I was busy sitting in an editing suite putting Spanish subtitles on to my short film in mid-July, when I received a call from the Toronto International Film Festival. I had been accepted to take part in Telefilm Canada PITCH THIS!. This competition has been a popular component of TIFF for thirteen years and consists of six teams having six minutes to pitch their feature idea to an audience of over 200 people which would include a jury, industry professionals and general public. The winner is awarded $10,000.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ian Harnarine is a filmmaker who recently won the PITCH THIS! competition at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. He wrote a personal account of doing so exclusively for Indiewire.
My feature film is an adaptation of my short film “Doubles With Slight Pepper” (available on iTunes). The short premiered at the 2011 Toronto Film Fest, won the award for Best Short there and then went on to win the Genie Award in the same category (Canada’s equivalent of the Oscar). The film is about a young man who must decide if he will help save his estranged father’s life. It is extremely personal to me, as a few years ago, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. As his life began to deteriorate, I began writing as a coping mechanism. I started with the premise of what it would be like to have met your father for the first time towards the end of his life. The fact is, my own father who immigrated from Trinidad to Toronto for an unknown future,was becoming someone that I didn’t know.
“Doubles” was my thesis film at NYU’s Graduate Film School and was executive produced by Spike Lee. Spike was a professor of mine and provided spot-on script & editorial notes throughout the process. Getting the film made became a balance of passion and the reality of making a living. My day job is teaching undergrad physics. I have a master’s degree in physics which has allowed me to teach a few hours a week while drawing a regular paycheck. I can then spend the rest of my time working on my films.
I was assigned a Pitch Coach (the amazing David Miller from Agency71 Productions), who would help me develop my pitch. He advised me to keep it simple: tell the human story, tell something about me, show them a bit of the short, tell them how much I needed and tell them why I am telling this story. Somehow all of this had to be crammed into 6-minutes! I decided to show the trailer for my short. It would serve as a dynamic introduction to the characters and locations, but also the aesthetic and tone that I envisioned for the feature. I began memorizing my script. I went over it day and night for weeks. I devised this trick to walk down the street talking into my phone – but I wasn’t talking to anyone, just reciting the pitch!
Pitch Day: Rehearsal was at 8am and I met the rest of the teams. They each had wonderful projects that ran the gamut from indie-animation to heart-wrenching documentary. These were incredible talents. We were not allowed to watch each others’ rehearsal, or actual pitch (a good thing).
During the actual event, the host, Dan Levy (son of Eugene), introduced me and I went on stage before the massive audience. I advanced the slide on my Keynote presentation that started my trailer. After the video, I took a deep breath and began “Hi my name is Ian Harnarine and my film is Doubles With Slight Pepper…” somehow all of that practicing had become part of my subconscious. I hit every point. I think I stumbled on a few words – but I don’t remember anything else. As I was escorted back to the green room, I felt good. I was content that I had done what I set out to do. I got my story across and I told them why I wanted to tell this particular story. Above all, I was filled with a sense of relief!
We reconvened after a few hours of jury deliberation and they announced the winner: DOUBLES WITH SLIGHT PEPPER! I heard my mom yelp with joy and I was completely dumbfounded. I think I had a goofy smile that didn’t leave for hours. I took the stage and was presented with a GIANT NOVELTY CHECK (I always wanted to get one of these!) and the congratulations of the esteemed jury. Hundreds of photos were taken, I did a few interviews – it was a blur.
So what does it all mean for my film? Of course, the money will help develop the story and further writing. Personally, I feel that it has legitimized me as an emerging filmmaker and also the project’s potential. It’s encouraging, humbling and empowering to know that people really do care about what you have to say. As a filmmaker, this is better than any huge novelty check.