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An Inside Look: Terror and Pitching at the Banff Springs Motel

An Inside Look: Terror and Pitching at the Banff Springs Motel

An Inside Look: Terror and Pitching at the Banff Springs Motel

by Maureen Prentice and Jason Margolis

Every year in late spring, they gather in the Rocky Mountains. During
pitching season, Banff-bound network executives are advised not to make
direct eye contact with the independent producers for fear they might
just charge.

The focal point for this creative madness is The 19th Annual Banff
Television Festival
, a week long conference for the television industry
comprised of award ceremonies, seminars, new technology showcases, and a
plethora of parties held over one week in June. Widely attended by
independent producers, lawyers, bankers, writers, directors, agents,
distributors, press and television executives primarily from Canada –
with ever increasing numbers from abroad – the event functions as a
marketplace and meeting ground to forge new relationships.

By day, producers spend their days greeting each other in the corridors
of the Banff Springs Hotel Conference Center running between deal-making
meetings; by night, they try to balance a plate of hors d’oeuvres and a
glass of wine while grasping for their business cards. Success is
achieved by not spilling anything when shaking hands with a fellow
producer, or better still, a network executive.

The festival began auspiciously enough when the Canadian Broadcasting
chose us as major subjects for their nationally produced
documentary on the festival experience. Tension heated up when a rival
crew from CTV’s Vancouver Television also began to trail us. Fellow
delegates would ask us if we had seen “The Truman Show” yet. Our reply
was “Heck, we’re living it!”

Our Vancouver collective of four producers and a publicist had amongst
us a thirteen part, half-hour television series for kids, “Scaredy
“; a feature length comedy, “The Deadline“; a four hour mini-series,
Renaissance in Flames“; and a movie-of-the-week in the early stages of
development, “Two-Gun Cohen.”. Within the first two days of the
festival, members of our group had pitched to A & E, Lion’s Gate
, Catalyst Entertainment, Great Britain’s BBC & Channel
, and Canada’s CTV, YTV, Rhombus Media, and Alliance Releasing, to
name a few. With two CTV Fellowship recipients in our group, we had the
use of a private hospitality suite and specially arranged pitches
courtesy of the Canadian Film Center. Now in its tenth year, the CTV
Fellowship is a program created to assist emerging producers, writers
and directors from across Canada to attend the festival and get the most
out of it.

Independent feature filmmakers were well represented at the festival
despite the focus on television. Director Jorge Manzaro was in
attendance, armed with acceptance letters from prestigious American film
festivals in search of post-production money for his gritty prison
drama. Director Norm Fassbender and producer Kate Holowach were also
seeking completion funds for their feature “Things to do on a Saturday
” and development money for their next project, a feature-length
comedy, “The Cartoonist.” Forty-Seven Films‘ Development executive, KC
Bransford was able to meet Lawrence Aidem, President and CEO of the
Sundance Channel, to discuss a sale for her company’s 1998 Sundance
screener, “Dirty.”

By the end of the festival, pitches were flying fast and furious. Comedy
writer-directors Neil Grahn (CBC’s entertainment magazine series “Rough
“) and Ken Hegan (“William Shatner Lent Me his Hairpiece – An Untrue
“) improvised a pitch to Canada’s Comedy Network for a one-hour
special, “I Bitch-Slapped Quentin Tarantino.” This drunken conception
apparently elicited “significant interest.” Watch out Q.T., Neil and
Ken are on their way!

The Air Canada Grand Prize went to “Subway Stories“, an omnibus
Made-for-TV Movie based on ten short stories set in the New York subway
system. “Subway Stories” which was named Best Made-for-TV Movie beat out
989 entries from over 40 countries. Executive producers were Jonathan
Demme, Rosie Perez and Edward Saxon; the producers were Richard Guay and
Valerie Thomas. The short stories, dramatized for “Subway Stories” were
culled from real-life stories submitted in a 1995 contest run by HBO.

Notable celebrities in attendance included Peter Bogdanovich who taught
an intimate intensive directing workshop attended by twenty delegates
pre-selected in advance of the festival. Among his pearls of wisdom:
“Don’t move to Los Angeles…it’s damaging and insidious.” Also
appearing were award- recipient Bob Newhart, TV handyman Red Green
a.k.a. Steve Smith, “Due South” star Paul Gross, Alliance Communications
founder Robert Lantos, singer Chantal Kreviazuk, and Ain’t It Cool News
creator Harry Knowles. “L.A. Confidential” star Russell Crowe was
rumored to be at the CTV/Baton-sponsored barbecue, taking a break from
filming in the nearby town of Canmore.

The festival concluded with the legendary CTV/Baton Western Barbecue,
where vegetarian filmmakers were subjected to slabs of beef moved by
pitch fork. The sheer volume of baked beans moved one comedy writer to
remark that it was just one big “farty party.” Many people travel to
Banff just for this legendary debauch, almost doubling the festival on
the Thursday night. Bussed into the remote and secret barbecue compound
and pressured into wearing embarrassingly large straw cowboy hats and
kerchiefs, producers and network executives quickly retreat to the dance
floor to avoid unintelligible conversations induced by the unlimited
supply of alcohol. Unfortunately, our group spent the evening running
away from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation crew who tried to
document our every slurred utterance.

All told, success and happiness came to many at this year’s Banff
Television Festival. Independent producers left the majestic Rockies
behind with a fistful of cash, a suitcase full of promises, and a trunk
load of business cards.

[Maureen Prentice and Jason Margolis are the respective CEO and
President of Vancouver’s Jump Communications Inc., a company with
several music videos and short films to its credit.]

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