Sunday, August 9, 2009

TALA Masterclass - Day 8 - more about pitch day.

Day 8
The pitches. I mentioned briefly how impressed I was with everyone’s pitching, and what more can I say? Not much unless I get the explicit approval of people to publish their works in progress.

As for me, I pitched my Bernstein in Palestine film. I was the first to go. At 9AM. Try pitching to a room of 100 people including Gail Berman, Bill Masters, Sarah Treem and the head of an Israeli TV network Katriel Schory-IFF, and Karni Ziv-Hot the president of the Israeli Film Fund.

I had to warm up the room a little which took 30-40 seconds and then I dove into the film. I focused a little too much on the dramatic set pieces. But it was worth it to end by showing a huge slide projection of this fantastic picture of Bernstein leading half the Israeli Philharmonic in an ancient amphitheatre in Be’er Sheva in 1948. They’d taken the city the day before and he said he had to go and conduct there, but only half the orchestra agreed to go with him it was so dangerous. In the picture he’s playing Gershwin’s American in Paris. During this performance, the Egyptian air force flew over and saw 3000 people congregated at the top of the Negev desert and assumed it was a troop movement. They radioed Cairo who radioed their forces in Jerusalem and they changed their war plans…in order to defend against…Bernstein.

I finished just before the five-minute mark. (We were being timed. Only one person had the bell rung that they went over, and she had an Israeli TV exec come up to her afterwards and ask her for the script…which she promised to have for her in a week, since she hadn’t actually begun to write a single word of it)

After that 5 minutes they had some questions for me. They felt I hadn’t focused on the personal story enough. So I gave them a 30 second concise answer and they all seemed satisfied and said I should include it in the pitch. I was hoping to pique their interest enough to ask some questions, so it all worked out from my perspective. One person suggested I tell the story and only reveal at the very end that it’s Leonard Bernstein I’m talking about. And while that’s a possibility, if the person doesn’t know who Lenny was off-hand (as so many don’t these days) that’d be a punch line that would fall so flat the entire pitch would be in the trash. I bet if I pitched it that way for this session, they’d have told me ‘you have to tell us who this is about from the beginning’. Still it all went really well. Now all I have to do is get the rights to make the movie. Not a small task.

The pitch session in all took a good 3 hours with 15 people pitching and getting lots of feedback.

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I can’t believe we did this later in that day, but we then had a New Media session with Gail Berman who talked about her new celebrity venture in collaboration msn called which has already garnered over a billion hits in less than a year. People love their celebrities.

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And then we had a New Media presentation with Arik Bernsterin, producer of "Gaza Sderot". Which is a site I really wish I’d known about back in January during the Israeli incursion in Gaza. It put a human face on those events.

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Then we had one on one sessions with masters. I sat down with Gail and had a lovely brief chat where I kibbutzed and did a light 2 min pitch on a show I developed a week earlier in Brussels. She suggested I take it to MTV or Spike. How one does that without an agent I don’t know. I tried to figure out how to make best use of my time. I mentioned that I didn’t have a mentor. She assured me I’d find my way. Sometimes I think we just need someone to tell us to keep going. No, actually we also need someone to help open a door or two. If you don’t have that help, you spend years banging on the door and may fail of fatigue before you get in.

* * * * *

Speaking of fatigue, we were all exhausted that night, so it was good that it was a night off in observance of Tish’B’Av – the celebration of the destruction of the temple and other great calamities. Woo-hoo! This meant we were given a sandwich in a box for dinner as most places throughout Israel were closed for this day of fasting (1 of 4 throughout the year).

I had just wanted to unwind, so I ran down to the beach and dove in the Mediterranean. It’s so wonderful – like a bath. (but saltier).

Over dinner I had a lovely conversation about…rent in NYC. No matter where you are you talk about how much it costs to live in NY. More accurately, we were talking about people we knew who had sweet deals in NY. One guy knew a bunch of stand up comics who had a place on 106 & B’wy they shared paying only $200/mo, but that was a while ago.

That reminded me of when I interviewed Eric Bentley the once famed theatre critic (in the 50s. They were the best English language theatre reviews outside G.B. Shaw). Eric was also a playwright (not well know), and the first English translator of Brecht. They were buddies in the 1940s in LA. Eric had a deal where he was paying $220/mo for a 4 bedroom apartment on Riverside and 95th St. overlooking the Hudson. He had a roommate whom he confessed payed $700 (back in 1992), so he essentially made his living by renting out that one room. The sad thing was this extraordinary man of the theatre couldn’t make a living another way. A sobering outlook to the future for a life in theatre at the ripe young age of 21.

One guy at dinner knew who Bentley was and had actually seen the original production of “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been…” which is what I was interviewing Eric about. It was a theatrical docu-drama of the US Congress’ House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigation of stage and screen during the McCarthy Era. That lead into the story of what Brecht did when called before HUAC. He lied through his teeth and ran. They asked him if he was ever a Communist.
“Ever know any?”
“Ever write a play about Communism?”
“Hmm. OK. We thought you did, but I guess not. Thanks for your time.”

Brecht took the first train to NY, then took a boat to England and never set foot in the States again. He was sure the next Nazi regime was on the rise.

That led to a lovely story about someone who actually met Lillian Hellman, an idol of her, partially because of her response to HUAC. She wrote them a letter and said they had no right to call her to testify. Period. In much more powerful words than mine, but it was a famous letter back in the day. Not everyone was so bold. Very few. And those who were, were often jailed or their careers and lives ruined. What the US Congress and HUAC did to Paul Robeson was a crime of extreme magnitude. I’d love to see an apology from Congress some day soon for that specifically and for their actions throughout the McCarthy Era. But I’m not exactly holding my breath.

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