‘London TV Pitchbox’ success stories: Coldline & Salon Pictures
London TV Pitchbox is the Filmarket Hub live pitch event dedicated to British series in development. Seven curated projects from our online marketplace are selected to pitch in front of leading TV executives from the UK industry.
First edition (September 2018) included an engaging case study on Peaky Blinders by executive producer Jamie Glazebrook and was attended by executives from companies such as Channel 4, Entertainment One, Ingenious, Lionsgate, Sky, The Fyzz, UKTV, and Virgin Media.
We are delighted to share one of the success stories from the first edition; Coldline (one of the seven selected series) is now officially in development with Salon Pictures. This is the raison d’être of Filmarket Hub. We exist to matchmake projects in development with the industry, enabling more projects to go into production.
We gladly invite you to hear from the two parties involved in the success story; meet screenwriter Harry Smyth (Coldline) and development executive Annabel Wigoder (Salon Pictures).
Harry Smyth // Screenwriter of ‘Coldline’
Harry Smyth is a screenwriter and Development Executive based in Brighton, UK. He has conceived and developed one-offs and series for Channel 4, BBC, Sky, Discovery, History Channel, Comedy Central and more.
Filmarket Hub: Can you tell me about your journey as a screenwriter?
Harry Smyth: Sounds cliched, but all I’ve ever wanted to do is tell stories. Yet life isn’t always straightforward, and I ended up working in factual programming and documentary. It’s certainly storytelling, but not the kind I envisaged I’d be involved in. I never stopped writing prose and screenplays (and reading them, which I found to be the best kind of research) in the hope that I could make fiction my main output. What I didn’t know was how much my documentary background would influence my fiction writing. Those two fields came together when I conceived Coldline and became what I hope is one of its best format points.
Can you give me a brief synopsis of Coldline? What genre is it?
Harry Smyth: In terms of the plot: Detective Lee Holden solved a high-profile case, culminating in him killing the perpetrator of a series of heinous murders. He then retired, wrote a book about it to great success and a true crime documentary on the case followed. Thing is, it was just that: a story. He got the wrong guy and he knew it. But when no one else did and he was lauded a hero, he went along with it. His new high-life snowballed on and he became intoxicated by the narrative the world believed about him and his heroics. It seemed nothing was going to come out of the past to bite him in the ass. Until now. An anonymous tormentor who knows the truth is suddenly on the scene and playing games with him. His detective partner during his time on the force, Katherine Emerson, is unknowingly dealing with a case which may be a consequence of the real perpetrators still being out there…and she’s making connections to Lee that he’d rather not be made. The past is ready to rear its ugly head. Because, as Lee’s always feared, lies can’t disguise themselves as truth forever.
Genre-wise: Coldline is a limited crime series that uses a story structure which interweaves both the reality of the characters’ lives and what is fashioned to look like a true crime documentary concerning the case several years prior to our main timeline. What is born out of this alignment of two usually opposing formats is a dance between total objectivity and unreliable portrayals by narrators with their own agendas.
How did you come up with the idea for Coldline and for how long have you been developing the project?
Harry Smyth: I wrote the original draft of the pilot roughly two years ago when I began to notice that the packaging and presentation of true crime docs were becoming indistinguishable from crime fiction. The cinematography, score, editing…it has all the bells and whistles of fiction. It’s also clearly as manipulative as fiction in terms of wanting you to feel a certain way and using everything in the cinematic arsenal to achieve it. I started to toy around with the idea of a scripted show that gets to have its cake and eat it too, showing audiences a faux true-crime doc that establishes what the wider world believes about a case and the individuals involved, and then contrast it with an unfolding narrative that reveals all the discrepancies in the story, what really happened and the dire consequences once the truth catches up to the protagonists.
Where there any references that inspired you to write the story?
Harry Smyth: I could mention countless shows and books that have inspired me, but the genuine trigger was the real-world crime obsession that’s taken hold. People have such strong opinions on cases and events, but what they know is the documentary or the reportage, not the reality. The tagline I came up with was “the truth is just a lie everyone believes”. Everything flowed nicely once I got that notion down as my core principal for the series. I only had to turn on the news or go online to know it felt timely: the lines blurring between fact and fiction in our everyday lives is very real. My aim is for Coldline is to reflect the concerns of an audience living in a post-truth society right back at it.
What was the development status of the project when you decided to submit it to Filmarket Hub and London TV Pitchbox? What materials did you present online?
Harry Smyth: I had written a draft of the pilot and a treatment/bible, both of which I submitted to Filmarket Hub for the Pitchbox event. I’d been sitting on the material for about a year and thought ‘why not?’ I had been told good things about the platform by a friend and it proved to be a sound recommendation.
Once selected, what were your expectations and goals for the pitch event?
Harry Smyth: I wanted to make some contacts in the scripted world. But essentially, my main goal was to get something that existed purely as a figment of my imagination into someone else’s head so they’d believe in it too.
As a screenwriter, what was your experience of pitching at London TV Pitchbox?
