Laura_photo_filmmaking_May_2013

 

 

 

 

 

A FILMMAKER’S LIFE

Chapter (Who knows)

THE BIG PITCH

 

 

The best part about pitching a reality television series to the Arts and Entertainment Channel was hounding people about it ahead of time – forcing them to listen to my practice pitch.

I pitched at home, in the office, during lunch, over the telephone, and to Clabber at his studio, once he became duly impressed by the fact I was one of only five people pitching. Clabber heard this and stopped in his tracks.

“Wait. How did YOU get to pitch to A&E with only four other people?”

“I don’t know! I entered a contest. They invited me! You’ve got to help me. I’m terrible at pitching.”

We entered the big 25-seat screening room where Clabber premieres most of his films. I set up my Mac computer and recited my pitch.

Clabber listened closely but did not laugh at my jokes. He did not seem impressed.

“You don’t act like you’re excited about this project. You don’t act as though you’re committed.”

Nerves were taking over my body.

Clabbers stood up and demonstrated how I should deliver the lines. He wanted me to make eye contact with people in the audience.

“Make sure you memorize your speech!” Clabber remonstrated. “It’s only two minutes long. Your video is good. And don’t dance!”

At lunch over the next few days, I sat with people, uninvited, and grabbed friends as they entered Immaculate Consumption. “Hey, you! Sit down and listen to my pitch.”

People listened, wide-eyed. They liked the concept of my show: female truck drivers overcome obstacles and keep on trucking. Nobody laughed at my jokes, but they all said they would watch the show if it appeared on television.

Marco helped me the most. He timed my pitch every night several times for about a week before the event. He fake-laughed at my built-in jokes.

*****************************

In Washington, D.C., I stayed at a hotel called the Windsor Inn that was probably the dumpiest hotel I’ve ever slept in. My room was underground. The so-called “window” looked out into an adjoining hallway. The doorknob and window handles were broken. The television didn’t work.

As I sat at Starbucks the day before my presentation, my nephew sent me a photo to cheer me up. He said it was an illustration of what I should do at the pitch. A dog was sitting at the microphone saying, “Listen up, bitches.” This helped a lot because it made me laugh.

Noon the day of the pitch. We were scheduled to meet at New York University, Washington D.C. campus at 1 p.m. I was sitting at Zoup chain restaurant with my computer, watching the Suits order lunch. I had my presentation ready. My pants were too short, and my socks showed.

When I arrived at the venue, I was the second pitcher to arrive. Soon all five of us were there, sitting around and twitching. Three pitchers were women, two were men. Of the ideas I heard at this point, the one that caught my attention was about the female designers who worked for Tiffany. They did all the work and got none of the credit. The 26-year-old who was pitching that idea had an 18-month-old baby at home. She had flown a long way. She looked fagged out.

Betsy, one of the organizers, came over to announce the order in which we would pitch. I was to go last. Of course! My nerves were already on fire. That meant an extra hour of sitting around and stewing.

We filed down to the auditorium to check out our video presentations.

“How does my video look?” I asked Josh, the organizer.

“YOU don’t have a video,” he snarked.

“Yes, I do! I have a 2-minute promo that I sent in last week. It’s an important part of my presentation.”

“It’s not here. Do you have a copy with you?’

I rushed to my notebook and retrieved a jump drive. Luckily it uploaded quickly.

Things were ready to go, but I thought I would pass out from fear.

Meanwhile, the auditorium was filling up. We pitchers were instructed to sit in certain places. I was glad to be on the aisle, and that I had memorized the route to the bathroom. During the other people’s presentations, I kept having to pee. Twice I got up and headed to the restroom.

I scrutinized my ridiculously short pants in the restroom mirror.

None of the other presentations grabbed me. The 26-year-old with her great idea about Tiffany’s fell down, psychologically, during her pitch. We only had five minutes each, but she stopped talking at one point. She was almost completely unable to communicate her excellent concept.

This pitching game seemed ridiculous. Great ideas were being wasted because of stage fright.

What the hell. I walked to the podium.

