Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Pitch. If You're Bored I'm Bored

Harvey Weinstein (The Weinstein's Released my thriller,  "True True Lie")

I spent 8 hours yesterday being pitched to by writers and producers all over the world.  Literally all over the world. They flew in at their chance to pitch their scripts to about a hundred production companies in the hopes of scoring a deal.  Okay, now, I’m not claiming to be a pitch expert myself, lord knows, I feel like a used cars salesman when I have to pitch an idea to someone – and even the sound of it coming out of my mouth, I instantly have an urge to pop a Dramamine pill to stop the nausea, but the fact of the matter is, its part of Hollywood.  Luckily I haven’t had to do it too much because I generally produce my own projects, so usually its more of a business pitch like – it’s a thriller with Ray Liotta, and then the honest investor says, “Honestly I’m not gonna read it, what is it about? “ And then I reply, “It’s about a woman who brings good luck to high-rollers” and investor/broker says, “Oh like, the opposite of The Cooler?”  Boom.  Concise.  Done, it’s interesting enough they got the hook, we can move onto more interesting subjects like, “How much can you invest and what’s our start date” type dialogue.  You see, the story could be about a girl who brings ice cream to high-rollers and that investor could give a rats ass what it’s really about – so long as it’s a thriller (as opposed to a quasi-multi genred movie that they can’t relate to) some names they know that mean something somewhere, and they can get a return on their investment, and God knows I prefer it that way.  The less they want to be involved with the script, the easier life will be for me, less is more

You see, I am hardly interested in having an hour long “creative” conversation with the money person. Not because I don’t care, (and I am speaking in the independent money world) but if the person is strictly “money” and they spent their life being a business man or woman, or owning an oil rig, or diamonds or Persian carpets, and decided they want to dabble in Hollywood because it’s exciting to them, because they think they will get toc rub shoulders with blond actresses (in the hopes of rubbing other parts of their bodies with blond actresses) then pitch what they are interested in (which may have nothing to do with your story) but more to do about – the parties they could go to, and hanging out on the set, and shooting in their home town so they can show off how cool they are to their friends. You see, how did they suddenly become an expert in plot structure?  Because their not. Let the creative be the creative, and let the money people crunch the numbers.  That is an ideal situation. I have dealt with the latter, but that’s a whole different gallon of Kool Aid, and I will blog about the creative/money person on a later date. 

Let’s get back to the pitch, the writer's pitch, which is usually to a producer who has the attention span of a gnat.  So if I must pitch something, it bloody well be something catchy where you get the whole concept in about a sentence or two or consider the person in front of you is going to take what I like to refer to as an owl snooze (a snooze with their eyes open) if they're polite.  If they are less polite they just go about returning emails on their smart phone in front of your face, while you sink into your chair, and wondered why you spent $650 on your round trip ticket to LA (hotel included) when you could have been having sex with your ex-girlfriend who said you’d never make it in Hollywood (fuck her by the way, I mean figuratively, at least you’re going after your dreams).

So the pitch;  there are no hard and fast rules about pitching, but here are some things that I hope will help you, and this is mostly based on speed pitching to many tables of producers, where you have restricted time to get your idea across.

Sit down, with a  friendly, relaxed smile (not creepy, not anxious,  not desperate, just calm like you’re sitting in front of a friend you haven’t seen for a while and you’re just happy to be there).

If you are freaked out, and nervous, and your hands are shaking, and it's obvious, I suggest you say, I’m sorry, I’m a little nervous, I’m from a small town (or something truthful).  It will put everyone at ease, because if you feel that way, we start to feel that way, it’s like contagious.  And if a producer, responds to your honestly with a snide remark that makes you feel worse... well fuck that guy.  He’s not worth working with anyway, and probably couldn’t do anything for you and needs to act in important because he was the booger guy in grammar school and needs to flex his power now that he has an ounce of power in his half-assed development job, where all he really has the power is to to say "no." 

You don’t need to shake anyone’s hand necessarily, (if this is one of those speed pitch summit things) we know you’re in a rush to get your idea out.

I honestly prefer someone to come in with 1 or 2 ideas, “genre” films generally are going to get a lot more interest (thrillers, action movies, horror).  I guess because internationally blood and death don’t need dialogue we can all understand what’s going on even if it’s in Hebrew, whereas comedy can be difficult internationally to translate because it’s dialogue based.  It can be overwhelming if someone has 10 screenplays of all different genres, we start to get the “jack of all trades vibe.” It’s okay if you do have all those screenplays but decide on what to pitch based on who you are sitting in front of.  If you pitch a couple ideas and the producers aren’t interested, they may ask, “do you have anything else” or you can ask, “Would you guys be interested in a western?” 