Harry Smyth: Very positive. The community of creatives trying to get projects off the ground felt like a supportive environment and the input offered by the Filmarket Hub team ahead of the event was very helpful. On my end, I mapped out every single word of my presentation, no ad-lib. In my eyes, that was fundamental. It gave me a way of feeling in control of the way my idea was put forward. I wanted to give it the best possible shot at resonating.
What has been the process for you since London TV Pitchbox and the subsequent agreement with Salon Pictures?
Harry Smyth: Right now, I’m beefing up and bettering the script. Annabel/Salon and I really see eye-to-eye and their input has been amazing. I couldn’t be happier with how they’ve engaged with the premise and how hands-on they’ve been. Together we’re adding more meat to the bones of what I’m happy they thought was already a sturdy skeleton.
What advantages do you think the Filmarket Hub online marketplace and Pitchbox events provide both talent (like yourself) and the UK Film and TV industry?
Harry Smyth: The world of film and TV can seem impenetrable. Services like Filmarket Hub offer a different way of drilling into it. Any new weaponry in terms of how to break in should be welcomed.
What advice would you give other screenwriters trying to sell their first script?
Harry Smyth: Give yourself room to fail: write more than one. A hell of a lot of people jump ship once they get knocked back a few times, but staying power and learning to fail better are key attributes you need for this industry. I’d also say that the proactivity required to get yourself out there and make things happen is as important as the ability to write well. No one’s going to give you a break if you’re not actively looking for one.
Would you recommend Filmarket Hub to producers looking to spot new and emerging talent?
Harry Smyth: Absolutely. I think there are a lot of hard-working, talented individuals on the platform. But I’d also add that the creatives themselves need to push their own agendas and get out there, too.
Do you have other projects currently in development?
Harry Smyth: Always.
Annabel Wigoder // Head of Development at Salon Pictures
Annabel is Head of Development at Salon, and has also taken on a producing role within the company, producing The Billion Dollar Game, a feature documentary on the record-breaking video game franchise Grand Theft Auto. In 2019 she will produce Audrey, the definitive biopic on Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn. Before joining Salon, Annabel worked as Development Executive on feature films including Quartet and The Invisible Woman, and TV series including The Man In The High Castle for Headline Pictures, and as a script reader for UK production companies including Film4, BBC Writers Room and Focus Features. Annabel has produced short films and music promos in a freelance capacity and branded content under the Endemol Beyond production banner. She has a degree in English Literature from the University of Leeds, a Masters degree in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester, and is a produced playwright: her comedy musical toured the UK and Australia, playing the West End, the Southbank Centre and the Sydney Opera House. She was chosen as ‘One to Watch’ by the Edinburgh International TV Festival.
When was Salon Pictures founded?
Annabel Wigoder: Salon was founded by Nick Taussig and Paul Van Carter in 2013, to make feature films and documentaries. Our first release was the football documentary Gascoigne and we’ve since expanded into feature films, TV drama and branded content.
What is your production focus and what type of projects are you scouting for?
Annabel Wigoder: We do like a recognizable brand name (we were BAFTA nominated for our Alexander McQueen documentary McQueen, and our David Bowie film Stardust is currently in production in Canada) but we also have projects across every genre from low budget horror to big budget action, plus a literary adaptation or two. We like our talent to have strong voices and work with a keen awareness of genre and audience.
As an attending executive, what was your experience of London TV Pitchbox?
Annabel Wigoder: It was a great day out! Jamie Glazebrook gave a fascinating talk about Peaky Blinders and there was a really interesting variety of projects pitched, from true crime to superhero stories to name a few.
How did the project Coldline stand out to you?
Annabel Wigoder: Harry’s background as a producer meant that he had put together a very well thought out pitch, and his project is a spin on the true crime genre which of course is still going from strength to strength. So it was a combination of a good idea and good preparation.
What was the follow-up process like for you? From the pitch event to reaching a formal agreement?
Annabel Wigoder: I liked Harry’s pitch, we chatted after the event, and he followed up with the script, which my colleagues and I read and really enjoyed. I felt it needed a little work before it was in the best possible place for a commission, so we engaged Harry to write a further draft, which we’re going back and forth on at the moment.
What are the next steps for Coldline?
Annabel Wigoder: We’re working on a new draft and will take it out to broadcasters later this year.
What benefits do you think the Filmarket Hub marketplace and the Pitchbox events provide the UK TV and Film industry?
Annabel Wigoder: It’s a great place to see a variety of pitches from new talent, which otherwise might not come across our desks.
Would you recommend Filmarket Hub and Pitchbox to other industry development colleagues and executives?
Annabel Wigoder: Absolutely!
Filmarket Hub opens its call for projects for the UK Online Pitchbox — a two-day pitch event dedicated to British feature films and scripted series in development. In partnership with Film London, this brand new online initiative aims to discover high-quality unproduced projects, either at the script stage or with some finance secured and match them with leading companies in the industry.
Confirmed participants include BBC Films, Curzon, Entertainment One, Film4, FilmWave, Gaumont, Lionsgate, NBCUniversal International Studios, Protagonist Pictures and Studiocanal.