Pitching in Banff Television dreams can come true in an instant, if you know the art of the deal Local film maker Adriane Polo, who shot her first feature film, Wild Wind (a.k.a. Squamish Squamish) in the Sea to Sky Corridor last fall, has been invited to pitch her next movie, Whistler Extreme, to a group of industry panellists at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival trade forum. She credits her ability to "pitch" to the Banff Television Festival, which she attended this past June 7-13. At Banff Polo had the opportunity to listen to some of the best producers pitch their stories, and to observe and learn about the television industry first hand. This is her report from Banff. By Adriane Polo Photos courtesy Banff Television Festival THE PROPOSAL Picture this: It's a hot summer's afternoon. You stand on the balcony of the Banff Springs Hotel, surrounded by the saw-toothed Rocky Mountains, sipping an ice cold daiquiri, wearing a designer dress by Versace and the latest fashion-statement sandals. You are chatting with the president of HBO, the president of Sundance Channel and the commissioning editor for BBC; all three bidding to give you money for your next TV movie. After a few laughs and a wave of the hand, you go with the highest bidder. Your escort, Paul Gross, offers you his back on which you place the contract and scribble something that resembles your name. Afterwards you proceed to Radium Hot Springs for some "la di da." In your dreams you say? Perhaps, perhaps not. THE SETTING So, armed with your dreams, best clothes, ideas, and a plan, you arrive in gorgeous Banff and enter a television fantasy land. The world's top television executives — the real decision makers — are here. You drop by the convention centre, located in the castle-like Banff Springs Hotel. A week's itinerary looks like a jet pilot’s log book, starting with "Take a Decision Maker To Breakfast" at 8 a.m., where you get the opportunity talk to the development/production executives at a free breakfast. The week’s schedule ends with some lavish gala affair where champagne, fine wine and exotic hors d’oeuvre, the names of which you can't pronounce, are served. In between are informative seminars featuring industry professionals discussing "Sharing Stories," "Co-production Opportunities," "Hot Docs & Human Rights," "Public Figures, Private Lives" (former prime minister Kim Campbell makes an appearance), "World's Children's Response" "Directing with Peter Bogdanovich," and more. You catch your breath then start planning your week. THE FESTIVAL At the opening ceremonies, hosted by Laurier LaPierre, Heritage Minister Sheila Copps announces a new $30 million multi-media fund aimed at development of new computer technologies and the internet. Following Copps, Sir Christopher Bland, chair of the BBC, delivers the keynote address: An Analysis of the American Influence on Broadcasting Culture. The delightful Bob Newhart receives the Comedy Network Award for his outstanding contributions to television and just generally delighting audiences with his comic genius. Later, 60 Minutes Creator and Executive Producer, Don Hewitt is honoured with the Astral Award of Excellence. Festival President Pat Ferns calls him the "embodiment of all Banff stands for — excellence, vision, collaboration and innovation." There are seminars on a myriad of topics but the next highlight on the agenda is the awards show. BANFF ROCKIE AWARDS This year there were 989 show entries from 40 different countries. From those entries 81 finalists were chosen in the categories of drama, comedy, animation and documentaries (short and long forms). The Rockie Awards show is a black-tie formal event, in the Van Horne Ballroom, attended by more than 1,500 people. There are TV Crews everywhere covering the event and two big screens on stage for close-ups. TV is, after all, close-ups. The room is lit with spotlights from every imaginable angle and small TV screens fill the sides of the room for easy viewing by all. The set is wonderfully designed with bright blue hues accentuating a three-dimensional mountain backdrop. Paul Gross and Tantoo Cardinal presents the awards. The big winner is "Subway Stories," 10 stories set in the New York underground, by producers Richard Guay and Valerie Thoma. Then the room falls silent as Chantal Kreviazuk places her fingers on a grand piano and belts out her hit single "Surrounded." After the awards there’s a champagne and dessert reception, and of course Paul. THE PITCH What started as a simple concept 14 years ago, a forum to simulate producers pitching their stories to an audience of broadcasters, buyers, distributors and financiers to illustrate how television deals are made on the spot, the International Market Simulation has grown into the heart of the festival and is attended by almost every delegate. The deal-making guru Pat Ferns runs the clock and producers have three minutes to pitch their stories. One team of producers pitching is Mario Azzopardi (resident director of Outer Limits) and Andre Picard from SDA Productions in Montreal. The pitch goes like this; Mario tells the audience the story of Charles Miller, an eccentric millionaire from Toronto who upon his death in 1926 left a will that shocked the nation: $1 million to the woman who in a period of 10 years following his death would give birth to the greatest number of his children. The proposed TV movie is entitled The Stork Derby. After the pitch, Andre gives the financing scenario for the $3.5 million movie, to be shot in the fall of 1999. With that Pat runs into the audience taking offers from networks. Interest comes from CHUM, Telefilm and Motion International, which still leaves a $1 million shortfall. They will look to pre-sales in foreign markets for the balance. Also, a book option is a possibility. Next up is Muppets Who Kill, an animated pilot for a grown-up series by Steven Western. He immediately gets a keen interest from the Comedy Network and Britain’s Channel 4. The Process, a story about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, is pitched by Cafe Productions, followed by dozens of more pitches in various market categories. CO-PRODUCTIONS It seems everywhere you turn there are deals being made, not only inter-provincially, but with partners from the U.S.A. and abroad. The reason: the high cost of production, the global marketplace, and lesser license fees in other jurisdictions. The seminars reflect the spirit of co-operation and examine the diverse opportunities that exist in various countries. The British are in full force sharing some of their success stories, such as the sci-fi series Invasion Earth, a co-production of USA Network and the British Broadcasting Corp. The BBC also talks enthusiastically about supporting their emerging indigenous filmmakers and providing guidance and opportunity for them. Other stories being shared include Beefcake, by Thom Fitzgerald, which was co-produced in Canada, with Channel 4 of the U.K. and ARTE of France and Germany. Animation is particularly favoured by co-producers, since it translates and travels well to other countries. Another topic featured is focus on new media, technology and the various emerging opportunities there. THE DEAL B.C. has a very strong presence here in Banff and puts on a great reception at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, featuring art from the collections of Joseph Plaskett and Susan Elkins. Many B.C. producers, such as Ken Hagen (Farley Mowat ate My Brother), are here. When asked why, Ken replies: "Shameless self promotion." The stories one hears about deals made on napkins are true. Jackie Lawrence from Britain's Channel 4 says categorically, "You cannot form co-production deals over the phone or fax," you have to meet face to face. And Banff is a great place to do just that. With more than 1,600 delegates attending, the television festival is a forum for building relationships. "It's a business of relationships," says Steve Cheskin, vice president of The Learning Channel. What Banff offers is a chance to explore opportunities and make contacts in a social atmosphere. Every night there are cocktail receptions where you can casually talk to heads of networks and other producers to find out what their needs are. And maybe their needs will mesh with your dreams. You don’t know if you don’t schmooze.