[WINNEBAGO MAN director Ben Steinbauer pitches at the 2009 MeetMarket at Sheffield Doc/Fest. Photo from the Sheffield Flickr stream by Jacqui Bellamy.]
One of the things that made Sheffield stand out a few years ago was their deviation from the traditional pitching forum concept and a move toward a more personalized, one-on-one exchange between filmmakers and potential funders. They called it the MeetMarket.
The concept was brought to Sheffield by Festival Director Heather Croall, a creation from her time at the Australian International Documentary Conference. Since then, the MeetMarket concept - having decision makers prepare in advance by watching clips of films and reading proposals, followed by meetings with filmmakers on projects they have interest in - has begun to spread to other festivals, leading many to wonder if the days of the IDFA-style pitch forum are behind us (or should be, in any case). Amongst the MeetMarket success stories: THE ENGLISH SURGEON, KINGS OF PASTRY, THE SOUND OF MUMBAI, ONLY WHEN I DANCE and this year's festival favorite, GIVE UP TOMORROW.
We exchanged some questions and answers with MeetMarket Director Charlie Phillips recently - talking about the current state of festival pitching concepts as well as the MeetMarket's European focus.
All these wonderful things: When you were first talking about having this kind of industry, pitching element, how important was it to you to not do a traditional pitching forum? And how has it changed since it's inception?
Charlie Phillips: I can't take all the credit for the format of it because Heather invented it when she was at the AIDC in Australia, and then brought it to the UK in 2006 for her first Doc/Fest. But I can certainly say that since I organised my first MeetMarket in 2008, we've intensified the personal and bespoke attention we give to everyone. I know that in '06 and '07 there were a lot of educated guesses going into the matchmaking, whereas from '08 onwards, it's been more 'true' matchmaking in the sense of spending all year gathering information on the needs of buyers and documentary-makers, seeing what they're doing, and what they need, and then using that long-term intelligence as well a short-term wishes for meetings to create something that's really reacting to specific personal needs and not some general idea of what the industry needs or what will play well on a stage.
ATWT: Did you feel like the forum concept was broken?
CP: It wasn't so much that there was a feeling of the pitching forum being broken, more that every festival and its dog was hosting a public forum, and they needed to be complimented by meetings that actually got business done and allowed for candid conversations. You'll notice at any public forum how many times buyers will react to a pitch by saying "well, we're meeting later to talk about this" or "we met yesterday and we talked in detail about this" and it just seems like you might as well cut out that showcasing of stagey reactions and go straight to the personal meetings instead. That's not to say that every public pitch only has 'pretend' reactions but there is a lot of disingenuousness in reactions around the table, and that comes from a fatigue about feeling like you should be there rather than it actually being useful. I know that earlier in the decade before MeetMarket existed in its current form, that feeling was even more acute. Now that we're offering these personal matchmade meetings, I think it's actually empowered the big public forums, which now themselves feel more relaxed, smaller and more relevant.