Movie Making Manual/Pitching/Elements

What is an "Element"


Remember that seventies band Earth, Wind & Fire? Actually, in film parlance, an element is not one of the four classical elements - nor one of the 101 modern elements. It is, instead, a well-known cast or crew member. Jude Law is an element, as is Yuen Woo-ping, the famed fight director.

If you have an element, studios and independent investors are inclined to give you money. You will get more money if you have signed Jude Law than if you have signed Yuen Woo-Ping, but both are enough to make your project a "go."

How to get an Element

The Harvey Keitel Part

This phrase was coined by Affleck and Damon and the method was explained by Peter Biskind in his great book 'Down and Dirty Pictures' and expanded upon during the launch of this book in the UK. Here's Peter:

"You really have to have a good script and a fairly bankable star attached, just like Jack Nicholson in 'About Schmidt'. That's a little bit of an exaggeration. The paradigmatic story, I think, is the way Matt Damon and Ben Affleck went about getting financing for 'Good Will Hunting' they knew the story of Quentin Tarantino attracting Harvey Keitel for 'Reservoir Dogs' and Harvey Keitel being the key factor getting Live Entertainment to finance the film for $1 million. So they wrote what became the Robin Williams part and they used it in 'Good Will Hunting' and used to refer it as the "Harvey Keitel part".

That's what they did. They wrote a very self-contained part that a major actor could do in a week so it wouldn't interfere with his or her schedule, and they gave - I think Robin Williams got 30% of the gross for doing that tiny part. They got their deal based on the script and when Miramax got hold of it, they started to do what they often do which is the film went nowhere. But when Robin Williams committed to that role, it got made in a minute."

So the key to attracting a big star for a small film is to write a self contained part which you can shoot in one location in under a week. This they can easily fit into their schedule and so it becomes attractive to them.

First, you need to decide who would be great for your part. A small part for a crotchety grandfather who used to be a cop? Try Clint Eastwood. Once you have decided who you want, you need to attempt to contact them. Direct contact is always best; if you know anyone who knows them, or if you can arrange to bump into them, take these options. If direct contact is not possible, make contact with their agent or manager. Here are some resources for finding managers or agents.