“Hello, I’m Laura Valtorta,” I began. “Attorney turned filmmaker.”

I skipped any further introduction and dove into my basic premise. “My project is “Queen of the Road,” a reality television series about commercial truck drivers.”

My first joke was “These drivers lead exciting, dangerous, and difficult lives, and that’s just trying to find a place to park!” The audience (starved for entertainment) roared with laughter.

This positive reaction relaxed me. I smiled into the camera and made my way a few minutes later to the second joke. “Donna the driver warns me she’s very conservative, but her wife, Carol, is much more liberal.” Big laughter.

I played up the last few seconds of my talk with gesturing and gesticulation. They loved my video. My unfashionable pants did not matter. Several audience members came up to speak to me afterwards.

The bad part was, I did not win!

The winner was Ann Marie Dinardo, with her show called “Hostage Heroes.” This will be a narrative re-creation of people taken hostage who talk down the shooter. Ho hum.

After the winner was announced, one of the panel members came out to give us detailed critiques. He grabbed the arms of me and the winner. “It was between these two,” he said. “They knew what their shows would be, from beginning to end.”

For some reason, the panelists did not find my truck drivers compelling characters. Jeesh! If Milica, Donna, Olivia, Jae, and Adabelle are not entertaining women – I don’t know who can be. And fuck “Ice Road Truckers.“ The documentary I make will be one hundred percent different.

Delivering the pitch was fun, and the cocktail party that evening was a blast. I met Morgan Spurlock and a bunch of D.C. film people.

I recommend pitch fests to any screenwriter or filmmaker.

 

 

Laura at St. Lawrence Film Festival 2015

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Laura_photo_filmmaking_May_2013Summer Films
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
(07/14/2015)

The ending is clear once you’ve read the title, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has some fun ways of skipping through the semester toward death. Thomas Mann as Greg, the narrator, has a funny, geeky manner that causes him to mimic a regretful polar bear and doubt every breath he takes. He and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) make films that parody great works of the cinema, such as “2:48 p.m. Cowboy,” and “A Book of Slips Now.”

Things get more serious when Greg is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to befriend a high school classmate suffering from leukemia. Greg and Earl decide to make a special film for her.

I want to read the book by Jesse Andres and see how Alfonso Gomez-Rejon could have directed this better. Whether the book is as predictable as the film remains to be seen. Luckily not ALL the adults in this story are complete idiots. Greg’s mother has the right kind of heart. His buff, tattooed history teacher, Mr. Matthews (Jon Bernthal), is a welcome relief from the notion that everyone over 30 hasn’t got a clue.

The best thing in this film is Thomas Mann, the lead actor. Also, the films he makes with Earl are very entertaining and I wish we saw more of them. This film is an homage to independent filmmaking as an art.

The setting, in Pittsburgh, is refreshing. I love Greg’s fears about college. Seven out of ten.

Pupo SicilianoLaura Marco Marco Simona Solano Cavi di Lavagna (GE)
Supermarkets, Stores, etc.
(06/22/2015)

NOI SIAMO SOCI DI IPERCOOP. If you want to buy food in a Walmart-type atmosphere, Ipercoop is the place. We shop at the one in Cogorno, where we purchased a membership several years ago. Ipercoop is a cooperative based on the communist history of cooperatives In Italy. Most of the supermarkets in Liguria are communist. They operate much like Sam’s Club, but with communist propaganda.

I like Ipercoop. It costs about 25 Euros to join. I can find almost everything here, including books and fine cheeses. They don’t have lavelle, however. The cashiers are seated. You pack your own stuff in bags that you pay for or bring along. We got low-price tickets for the Expo here. Hard beach shoes for 9 Euros.

I MEDICI. We ate dinner with two doctor friends in Sestri Levante. It was a fabulous evening on the beaches and winding through the crowded streets. Before that I ate a bunch of fish. The other three, Marco and the doctors, ate pasta and fish. Doctors are judgmental but not very self conscious. They scarfed down about 500g of pasta, each, and then lectured us that 100g of pasta would be too much for one meal.

