How to make a photonovel... part 2 (THE PITCH)

Yes, we should totally DO that! 
Wait. How do we get money to do that...

Last week, I began a new series on my involvement in a year-long intermedia project, "the Joplin Undercurrent". It's a mystery commissioned by the Joplin Missouri Convention & Visitors Bureau, told in words and photographs through a blog type of format.. 

A truly one of a kind project.

I don't know about you guys, but as a creative, I often have an instinctual thought pop into my head when I have an original idea. That thought comes from the magical singing unicorn of inspiration, softly playing ukulele ballads of my genius and originality (or, even the genius of those around me). And that thought sugarcoats. It dreams, as it needs to of course, but it dreams beyond the truth and blows right past the big picture. 

That thought goes,  "What you have is different. Because it is original, it will sell."

The mental confetti is released, your idea is put onto a pedestal [ornately chiseled by the unicorn] within your head, “yes, it has to sell."

So it's not a total lie, because of course originality, when combined with talent and productivity, is very valuable indeed. But it's still a half-truth, because you assume your excitement is enough to convince others of that value. Your idea being original- and therefore, purely from yourself or from your creative team- is valuable, in an artistic sense only… for now. It may not at all be valuable in a practical sense. And $$ always flows from the right brain, not the dreamers' side of the head. 

Does this mean, take the common road? The road of 'big macs sell best, so why create a new dish?' Well you know better than that. It doesn't mean give up, it means prepare yourself for one hell of a pitch. 

The pitch:


THE PITCH is something we all have to walk through. A portfolio is a pitch (buy my stuff, see it’s good). A meeting with a client is a pitch. A call to an art gallery is a pitch. A submission to a publishing company is a pitch. 

You find yourself walking a very fine line, in nearly any creative field- how can we create something beautiful, original, and from the heart- while supporting ourselves and our ideas financially by convincing others of our creations' practical value?  

It's really, really hard sometimes. And you have to be sure you're prepared to handle that before you jump into it full force.

This is why, in the book "Steal like an artist” , author Austin Kleon says: 

steal like an artist austin kleon quote keep your day job

When you’re not creating for a living, there’s not so much pressure on that pitch, and you have more freedom to explore what exactly it is you're doing. When you are creating for a living, like I am and many others are- there's so much more riding on it. I've come to embrace that challenge, but clumsily; it's still terrifying every time, and I do understand the folks that just want to create without that pressure- and can continue doing so part time, with another job to pay the bills. 

There are many ways to do prepare the pitch, and of course it varies according to what you’re pitching. But you start by separating yourself from the idea for a moment, and asking yourself some big questions. 

It is imperative that you do that, before the entity you’re pitching to (we’ll call them the pitchee?) does that first and finds you awkwardly unprepared to answer. It helps to go through this with others. You know that friend that you think of as the naysayer ? Debbie Downer? The unsellable Molly Brown?  The friend you hesitate to talk to sometimes, because rather than getting excited about your ideas immediately, they begin questioning it first?

YOU NEED THAT FRIEND. Those friends you have to really SELL on your ideas- those are the ones you want sitting in with you on the “big picture meeting”. And here’s the questions you have to ask of your idea, as our little 3-person team (Carrie, Lance, me) did, playing the part of 'that friend' to eachother: 

  1. What story do I have to tell
  2. Why am I telling it
  3. What makes it any better/different than any other story being told
  4. Why would anyone pay me to tell it (or pay to consume it)

    And, if you’re bringing ’the client’ in on the beginning of that process, 
  5. How do I prove I know HOW to tell it
  6. How do I need to adapt the idea for the funding source


Lance and I had it easy, in a sense [in that particular phase]... someone who represented a funding source (the Joplin CVB) was already interested in working with us to create a photonovel, and the idea largely began with them in the first place. So we had an advocate and teammate in that process from the beginning, rather than another person to convince up front. But we DID have to sell a series of other individuals- including Carrie's boss Patrick [who ended up being very gracious and open minded with the project] and the advisory board to the CVB- the folks who actually approve the funding.

I can’t begin to tell you how good this process was for me, because it forced me to learn how to better address those questions, alongside others who were more accustomed  to addressing them than I. Lance is more experienced with pitches from his time in the writing and marketing world (hundreds of submissions over the years), and Carrie could step foot into both the artists' world and the practical one as a creative dreamer who is also responsible for the very concrete goal of helping establish Joplin as a tourism destination.

We did that through several meetings, throwing that “what-if” around, and determining how a fictional story could be an entertainment/art piece and also promote tourism to our home town. Could these two things co-exist without one side winning over the other? The best story might not be the best marketing.  The best tourism piece might not tell as strong a story. And we had to figure out how to set this up as a great investment before we even got to anything else. 

We got to work. Within a couple of months, Lance had drafted a proposal, I’d taken sample images, and we’d set a meeting with the CVB advisory board to see if they’d approve a budget for this project for the following fiscal year. 

Here is one of those concept images... never used for the project itself, but something I shot to try to convey they mysterious look and feel of what the project would be. I still love those shot, captured around midnight on top of a bluff, pitch darkness, lit w/ a 20 second exposure and a couple of LED lights. 

[trivia: the subject of this photo is none other than Caleb Murdock, star of our previous project "Cold Brewed"]. 

sample image taken for "the Joplin Undercurrent" pitch

sample image taken for "the Joplin Undercurrent" pitch


Then we waited.

A  few months later we get the word… we had the green light. Oh gosh...



See you next week. I've split the series up as follows: 

  • INTRODUCTION (how'd this thing start?)
  • "THE PITCH" (gotta get the moneys)
  • PRE-PRODUCTION (the script, the auditions, and assembling a team)
  • SHOOTING (how to think like a filmmaker)
  • POST-PRODUCTION (finding a format)
  • NOW WHAT? (phase 2?)