How Filmmakers Pitch Their Projects & Get Them Made
Since its inception in 2017, the AT&T Hello Lab Mentorship Program has helped shine a light and lift up the voices of people of color, women, and the LGBTQ+ community. Serving as this year’s Lead Program Mentor, Emmy® award-winning actress, writer, and producer Lena Waithe paired five promising screenwriters with five talented up-and-coming directors. With her guidance, each mentee will have the opportunity to attend workshops, work with casting directors and producers, and learn how to pitch their creative visions to high-level executives. The fight for representation within the entertainment industry continues, but programs like this one give an opportunity for new and unique stories to be told.
Before any film is green-lit, every filmmaker needs to pitch their directorial vision to financiers, studio heads, creative executives, and key stakeholders to get them on-board and excited about helping to make their project a reality.
For this year’s mentees, July 10th served as the day they had the opportunity to practice these pivotal skills. Each director mentee presented their treatment decks to senior executives at AT&T, as well as their fellow mentees. These very visual and highly personalized treatments expanded on each director’s vision for their film, while also exploring detailed character breakdowns and storylines.
This exercise allowed mentees to work through their presentation styles in a safe space that encouraged bravery and exploration, and takeaways from the experience set the filmmakers up for success in their future careers.
Keep reading for details on the filmmakers’ projects and visions!
Writer: Angela Carbone
Malakai started off her pitch explaining the logline of the story, which centers around a young boy, Scooter, who goes on a pilgrimage after finding out his trans sister’s whereabouts. She continues by explaining the major core themes in the film which are, the idea of “seeking your own freedom by any means necessary,” seeking redemption, and “building your own world.” These themes are reflected in the plot of Scooter’s sister running away from home and creating her own safe space.
Malakai then explains, how she immediately knew she wanted the protagonist of the story to have a distinct appearance and that the world where these characters live in is a world of fantasy that places people of color at the center. She then dove into the characters of the film, and how she and writer Angela Carbone took their time to carefully developing the vision for each one.
She continues her pitch by describing the film’s visual aesthetic, a rural area, “built on the backs of men.” Southern, country backwoods, and a grounded environment. The color palette for the film is muted, warm, and subtle.
When it comes to filming, Malakai explained that she wants the short to be cinematic and filmic, planning to shoot with different film mediums, such as a VHS. Her pitch also covered the overall approach of the film and the composition of each shot, which puts the protagonist Scooter, for the most part, center frame. This alludes to Scooter’s constant isolation throughout the film.
Director: Vishnu Vallabhaneni
Writer: Malik Aziz
In his pitch, Vishnu included a Director’s Note with his own personal story and connection to the short film. Born in India and relocating to the United States when he was very young, Vishnu explained that his identity has been split between these two cultures. He spoke about the idea of feeling like an imposter; not feeling American enough in America, and not feeling Indian enough around his Indian community. Vishnu hopes that through this film, he can create an image of “what belonging can look like.”
For this short, Vishnu explained this romantic comedy is about a young architect on the first day of Ramadan as he tries to fast with his fiancée, while also attempting to win a major contract for his firm. Vishnu pointed out the short is a love story about a “guy who doesn’t believe he’s in one.”
Vishnu also dove into the target audience for this short. He pointed out that over the last decade, there have only been about three major works that explore what it’s like to live the Muslim-American experience.
Vishnu’s visual approach to the love story is hand-in-hand with the protagonist’s own personal journey, in which he continues fasting for Ramadan and dealing with anxiety. There are elements of surrealism that Vishnu wants to incorporate into the short, which illustrates the protagonist’s internal struggle.
Director: Cierra Glaudé
Writer: Mechi Parada Lakatos
Cierra is the director bringing this short film to life, which centers around the single mother of a baby boy, faced with moving back home with her parents and reconnecting with her ex-partner, along with the child they conceived via a sperm donor. It’s a tale of lesbian heartbreak.
Infusing her pitch with humor and personal connection (being black and Latinx and part of the LGBTQ community herself), Cierra dove into the character breakdowns of each character in the short film. From there, she explored the world of “Spilt Milk.” Describing the visual style as a “salt of the earth” vibe, the colors range from blues to yellows to muted purples. Cierra described the film’s world as having a lot of texture in its buildings and yellow accents. She hopes to shoot in a place with a lot of character, which will best serve the short film. She wants to highlight communities like the Latinx community, which aren’t always portrayed accurately in movies or TV shows.
Moving onto style and tone, Cierra explained it’s close and intimate. She cited her previous work on projects, like Selma and Queen Sugar, as inspiration for the overall tone. She also envisions a voyeuristic tone throughout the film, as if the audience is a fly on the wall watching the story unfold.
Director: Alison-Eve Hammersley
Writer: Brittany Menjivar
Alison-Eve is the director mentee who is bringing “Fragile.com” to life, which follows a broke teen girl, Mara, who dreams of being an actress, and the charming man who promises her fame and fortune if she agrees to live-stream herself crying for his website, Fragile.com.
Since the story revolves around a website, Alison-Eve began her pitch with the logline on a cleverly designed slide, made to look like a search engine and the subsequent result. Alison-Eve describes the short film as a “high school thriller.” The film has a fun, teen facet to it as well as a creeping, tense underlying pulse that is evocative of the thriller genre. In her pitch, Alison-Eve discussed how she relates to the main character in the story, feeling invisible in high school herself. Speaking about her approach to the thriller/horror genre, Alison-Eve explained that she likes to begin with a personal story and narrative, then have the horror and thriller elements stem from there.
Alison-Eve painted a picture of the world, beginning with the bedroom of the protagonist that includes lots of pinks, purples, and a youthful vibe. For the scenes at the high school, Alison-Eve envisioned a purple/magenta hue coating everything with darker shadows lingering in shots. When it comes to the shots of the protagonist on Fragile.com, Alison-Eve explains that the idea is to see Mara’s face in all darkness, mirroring how she is incredibly sucked into this online world.
Alison-Eve describes these “Fragile.com” shots as the idea of the physical embodiment of the exploitation of female pain for the enjoyment of men.
“The Fat Friend”
Director: Jessica Mendez Siquieros
Writer: Jasmine Johnson
The comedy “The Fat Friend” follows Adeline, the only person of color in an all-white boarding school, who must question her commitment to activism when she realizes she has no friends, a ton of enemies, and faces serious accusations that could get her expelled.
Jessica explained the focus of the short film that she wants to bring to light is the idea of female solidarity and the idea that women are stronger together.
Jessica’s style inspiration for the film is very vibrant, colorful, cinematic comedies that put black and brown faces at the center of a story.
In her pitch, Jessica walked everyone through a fictional welcome brochure for the boarding school where the short film takes place. Through this, she introduced the world of “The Fat Friend,” including the social society of the school and the characters of the short. Jessica also pointed out that the student population serves as a sort of “Greek chorus” in the comedic short. When it comes to the school itself, Jessica envisioned the dorm rooms to look like they were almost rooms in an orphanage, illustrating the isolation Adeline feels.
The importance of Pitch Day
To have the opportunity to hone these presentation skills in a safe environment is crucial to set these filmmakers up for a successful career. This is how the mentees learn to sell their project – to get people as excited about their visions. The AT&T Hello Lab Program is serving up the platform for which these young screenwriters and filmmakers will be able to present their stories and art.
Make sure to follow along as we continue covering the exciting AT&T Hello Lab Program, and see these films be brought to life!