LORENA. I think that Lorena’s grocery store is the best place to buy food in Cavi. I fear the Anchovies, like the ones in that first episode of Sponge Bob. Anchovies cannot form a line. When Marco and I shop at Lorena’s, we buy a lot of stuff: zucchini with flowers, fruit, bread, cheese, a crostata. If the Anchovies want to buy only focaccia, or a couple of peaches, they push ahead. They barge into that tiny space and act impatient. Anchovies are best eaten fried and covered with lemon.

Today we’re shopping with the Saracens. Sarzana is a tiny town in the low mountains about 30 minutes from here with a strip mall and that great furniture store, Grancasa. The people there are short and thin with slanted eyes. They want to help; they want to sell. The prices in Sarzana are pretty good.

I’m getting sick of the beach. Bring me that cappuccino and that spremuta di pompelmo! Then leave me alone. No more bare butts and hairy chests. No more swimming! The good thing is, I’m getting the updates done on my book – Social Security Disability Practice.

We plan to go back to the Expo on Wednesday. My idea. I want to see the Brazilian pavilion, early morning, before the Anchovies show up. Last time, on the long metro ride to Rho, I saw some interesting sights. There was a family of foreigners, and the woman was large. Three kids, two parents. They were traveling the metro with luggage. When the baby started crying, I thought – Oh, no. But the large woman had a solution. She pulled out one of her breasts and started feeding the baby, no cover. The baby stopped crying and ate. Everybody stared. I said, “Wow,” but Marco noticed nothing. I had to tell him the story later.

Before the Expo, I want to eat breakfast at Alvin’s one last time. Here’s hoping the people will be amusing and abundant.

Cavi di Lavagna (GE)
Surviving in Italy
(06/20/2015)

LAVELLE. Every time I arrive in Italy, I relax into a nice shower or bath. The bathrooms are generous and the water clean. I get all the hot water I want because of the on-demand water heaters. Then, to wash my back, I reach for a washcloth. Arrrrgh! They don’t have washcloths here. I find a sponge that’s been hanging around for 12 months. It’s scratchy and suspicious. Maybe the cleaning lady used it to wash out the bathroom before we got here.

Last week, there was a revelation. Marco called from the shops with an excited voice. “I found washcloths. They’re called ‘lavelle,’ and they are here on sale. What color do you want?”

“Yeah! The color doesn’t matter! Just buy a bunch of them.” Marco came home with a pack of nine purple ones. Perfect. Now I can get REALLY clean.

PORTA CON TE LA TUA RICETTA PER OCCHIALI. This year I made another discovery. The opticians in Italy will make you a pair of prescription eyeglasses without a prescription. Caspita!

I’ve been begging the moronic American ophthalmologist to give me a prescription for reading sunglasses with dark lenses. Not just the bottom part at 1.50 – the whole lens. This is so I can drive. I can’t read the road signs without reading glasses, so I’ve been wearing reading glasses UNDER my sunglasses.

At first the optician in Italy was suspicious, but I insisted. In Italy you can shout a little, and I’m bigger than they are. “Hey! Just give me sunglasses with 1.50 lenses. The whole lens.” I chose some cool Italian frames, 20 % off. I was afraid they wouldn’t do it right — maybe give me some half-assed, bottom reading glasses. Then the sunglasses arrived. Perfect! And they look good on me. Now I can actually see the road, and read the road signs. I ordered a second pair with pear-colored frames. Any tourist who knows her lens strength by heart can do this. Also, they can test people’s eyes at the optician.

MATTERASSI AROTELLATI. Marco and I shopped at Grancasa and discovered that you can buy mattresses here that are rolled up and compressed until they are lightweight and about a foot in diameter. We bought a single mattress for the house in Cavi. “Ffffffff.” That’s the sound the mattress made when we unwrapped it and unrolled it. For 24 hours it filled with air. Last night I slept on it. Very comfortable!

