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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

I’ve got this big pitch meeting coming up.  I’ve been in them before and they make me very nervous.  Do you have any advice about how to get through another one?

Kelly from Florida

This week's Answer: 

Preparing For The Pitch

Yes, Kelly, I do have some advice about getting through pitch meetings.  As soon as you walk in the door and see four staring execs, three frazzled development people, two tired secretaries (and a pooped agent on a cell-phone!  Sung to the tune of “On The First Day of Christmas” – or “On the First Day of the Beginning of my Arduous Pitch Meetings,” announce that you need to get over to Paramount in fifteen because they’re bidding on the same project and they don’t like to be kept waiting.  That should do it.  Unless you’re already at Paramount.  And, in that case, tell all the vacant-eyed “we’ve seen it all” crowd that you just heard from your agent and you’ve just signed for a three-pic deal so you probably won’t even have the time to work on this project unless they can make an offer you can’t refuse.  But, come to think of it, that could be a problem, too, especially if your agent is already in the room and is one of those difficult types that doesn’t like to lie in order to succeed.  In addition, if the “what do you got ‘cause it better be good” group actually told you that it was going to make you an offer that you couldn’t refuse, you might be in the wrong room (I keep warning writers to beware of pitching at companies like “Vinnie and Luigi’s Make Me Laugh Or Else Productions. -- and wrong part of the city) and soon be trying on some new cement shoes at the bottom of the nearest river.  Not that cement shoes aren’t very nice.  A little out of fashion, maybe.  And definitely not easy to dance in.

I understand your dilemma about the angst that can come over you when you attend one of those meetings, Kelly.  I’ve been there.  And done that.  But here’s a different way to look at it, if I may be so bold.  Tony Robbins is big on reframing.  And I’m not talking about his house.  Or an oil painting.  Why not reframe this situation and see where it leads you?  If I’m reading your correctly (literally and figuratively), you have reached a point in your writing career where you actually have the opportunity to talk to real, live studio people (reminds me of the “pitch” to the male population about coming into dark, alcohol-infested, strobe-lit rooms where the “stronger” sex is told they can see “real, live” nudes.  As opposed to “real, dead” ones, I guess.) who really walk and talk and have titles like “executive producer” and “co-executive producer” (“co” can be a very cool word to tell people that you are.  Try it.  Out of nowhere when the conversation has died, just cavalierly mention that you’re a “co”-something or other.  Co-waiter.  Co-temp worker.

Co-co-guy.  Careful there, though.  They may think that all you do has something to do with chocolate.) and “senior vice-president of development of co-productions by co-executively produced and developed productions of consulting co-producers and co-creative-executively-produced productions.”  (Can you imagine what it would be like to be the president of that deal!?  Did you know that they get those titles by throwing drunken parties and laughing their heads off while making up more and more outrageous names that they can call themselves?  Don’t be intimidated by those self-aggrandizing words.  They all have to get up and go to work like you do.  Although, probably not as early.  Really, though.  Don’t be fooled by appearances.  Open any page of the Creative Directory and it’s likely that a good amount of those people you see are no longer working at those companies.  Or, at least, have new titles such as “co-executive custodian in charge of creative affairs.”

Forget all the hype and posturing that goes on in those rooms.  Remember:  the higher up those people go, the more worried they are about falling.  Of course the room is usually tense.  There’s a lot on the line.  There’s big money at stake.  But the key is to stay with yourself.  Remember that you have something to offer that may solve their problem.  And, believe me, they have problems.  Just decide that you have the solution for them.  You have the script that will put them back on the map (or, at least, allow them to buy a new one).  Here’s a few pointers for when you walk into a pitch meeting:  1) Be yourself.  (If you’re anybody else, your agent won’t know where to send your 90%.  I do believe that if agents were truthful, that’s how they’d see their relationship to their writers.  “He’s taking 90% of my hard earned money that I toiled for by making that two minute phone call!  We agents need to form a union and fight for our rights and not let those greedy writers take advantage of us!”  We’ll call it AAW.  Agents Against Writers.  We’ll show ‘em.  2) Remember which script you’re pitching.  (Pitching a slasher film to Do Good Productions might not cut it.  Bad pun.  Sorry.) and finally... don’t forget to 3) Wow them with all the charm and pizzazz you can muster because this is your moment, your moment in the sun.  Your destiny calls you.  Your one chance to lift yourself out of the morass known as your pitiful, miserable life.  You’ve got to shine for all you’re worth or forever fall into the fiery pit of shame and self-condemnation.  Whatever they want, give it to them.  Even if it means compromising yourself and surrendering the last ounce of your self-respect.  Do whatever it takes for them to utter those immaculate and holy grail-like words that will change your life into the happy ending you’ve always craved:  “We’ll get back to you.”  Or, an alternative number 3 would be:  3) Breathe.  And don’t worry.  Whatever happens, you can always be a “co-screenwriter in charge of her own co-creative destiny.” Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?


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