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Accidental Encounters #3

18 April 2013

The scene: Paris following my two-month stint in Australia.

I’ve had my TV meetings, performed some live shows, written a series of articles, burnt some bridges and constructed a few others but so far I haven’t got the 40K I needed from a broadcaster or sponsor to fund my half of the pilot for my cooking/travel show on Algeria.

No matter: what I’ve been through so far has taught me who I should continue my conversations with and where I’m wasting my breath.

I have cut a new teaser, designed a new website, secured the interest of a respected distributor, and, while I was in Sydney, did speak with an Algerian producer who’s interested and who I’m in meetings with now in Paris. So, I guess that all counts?

“All my shows began with pilots that then became first episodes of series that continued playing five years on,” the Australian/English film producer and Doha Film Institute and Festival founder Amanda Palmer told me when I met her in Dubai on my way over to Australia, late last year.

I first heard of Amanda in 2007 via Bob Hughes, my voice coach (and now friend) in my presenter course, who helped me produce my first podcast. Amanda was head of Al Jazeera Entertainment, a department that she had founded and developed in 2005 as an internal start-up. She also had a factual TV series “48” that she created, produced and presented which I loved. It was a fresh, colourful, educational travel show.

In 2008 I was in Venice at the film festival where I’d convinced a local production manager, Iccio (I’d encountered him at a shoot for The Travel Channel in Paris earlier that year) to help me out.

We were scoping out the pool area of The Excelsior Hotel for interview backdrops, when I spotted Australian film critic and presenter Margaret Pomeranz, then, around the bend, Amanda and her team. Iccio pushed me to approach them. Amanda said she may be able to see me the next day and her producer flicked me a card.

My plan in Venice was to cut something together to help get a sponsor for Ruby TV, and a gondola in Venice. I would do my interviews in the gondola – Iccio had even sourced an out of working actor, who was also a gondola driver (the Venetian version of waiting tables). But we were having trouble sourcing a crew to do it all.

Later that night, as Iccio peddled me on his handlebars back to my hotel, I received a text message from Amanda: we could meet tomorrow, unless I was hungry now. She and her crew were heading off for dinner. Ten minutes later we were at dinner, where, apparently, I ate her soup. I can’t remember. I was too excited at her acceptance to do an interview and the use of her camera and sound crew to put it together. I would have a filmed piece to show possible sponsors and not what Iccio and I had thought we might have to resort to- filming on my phone.

For the next couple of years I’d bump into Amanda at film festivals. She had set up the Doha film institute in Qatar, which soon became the biggest film institute in the Arab world and one of the region’s biggest film financiers, and she was running the Doha Tribeca Film Festival, as a cultural partnership with “Bob” De Niro's New York festival. Then, in January, she was in Paris and suggested a coffee - having had set up her own entertainment company between Paris, Dubai and Delhi to producing films and entertainment content full time. I’d booked to fly to Australia, and coffee turned into a stop-over meeting in Dubai.

“You’ll have to forgive me. I think I have food poisoning,” Amanda announces arriving in my Dubai hotel room.

“Do you mind if I lie down?” she asks, spreading herself on the floor.

I offer her a headache tablet, washing off the glitter that has escaped from my makeup case hoping it isn’t lethal if ingested.

“So, tell me your pitch.”

“Are you sure?” I ask, looking at her horizontal on my floor.
She insists.

I pitch my show that I secretly hope she will Executive Produce or help with in some other way. She asks questions. I reply, and suddenly I’m not so clear. Partly, it’s because I haven’t slept since Paris, partly because I’m nervous about getting the project right and partly it’s because Amanda now has a pillow on her head to block out the light.

“I’m listening,” prompts a muffled voice.

So I continue – but the show I’ve been so engaged in concocting now seems dull and unremarkable. I can’t articulate its qualities, or see mine, and I start talking in long, wafty, spiralling phrases, internally panicking that I’m wasting my trip home, Amanda’s time and my life.

Luckily, Amanda gets another surge of food poisoning and suggests she leaves.
We decide to both get some sleep and meet up for dinner.

I sleep for a few hours, draw a bubble bath, drink a sugary espresso, change clothes – and attitude – and I’m ready to meet Amanda. She suggests we taxi to the new resort complex, Palm Atlantis. I want to try local cuisine but the restaurant is loud and crowded and bright and there’s no way I can pitch anything there other than a dinner order, so Amanda, seeing my hesitation, suggests we go to the Japanese fusion restaurant fittingly part owned by De Niro.

I’ve learnt that people rarely watch video links, but I ask if Amanda’s seen the stuff I’ve sent her. She says, no. We watch one of my reels on her phone and the conversation opens.

My new attitude in play, somehow, I ask if she may be able to EP the project. Her answer isn’t no. We keep talking and I learn more about Amanda’s life and business ventures. Dinner is delightful, and on the way out we pass a club (in the shopping complex still) and decide to swing in. We mix with the locals, laugh and cut it up on the dance floor, then get a lift back to the hotel with some friendly Spaniards. Amanda and I arrange to meet again tomorrow to discuss my TV concept.

The next day, at Jumeirah resort, the location of the Dubai Film Festival, I find Amanda, post pedicure, working under palm trees on her pink iPad.

The decision is to meet in Dubai on my way back to Paris from Australia in April and I’ll bring half the money: 40K. On my way to the airport in a taxi listening to Hindi music with my Indian driver, I text Amanda that I should make that 40K, and 300 Dirham (missed the airport bus and I fly out from Abu Dhabi, an hour away)… but find I’ve run out of credit on my French number so the text doesn’t go through. I enjoy the joke with the driver.

Postscript: Back in Paris, it’s April the deadline for the pilot money. My meeting with a potential producer this weekend is becoming very important.

Amanda gave me what I needed to bounce into Sydney boardrooms and I’m looking forward to our next meeting in Paris next week. So I’d better get back to finishing the writing of the pilot/first episode, so she and my Algerian producer prospect will have something interesting to produce/feed back on.