PRIMO MINISTRO MATTEO RENZI. Americans who travel to Italy should know, at least, the name of the Italian prime minister – Matteo Renzi. Watch him on TV. He looks like a good old boy with a fancy haircut. Most Italians are “up” on American news. Unfortunately, the recent front page headlines here have been about the massacre in Charleston. Owning guns in Italy is illegal, so Italians don’t understand some of the problems we have in the U.S. with mental illness and guns.

Everyone in Italy knows about President Obama. Some Italians follow news about the Supreme Court justices. The death penalty does not exist in Italy, so the newspapers report stories about that.

Italians have no idea how large in area the United States is unless they have spent time in the U.S. They may know about New York and California, but not Texas. Italians may not realize that most of the United States is rural.
Laura and the Angolan women 061515

Laura and Marco in hats at the Expo 061515

Laura and the Angolan women 061515
Milan
The Expo
(06/15/2015)

I’ve been watching Channel 50, the Feltrinelli channel, here in Italy. There are several good shows – “Posso Dormire da Voi?” is the best. Antoine travels around the world with a GoPro and asks people if he can sleep at their houses. I love their expressions when he invites himself to stay over. “What? Sleep here?” in this way he exposes the heart of how they live in Namibia, Uruguay, and places like rural Cuba.

The other day, Channel 50 had a spot on Davide Oldani – a would-be soccer player from Milan who broke his leg and became a famous chef (very pretentious and always on a cell phone). The show had him driving around Milan in an expensive car, going from his restaurant, called “D’O” (think “Homer Simpson”), to his food tent at the World Expo now taking place in Milan. When I saw the risotto he was serving, with a ring of lemon/saffron sauce, and a pile of crumbled panettone in the middle, I needed to eat some. It was the only reason I wanted to attend the Expo.

Surprisingly, I loved the Expo. Marco and I attended on a Monday morning when there were fewer people. We took the Metro to Rho, arrived around 11:30 and saw the Prime Minister of Spain give a short speech. Then we found Oldani’s food booth. It was just like on television, and the risotto was different and delicious.

The Expo is a big outdoor area, about a mile long, with pavilions from various countries that explain their local food. I liked the openness of it. I never felt crowded.

The most interesting pavilion was the one by the government of Angola. I stepped in and never wanted to leave. We were greeted by various friendly Angolans and a poster of President Dos Santos. The building was a spiral. Around the outer walls were various posters and interactive screens about food in Angola; beekeeping, raising cattle, and various grains. In the center, and rising to the top of the spiral, was a tremendous display in the shape of a baobob tree, featuring videos of women in Angola who work as fisherwomen, doctors, dancers, businesswomen, scientists, and government ministers. There must have been 50 women featured, with their names and professions. I couldn’t stop looking at these beautiful women telling their stories. This pavilion made me want to visit Angola.

Instead, the Korean pavilion made me want to stay far away from that country. “Our food is best,” it seemed to say. “Koreans are better than you.” I found this pavilion very boring.

Overall, the Expo was beautifully grand with lots of modern sculptures. We ate the famous risotto. I purchased the book by Davide Oldani. Marco chose a cowboy hat from Sudan.

Marco and the Meccai June 2015June in Italy
Food/ Cibo
(06/10/2015)

Yesterday I watched a short, hairy man eat a fried octopus tentacle dipped in yogurt sauce. He sliced off a piece, ate it, and closed his eyes in ecstasy. I ordered a salad of chopped, boiled calamari – very tender — and a mixed salad. Everything was covered in lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. We had frutti di bosco for dessert. This is the real Italian food: fruit, vegetables, and fish.

When we stay in Italy, I almost always lose weight from the walking, the swimming, and the healthy food. It’s easy to avoid carbohydrates because the fish and the fruit and vegetables are excellent. Gelato is made from skimmed milk, so I trick myself into thinking it’s okay.

I’m swearing off the pizza this year. In years past, the choices have been pizza margherita (cheese and tomato sauce), quattro stagioni (ham, artichokes, onions, and olives), or maybe marinara. You don’t choose individual toppings here. The crusts are very thin and crispy. No oil.

