbing. Simson noted that the pitch drew a great reaction from the audience and that the series had all the classic ingredient’s of a “crazy’ journey. Jackson added: “It’s a great and wonderful project and viewers will keep tuning in every week just to see the characters. However, it might be a difficult series for broadcasters to schedule.’

For more on the Wild Talk Africa conference see the May issue of Screen Africa.

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