Shanghai pitch session timely


SHANGHAI -- Eight fledgling Chinese filmmakers got a crash course in the pitch from top American film educators this week before testing their new sales skills in meetings with potential investors from around the world.

The three-day China Film Pitch & Catch at the 10th annual Shanghai International Film Festival comes as the country's historically state-controlled film industry is enjoying an influx of private investors eager to reap returns from the world's largest potential movie market.

The brainchild of Cindy Lin of Beijing Infotainment, Pitch & Catch brings to Shanghai the husband and wife team of Elizabeth Daley, dean of USC's School of Cinematic Arts, and former American Film Institute co-director James Hindman.

"Second films are always harder to sell than the first," Hindman said over coffee Monday, expounding on the combination of luck and circumstance that can make or break new filmmakers. "The first time they might come in through the window, but with a second film, they have to walk in the door."

After learning the basics of the pitch Tuesday, members of the teams behind the eight participating works -- all with budgets under 12 million yuan ($1.5 million) and in various stages of completion and financing -- began testing their skills in front of would-be partners.

"It's basically like speed dating," Daley said.

Cai Shangjun was the first of the participants to try his marketing spiel in a "dry run" before Hindman and Daley. He nervously presented a film-noir project with shades of "The Fugitive." Daley told Cai that, while his initial pitch was passionate, it lacked the detail and drama investors will need to share that passion. Hindman offered pointed tips to improve his pitch.

"Now I know what to expect so I can confidently approach investors with a professional and systematic pitch and overcome obstacles between East and West," Cai said.

Potential investors on hand include Arte France Cinema; UniJapan, the umbrella organization for the Japanese film industry; South Korean entertainment giant CJ Entertainment; and IronPond, a U.S.- and China-based entertainment company with a hand in such recent Hollywood films as "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Hitch."

After the eight Chinese projects and 22 others -- including projects from France, Italy, Japan and Poland -- have been pitched, two awards (one for creativity, the other for most investor interest) will be given to the winners Thursday. The prize is free film processing at the Kodak Cinemalabs in Beijing.

Festival managing director Tang Lijune compares Pitch & Catch to PPP, the project matching sessions held each autumn at Asia's largest annual cinematic gathering, the Pusan International Film Festival. Tang, the former director of the executive office of festival backer Shanghai Media Group, said the skills honed in Pitch & Catch will help Shanghai become a destination for the next generation of film leaders.

"Now Shanghai is an Asia-focused festival, but with our friends from USC, we will expand next year to bring students and filmmakers from around the world," Tang said.