This year my favorite grocery at the beach is about 20 by 20 feet large. The woman who runs it brings in produce from her family’s farm up the hill – usually cherries or zucchini. She has the cheeses I like – Gorgonzola by the huge, green, runny slice; Emmenthal; goat cheese, and farmer’s cheese.

The best part about this grocery is that the owner is nice. She wants to talk. She opens half an hour late one day (5:00 p.m.) because of a lengthy conversation with a friend. She has a country attitude – not a snooty one. Her hair is short and streaked with blond highlights. Her body is fat. She is bavarde but not loud. My type of person.

One day when we bought groceries, there was a loud shout from the bench outside. Inside, a kid with a bronze face and a tiny ponytail responded, “Arrivo, Enrico.” Outside the store was a huge, fat, retarded guy. The kid was his sitter. The store owner was apologetic. “Non vuole stare a casa!” So the retarded guy was spending his morning hanging out at the small store. Psychiatric hospitals in Italy closed in the 1960s.

The next day we drove to Leivi, a small village in the mountains, to a restaurant with an incredible view run by a dark brown Genovese woman. She is sour, short and thin – an excellent cook. The tomatoes and salad come from her garden. We ate manzille de sea in pesto sauce – a thin, silky type of pasta that is the best in the world. The sour Genovese woman was happier than usual because her attorney/daughter now has a paying job (after two years of unpaid internship). But she found something new to grouse about – the influx of immigrants from Africa.

On the way back to Cavi we stopped by a truck filled with blueberries (mirtilli) and bought more than a kilo. Blueberries are my favorite food in the world. These came from American plants imported to Italy. The berries were the shape of fat spaceships and tasted very sweet.

Photo on 6-8-15 at 6.21 AM #2 First Days in Italy
Who Will Save Me?
(06/07/2015)

Who will save me from these loud-talking Italians? Will it be Hanya Yanagirhara (author of the excellent novel, A Little Life, now living in my reader? Will it be a new Italian/French TV travel show – “Posso dormire da voi?” Or will it be Marco, whose head is now the color of a sour Ligurian cherry, after we swam three times in the Mediterranean today? (Sunscreen – ever heard of it?)

Of course the answer is Marco, because he is an Italian like no other. Marco is a citizen of the world.

I also rely on Hanya Yanagihara, whose brilliant novel gives me respite and escape in the hot apartment in Cavi, when we are not swimming (the cold water is the only place that brings relief) in the Mediterranean that was today flecked with yucky debris from the passing yachts. Or raw sewage.

We sweat. We walk to Bagni Aurelia and swim. We open our computers, we read, we drink cappuccini and spremute d’aranica. We gaze at the strange Italians, so loud and demonstrative with their children – kissing and kissing them (I approve of this). We get naked, and we swim.

Lunches are fish and salad at the local restaurants. Dinners are light and eaten at home. Tonight we had cherries, gorgonzola, Emmenthal cheese, chunks of bread and gelato (limone, fiordilatte, nutella, e fragola). Acqua frizzante.

The people at Bagni Aurelia, (where we have a cabin and an umbrella plus two chairs on the sand, where we eat lunch at the ristorante), are like comic book characters. There is Stefano, the sarcastic Sicilian proprietor and Silvia, his mousey wife. There is the stream of fogey neighbors who ask about Gioia, Clara, Ross, and Dante. There is the elegant, nut-brown barista girl, the self-conscious lifeguards (don’t I look great in my red T-shirt and tight shorts?) and the hairy men in small bathing suits and ugly sandaled feet.

On the beach, we see the topless women lying prone in the sun, and the coconut vendors – “Cocco. Cocco bello!” There are the Africans and Moroccans selling towels and sunglasses. One of the African women, wearing a long cotton dress, carries a basket of towels on her head.

At home I read A Little Life. I cry sometimes at Jude’s plight. I sleep on the sofa and sweat. Then we descend the steep driveway to the street. We walk under the train tracks. We emerge on the other side, walk past the comic book characters and swim.

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