Home Directing Once Upon a Time in London

Once Upon a Time in London

by alexis

Preparing for my trip to London on the week of June 20th made me reflect on the fact that my very first post on this blog was about another trip to London; a trip during which I pitched a feature/web series project to the director of development of a storied English production company. At the time I was still waiting to hear back, so I didn’t go into specifics.

However, enough time has passed that it seems time to tell the tale. It was a fantastic experience, and in particular involves a funny story about using the wrong tools for the job, and my unveiling of the animatic I created, posted via Vimeo down near the bottom.

Getting this pitch meeting was a four year odyssey of networking, yearly trips to London, and the various slings and arrows of project development. However, once I was over the initial hump of getting my contact at the company to read my script after sitting on it for the previous year, and was reasonably sure that I might actually get a crack at actually getting a meeting, I commissioned a pile of artwork to support my writer/director pitch. The project is a period, gothic adventure–horror tale, with some nice action set pieces. My short filmography doesn’t exactly include an action film, so I wanted to make it clear that I’m fully capable of directing thrilling sword fighting scenes (being a fencer myself, I have a bit of insight).

I hired illustrator and storyboard artist Ryan Beckwith to turn my chicken-scratching thumbnail storyboards into nicely-illustrated presentation boards for the first three scenes. I commissioned concept art from Bay Area painter Anna Noelle Rockwell, who also did a series of costume illustrations for the main characters. I had a practiced pitch. I was loaded for bear.

And then I waited. For various reasons, my interactions with this company were on a yearly cycle, and I had plenty to work on in-between meetings, so I stored my cache of artwork and attended to other business. Once in a while I’d mull over whether or not to convert my presentation storyboards into a whiz-bang animatic, but I decided to skip it, thinking the comic book style presentation of my boards might be more fun to browse. Besides, Ryan and I were already up to our eyeballs planning Starship Detritus (update—the final coloring is nearly done, and we’re going to begin animating shots again for the pilot), so it was easy to relegate to the back burner.

So, as is the way with these things, I got the nod for the actual meeting at the last minute, pretty much a “fly out here in four days and you might get a chance to present” kind of deal. I threw everything together, bought some little easels for the paintings, and re-rehearsed my pitches. Again, I wondered, “should I put together an animatic?” but there was no time.

So, there I am in London, at an afterparty for the event that brought me out there, having gotten an actual appointment for my pitch meeting. I’m at a pub with another producer as well as my initial contacts at the production company, drinking and chatting about pitches, and they start talking about how great it is to pitch with an animatic. And there I sit, feeling like an idiot, since I had a whole year to put something together and I didn’t.

The day before my meeting, I took a walk in Saint James park, mulling. I’d brought JPEG scans of the boards on my MacBook Air, I could maybe whip something together but I didn’t have Final Cut Pro installed because the Air was my writing machine. However, I did have Keynote. Could I do this in Keynote? Absurd! But that night, back at my hotel, I started poking at it, and sure enough Keynote had some rudimentary slide timing tools for autoplaying a presentation. I started putting something together. 

Calling my wife, Kaylynn, back in the states, I had her email me a few Yoko Kanno tracks from my iTunes library that I knew, from memory, would fit what I wanted (Yoko Kanno was even part of my pitch, as I would have loved to have her score the project). In a fever, I put the whole thing together and tuned it up by 4am, then caught what little sleep I could manage.

The next morning, while packing up for the meeting, I took one last look at my hacked together Keynote animatic. Was I crazy? Would this fly? I watched it, and, well, it was fun! Not perfect, but it would be a heck of a lot more interesting then flipping through my stack of boards.

With a song in my heart, I went to the meeting. What I though was going to be a 15 minute quick pitch ended up being a fully-engaged hour and a half meeting. I was ON FIRE, and the executive I was meeting with seemed interested. He had his hesitations, but there was a genuine back and forth. And he watched the animatic. All of it (and I did have my finger on the stop key, looking for the slightest sign of boredom which, thankfully, didn’t appear). What follows is an h.264 movie of my Keynote presentation, and while the timing isn’t quite the same, it’s pretty much what I presented in London (vaguely NSFW, I suppose).

After my return, it took four months for them to finally pass on the project, but I’m philosophical about the experience. I’m glad I got the opportunity to make the big pitch I’d prepared for, and for the record, this script isn’t dead. It’s back on my stack again, but I’ve a plan to rework it within a new context when the time seems right. I’ve had too much fun to give up on it now.

My apologies to Yoko Kanno for the unauthorized use of her tracks. However, if you like what you year, and you enjoy soundtrack music, you owe it to yourself to check out her work, which is eclectic and wonderful.

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1 comment

kaylynn raschke June 15, 2011 - 12:47 pm

This is inspiring. I want to see more! Thank you for sharing your creative self.


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