Focus on Festivals

Deal Maker: Year One

A participant’s take on how this programme can work for the filmmaker ready to pitch a project

Photo by David Spowart, via HotDocs.ca

THE NEWEST ADDITION to Hot Docs’ industry programmes in 2013 was also one of the highlights. The Deal Maker programme matched up roughly 50 filmmaking teams with broadcasters for intense, one-on-one meetings to discuss selected projects. My producer Howard Fraiberg (of Proximity Films) and I were lucky enough to be included; having long dreaded the prospect of pitching at the Forum table, I welcomed Deal Maker as an opportunity to give us a chance to hone our project and attract interest from potential investors.

Over the course of two days we met with seven broadcasters, all of whom had agreed to meet with us based on some level of curiosity about our project—the pump was primed. We also had the opportunity to discuss a project that was way too premature to get into the Forum, in an equally legitimate context.

We weren’t offering our project for sale at the time—rather, we were raising awareness and gauging interest in our idea, which is kind of like Spellbound meets Chris Rock’s Good Hair but about the nail industry. What we learned was extremely valuable in terms of what kinds of films these broadcasters were looking for and what angles they thought we should pursue. Ultimately, the feedback we received was very promising—in fact, we got a much needed letter of commitment from one of them and were offered others, so when I later travelled to a Las Vegas nail art competition (yes, they exist) to shoot footage for our trailer, I felt confident that the time and money being invested in the idea was indeed worthwhile.

All this seems too good to be true for such a nascent project, so I asked Hot Docs industry programmer and coordinator Chloe Sosa-Sims to assure me that they’re not going to change it. “Yes, absolutely, we will continue to support projects at various stages of development,” she said, but added that they will also continue to request a trailer, no matter how underdeveloped the project is. “It’s important you demonstrate in your trailer the tone, style and narrative structure of your project. As important as written submissions are, it’s only through visual means that buyers, programmers, etc. can truly engage and understand your artistic mission.”

The only change they may consider is to allow for longer trailers in the submission package. “I felt one minute was a little too restrictive,” she said.

Fair enough. Admittedly, our trailer was a bit on the thin side—a sort of Frankenstein monster cobbled together from YouTube footage and a voiceover by yours truly. One minute was more than sufficient for us. But looking back, it did convey the tone we were going for and must have helped bring our one-sheet to life because it got us into the programme.

After the festival I chatted with producer Matt Power of Toronto’s Dodd Motors Creative to compare notes about our experiences at Deal Maker. Together with partners Ken Galloway and Supinder Wraich, the lucky duck won the Hot Docs–Shaw Deal Maker Prize (along with $10,000) for their project Spitting Venom, much to his surprise. “We didn’t even go to the awards ceremony,” he admits. “We thought, ‘It’s not like we’re going to win anything.’”

Since the festival, they’ve continued talks with a potential co-pro partner and broadcaster, although nothing has been signed yet. Sosa-Sims said that several teams made deals as a result of Deal Maker but could not yet disclose who they were.

Despite their success, Power would have done a few things differently at Deal Maker. “Scripts don’t work [in Deal Maker], as I quickly learned.” He also would have liked to have known more about how the meetings were going to work before going into the sessions—such as what a pitch looks like. One suggestion to Hot Docs would be to have an ‘Intro to Deal Maker’ document or video for neophyte participants.

Sarah Keenlyside is a Toronto-based filmmaker. She’s currently developing her first one-hour project for Canadian television and will be participating in the Deal Maker program at Hot Docs.

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