Also, practice your pitch your mother or your hair dresser.  If they don’t brighten up after your 3 sentence pitch and go “cool” or add something to it that validates it’s a good idea, then it’s not a good pitch.  We are not smarter than, your mother and your hair dresser. If they don’t get it we won’t get it.  A good pitch is concise and easy to understand.
Here’s a don’t.  Don’t let us know that your color copies of your one sheets are expensive, or your business cards were expensive so don’t take one unless we really want it. That’s absurd.  Then print it in black and white, or go  VISTA print and pay like $10 for 250 business cards. We don’t give a shit of the quality of your paper, but you should always have something to give. Then it’s a true product.  You’ve exchanged something in the hands of someone.  It might not be a screenplay you gave, but it’s something tangible, more than a verbal pith.  Maybe the producer doesn’t event want the one sheet, but certainly he’s not going to say no to a business card.

Here is an example of a simple one sheet.

Title: Killer Writer
Genre: Dark Comedy
Written by: Josh Writer
“Logline: A Desperate writer goes on a killing spree after he gets rejected by every producer in Hollywood.”
Synopsis:  John Wilson, a struggling writer in his 30’s, after being rejected by every producer in town decides he is going to settle the score and creates a hit list to get rid of every producer in town beginning with the A’s.  As he begins to plot his killing spree, and has managed to kill three producers, he gets a call from a studio head telling him that he wants to buy his pitch.   This sends Josh into a dwindling spiral of guilt, but he takes the gig anyway despite his mental state.  He makes the front cover of Variety, and starts to become a famous writer, but then realizes he had much more satisfaction in finishing his mission on killing off all the producers he has pitched to. 

Contact: Josh Writer

Okay now here is example of a success speed pitch meeting.
A handsome Jewish writer (late 20’s) sits down in front of a hollywood producer, SHARON MAX, who has a cold sore in the corner of her mouth which is half heartedly covered up by concealer.
Writer: Hi, how are you?
Producer: Good, what do you have for me today?
Writer: I have two scripts one is a thriller the other is a dark comedy.
Producer: Let’s hear the thriller.
Writer: “ A Russian spy falls in love with an American girl who is traveling in Russia, and they join forces.
Producer: Does that take place in Russia?
Writer: Yes,
Producer: Sorry that won’t work for us what else do you have?
Writer: I have a  dark comedy.The location can be anywhere.
Producer: Great, lets hear that one.
Writer: “A shulmpy guy in his 30’s is bored with his mundane life, and opens up a escort service.”
Producer: Oh that’s sounds interesting, this is a feature?
Producer: ”how many pages?”
Writer “85”
Producer scribbles “pass” on their pad of paper next to your name but the writer doesn’t see this. Why, because feature scripts aren’t 85 pages.  It’s too short. Should be like 105 to 120
Let’s rewind
Producer: “How many pages is it?”
Writer “About 107.
Producer: “great, why don’t you email that to me.”
Producer slides business card across the table, writer slides one sheet across the table that has their contact info on it.
There is still 2 minutes left to the meeting.
If the produce asks you a question like “Where are you from?” They want to know more about you, they are asking you personal questions, why? Because they wanna know if their dealing with a psycho, or if they can work with you. Just like you’re deciding whether you want to work with them.  If you bothered to look them up, and can mention something they done, like “Hey you worked with BLAH BLAH actor, he seems really cool, what was it liked to work with them?” I mean, shit you bothered to look them up. You care. After you pitched, maybe the producer isn’t interested in your ideas but it’s still a contact, you can always get their contact info on IMDB Pro, you can put your business card down too if they don’t want your one sheet, and they should give you a business card back, but if they don’t you can politely ask, and if they don’t then look them up. They’re not gong to remember that you were the writer they didn’t give their business card too.  When you do a follow up email two weeks later.

What else.  Oh yeah. When you pitch something, it’s gotta be a new unite of time every time you pitch it.  If it sounds like you’re bored, I'm bored. You don’t have to be an actor, to do this, but your concept needs to be concise. So practice it to your friends.

