Visual Style And Gripping Stories Are “Pitch” Perfect
David M. Russell/AMC
The non-fiction series is not a new venture for AMC. They’ve previously aired "The Talking Dead," a half hour companion piece to their popular drama "The Walking Dead," and "Comic Book Men," the Kevin Smith series that explores the inner workings of comic book stores. AMC is now defying the world of reality programming by taking viewers on an ad agency’s seven day ride from concept meeting to final presentation in each episode of its TV documentary series "The Pitch."
Presented by Studio Lambert, "The Pitch" follows two advertisement agencies that are competing over the opportunity to create a promotional campaign for a major brand. The personalities of each agency’s development team are revealed during the "pitch" development as they invest every moment of their lives into the creative process. Joel Stillerman, Senior Vice President of Programming at AMC, felt the exploration of this process and the way it manipulates the people responsible for it was a perfect fit for the "Story matters here" channel.
"We have general creative filters that we look for: the idea of being genuine and authentic, shows about characters that you get to know as real people, and we also are trying to raise the bar visually in the shows that we do," said Stillerman. "We thought ‘The Pitch’ was an unbelievable opportunity to combine all three of those qualities."
The cameras begin capturing the action before the first meeting where the major brand will present the item or concept they need a campaign for. Story producers with single cameras follow the creative heads every step of the way, from the moment they obtain the assignment through the aftermath of the pitch process. Roughly six cameras are placed in the meeting room where the concept need is laid out and the pitches are presented seven days later, allowing the emotions and reactions from all sides to be captured. Studio Lambert’s Vice President of Development and Current Programming and Executive Producer of "The Pitch" Aaron Saidman’s first challenge of presenting this format was getting the agencies on board. He used his experiences producing "Undercover Boss" as a starting point.
"We made 2,000 outgoing calls to book the pilot episode (of "Undercover Boss"); that show was scary for corporate America because they had never seen it done before," said Saidman. "With ‘The Pitch’ it was even more intense because these ad agencies are used to being the ones that control the image and the messaging, so for them to be in front of the camera was a complete role reversal. Psychologically, that was a real transition for them, something they had to get used to, and something we had to make them feel comfortable with."
Any initial discomfort that might be present when the cameras start rolling quickly falls away during the days where the agency copywriters must develop text and the best means of delivering it. Page ads, commercials, songs, social media and all other forms of advertisement must be fully realized in order to be displayed during the pitch. While the end result of the creative process is visually interesting, the process itself is rather static. The challenge editor Brad Dean shares with the editorial team is sifting through roughly 350 hours of footage per an episode to find the cinematic images that best convey the stories behind the process.
"You can’t set up a camera and tell someone to be creative," said Dean. "When the camera is rolling for that amount of time and you have only 42 minutes to tell story and to express the stress and tension, you find little pieces; every little shot that tells the story."
Relying on the guidance of supervising producer Rebekah Fry who shares an objective view of the story lines to follow, Dean and his team have the ability to ask the cinematographers for specific shots that aid the story threads. Static images often highlight the struggles the agency’s team members are experiencing, such as a trash can filled with adverting awards or a desk overflowing with fast food containers and crumpled papers. While these cut-aways help reinforce the personal tensions and difficulties the team members are experiencing during the creative process, Dean is very conscious of maintaining an even pace throughout the episodes.
"I never felt pressure to have a thousand cuts and force the pace," said Dean, "I felt the freedom to hang on a shot that leads to the dramatic effect because it’s a show that’s not only about the pitch process and advertising, but it is a show about the people involved and trying to get into their lives a little bit and getting to know them."
Saidman and his team were excited to meet the high aesthetic caliber of programming required by AMC. Eager to change the visual format many associate with reality shows, each episode of “The Pitch” has a cinematic style akin to documentary filmmaking. Saidman carefully considered every aspect of storytelling necessary to illustrate the subject matter, depicting the ad agencies’ creative processes as the glue that binds the series while simultaneously presenting each episode as a stand alone unit.
“We felt this show needed to break new ground, and we were happy to violate all sorts of ‘rules’ from our industry,” said Saidman. “Whether it’s being on a shot longer than in a typical reality show, or in the way that it was scored and shot, and the way that we didn’t ask everyone in an interview to speak in the present tense, we knew that we had the freedom to make a documentary. That was very liberating for us as filmmakers.”
Due to the high volume of material shot for “The Pitch,” digital HD cameras are used, which goes against the grain of the majority of AMC’s original series. While “Hell on Wheels” is shot on the Arri Alexa, AMC’s other scripted dramas are shot on film. Stillerman feels the quality of the footage seen in “The Pitch” matches the aesthetics of all AMC programming and illustrates a sense of care and attention to detail that normally is not seen in reality programming.
“(The Pitch) is very composed and very cinematic,” said Stillerman. “It’s kind of cliché to say it, but the technology has come so far. I think the cinephile might be able to tell the difference. I point to examples like ‘The Social Network’ as a beautiful looking movie (shot digitally). Granted, it was shot by a phenomenal director of photography in Jeff Cronenweth, but in the right hands digital can be incredibly beautiful.”
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