What It’s Like to Pitch a Book at the Berlinale Film Festival

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For a second time, Turkey’s Kalem Literary Agency pitched a book to a crowd of film producers at the Berlinale Film Festival. Agent Nazlı Gürkaş shares the experience and some advice.
Berlinale International Film Festival 2016 (Image: Nazlı Gürkaş)

Berlinale International Film Festival 2016 (Image: Nazlı Gürkaş)

By Nazlı Gürkaş, Kalem Agency | @nazligurkas

At this year’s Berlin International Film Festival (February 11-21), the Books at Berlinale program celebrated its 11th anniversary and hosted people from around the world to take part of the festival’s glorious atmosphere. The Kalem Literary Agency in Turkey participated for the second time this year, and it was my turn to pitch our novel to a room full of film producers. Following our first successful trip to Books at Berlinale in 2014, we used our previous experience to perfect our pitch and give our author visibility in the international film world.

Books at Berlinale is a collaboration between the Frankfurt Book Fair and Berlin International Film Festival that began in 2006 and realized the vision of bringing together the magical worlds of literature and cinema. In recent years, increasing numbers of film producers are attending the event and expressing interest in literary adaptions.

Nazlı Gürkaş pitches 'Soraya' by Meltem Yilmaz at Books at Berlinale 2016

Nazlı Gürkaş pitches ‘Soraya’ by Meltem Yilmaz at Books at Berlinale 2016

Books at Berlinale sends out an open call for applications every year at the beginning of winter, and publishers, literary agents from all around the world apply by submitting novels that have the greatest potential for film. Out of hundreds of applications, only ten or eleven books are selected.

The representatives of these books gather at the Books at Berlinale program and pitch their respective titles for an audience of film producers from around the world. Each pitch session, just five minutes long, is moderated by corporate presentation coach Syd Atlas, who has been working as the moderator of Books at Berlinale for many years.

The Kalem Agency made our first appearance at Berlinale in 2014 with Hakan Gunday’s novel More, pitched by Kalem founder Nermin Mollaoğlu. Negotiations are currently underway to adapt this novel into a film.

This year, it was my turn to do the pitch. As a literary agent, I feel very confident at book fairs and literature festivals, but a film festival? It was a new experience for me. The preparation for the pitch was probably most painful for my husband who listened to me rehearse over and over.

Once arriving in Berlin, it took some time to get to know the festival, learn the jargon of the producers, and find out about events and parties—all of which are, of course, very different than in the literature world.

Finally, the moment came when I took the stage in front of a growing crowd.

meltem yilmaz sorayaI pitched a debut novel, Soraya by Meltem Yilmaz.

The author is a journalist who has been working with refugees and disadvantged groups, and her book was one of the most relevant books at the Books at Berlinale program. Soraya tells the brutal story of a young Syrian woman, Soraya Nomari, who flees with her parents to a refugee camp in Turkey from bomb-ravaged Homs. There, rape and other acts of aggression are everyday occurrences. For Soraya, there is only one way out. She becomes the second wife of a rich Turkish man who already has three daughters. And from that point, life drags her to the “unexpected.”

The drama is based on a true story, and gives us a path to empathy, which can sometimes be hidden.

As the number of Syrian refugees grows, we automatically tend to see all these people as a part of a huge problem, the resolution of which seems a long way off. It becomes too easy to ignore the personal stories, we don’t see what is behind each unique life. Soraya, in this way, is a great eye-opener that we believe has a great potential for screen adaptation.

Our hard work and preparation paid off. Following the pitch in Berlin, Soraya has attracted great attention from producers, publishers and literary agents from different countries.

Soraya was one of eleven international books with great film potential selected for the 2016 Books at Berlinale:

  • A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install (Andrew Nurnberg Associates, UK)
  • Spy Toys by Mark Powers (Bloomsbury Publishing, UK)
  • The Ice-Cream Makers by Ernest van der Kwast (De Bezige Bij, Netherlands)
  • The Trick by Emanuel Bergmann (Diogenes Verlag, Germany)
  • Hool by Philipp Winkler (Elisabeth Ruge Agentur, Germany)
  • Das achte Leben (The Eighth Life) by Nino Haratischwili (Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt, Germany)
  • Poppyseed Lemon Cake by Cristina Campos (Grupo Planeta, Spain)
  • Soraya by Meltem Yılmaz (Kalem Agency, Turkey)
  • Run Away by Guy Delisle (Mediatoon, France)
  • The Eyes of the Lake by Jessica Schiefauer (Nordin Agency, Sweden)
  • Konrad oder Das Kind aus der Konservenbüchse (Conrad: The Factory-Made Boy) by Christine Nöstlinger (Oetinger Filmrechte-Agentur, Germany)
Tips for First-Time Competitors in Books at Berlinale
Nazlı Gürkaş has a few tips for newcomers at the Berlinale Film Festival

Nazlı Gürkaş has a few tips for newcomers in contention at the Berlinale Film Festival

  1. It’s vital to read all the info sheets, news and articles about Books at Berlinale in advance. The more you read, the better and deeper an understanding of the program you’ll have.
  2. It’s good to be aware of the different genres of the novels represented. Get to know your teammates; you’re in the same boat!
  3. Keep in touch with all the people you got the chance to get to know. Keeping the network alive is the key point of the success in the follow-up of the program.

My thanks to the team behind Books at Berlinale, who did a great job to make the book representatives feel comfortable and confident: Martina, Kathi, Miriam, Míriam, Johannes, Katharina, Henning, Leila, Ina, Nastassja, Ioana and Wiebke. During the program, all the participants discovered great stories and found great inspirations with their unique help and friendliness.

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