Sunday, June 26, 2022

After the pen comes the pitch

| June 5, 2022 12:00 AM

Great. I’m in a room with about a dozen people I just met, including a Hollywood veteran and several published writers, and as part of a game called Pitchstorm, I draw the required two cards. The cards provide story elements that will form the basis of an impromptu pitch I must deliver for a film: “3 little homeless pigs” and “tries to stop a ferry boat from sinking.”

As the minutes speed by until my turn, I am alternately amused and jealous of the quicker wits in this classroom at Flathead Valley Community College, the host venue for monthly gatherings of the Montana Screenwriting and Storycrafting group. Organized by Barbara Schiffman, a retired Hollywood “reader” now living in Whitefish who’s also a script consultant and published author, the group meets under the auspices of Authors of the Flathead.

One writer tells a raucous plot of a man who goes to 12-step meetings even though he’s not in recovery because “he just loves the stories — the people have such rich lives.” Another tackles a story incorporating “a surgeon with a fake medical degree” and “hunts for Bigfoot.” Others think fast to weave together “a misunderstood troll” and “tries to capture an ape on a deserted island,” and “a soccer mom” who “stops an evil twin.”

Schiffman keeps a stopwatch to alert anyone who goes too long. Then she acts the role of producer or agent by choosing a third card from the Pitchstorm deck, to suggest another element to add to our movies. After I describe a tortured Noah’s Ark-ish fantasy with stowaway pigs saving the day when their ferry springs leaks (they do it Little Dutch Boy-style with tiny hooves), Schiffman turns and asks me to add some hip-hop.

“A producer or agent might want to bring in the moneymaker — zombies, explosions,” she said. “Not only is the pitch at issue, but they’re also thinking, ‘Is this someone I want to work with, someone who can accept twists and incorporate them?’”

Despite such whims and shopping lists of higher-ups, moviemaking is serious business with big budgets and casts, of which only a few people appear onscreen. I recently watched “Cattle Queen of Montana,” not so much for Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan but for our scenery. Glacier National Park looked so good it was obvious when certain scenes played out on California sets.

The Montana Film Office this spring bestowed $1.5 million on 35 productions to film here. Recently the Daily Inter Lake received a request to send pictures of our newsroom to another producer; we’re going to be famous!

The pitching exercise gave a taste for the art of selling a movie, a feat that typically follows the first of having written the script. Four group members had already written one, and five had pitched. Many of the rest of us had credits in fiction, poetry and plays, but our ideas for the screen had not fully made it to the page.

Perhaps with Schiffman’s and others’ help, they will.

Audience development director Margaret E. Davis can be reached at 406-758-4436 or

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