Before you pitch, there may be one producer there, or more, make sure you have everyone’s attention before you launch into it – or at least most everyone’s attention.  It just takes a quick silent moment sometimes of sitting their comfortably for the producers to settle into listening to you, you’ll know when their ready.  You can even ask politely, “You guys ready? Okay great.

If you are struggling with getting a high concept pitch together, and sometimes the script is just more character driven so finding an interesting pitch can be difficult to formulate – in which case – I just name drop in the pitch like this “It’s a dramady in the world of ping pong, ensemble cast similar tone to  The Big Chill.”  I don’t know how great that pitch was but it’s better than” There’s this girl, and she likes this guy, and they fall in love, but there’s a love triangle.” What the fuck does that mean? If I pitched it to you would you be interested in hearing more about the story. No. it’s boring and unoriginal. 

I found that the best screenplay book (and I am NOT BIG ON SCREENPLAY BOOKS!!) there is a section in the, Save The Cat “Chapter 1” What is it?”   The section is on creating the log line. It’s the most concise description with examples of how to create a great log line,  that I have seen in these pedantic screenplay writing books. Check it out.

Another thing on pitching. We don’t care about your shitty attachments. What I mean by that is. We don’t care about your shitty attachments. Sorry, I will clarify.  When you say, this is a no name director who wants to direct, and this no name actor or level c actor is attached, it doesn’t bring anything to the project.  And I will clarify.  If you are a writer and you want to direct it that’s totally okay, but include a demo reel of your work, and a short you did.  If you honestly don’t mind of there is a different director than you say that too.  But if it is your baby, then don’t act like it ain’t your baby. It may be more difficult to get financing, but you also have to keep your integrity in, if you really do want to direct the film. This also goes for if you are an actor/writer. It’s totally okay to attach yourself.  I’ve produced a bunch of features that I starred in. But as the budget gets higher I always made sure that there were other roles I could play, that way it’s a mix and match of me flanked by movie stars.  There are also screenplays I wrote, that I didn’t mind not being in, and there were also movies I produced that were a paycheck for me that I didn’t write or act in.  But the cleaner the project is the better. Don’t feel like you need to have attachments to be cool.  
When you say this is based on a “true story” we generally don’t give a shit if it’s a true story unless it was “newsworthy” like there was either an article in the news about it that we can find the link to online, or a true story from a book you adapted, that you got the rights for.   It’s not that unusual for writers to write about things they have experienced. 

Now, the other approach is the real earnest approach if it applies.  Which is, “This is a story about my life in Arkansas, growing up where I was a prostitute at the age of 14, and I’m not proud of it.”  Dude, you got my attention. That’s your pitch.  But you either pitch it third person or you pitch it first person, don’t switch halfway through it (rarely does that apply).

All right, what are my lost remarks. Oh yeah, you don't need to put a date next to when you wrote your screenplay (the unsaid rule) is - "You just wrote it!"  All though, I find that this is bull shit, producers like things that are "fresh off the press" if it's a screenplay that you wrote 10 years ago - and it hasn't been made then they think "no one wants it why should they." I know, it's stupid, but the easiest way to handle this problem is to not put any dates on the one sheet next to your screenplay.  Another thing is (update the date on your title page to something within the last 3 years).  I've known writers to change the title of some of their old screenplays (um, me) so that it gets a fresh look at it.  Frankly it's all bull shit, but why reduce your chance of getting your screenplay produced because you wrote it 10 years ago. 

I hope this helps.  One again, take everything with a grain of salt, this is coming from a comedian, writer, producer who has written, produced about 14 indie movies/TV pilots. I am sure there are many other more qualified people out there with pages of more credits than me on IMDB who have won Oscars but, this is my two cents, and is really only an effort to help you, if it helps you.

Thanks Camille Solari

If you would like to hear future antic dotes about my experience in Hollywood - please subscribe to this blog


  1. Hey Camille - thanks. There were a lot of really good tips in here. I appreciate the referral to the book and that you said that this whole idea about a script being 10 years old means they don't want it. Shit, Casablanca is over 60 years old and it's still an amazing story.

    You rock. Good luck with the book!

  2. Love the perspective! Also, I may have to appropriate "owl snooze" - with credit, of course.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. Thanks for giving the view from the other side of the table, Camille!
    I think my last pitch for A BEAUTIFUL FISH was before La Vie en Rose - I was amazed all day at all the helpful comments all of us writers got. Fantastic experience!