Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Twisted Confessions and Atramentous Musings of A "Broke" Writer (The Pitch)

There are seminal moments of particular paramountcy within a postulant writer’s journey. These moments can be as minuscule as a writer's initial purchase of Final Draft or as gargantuan as the first time we type the words “The End” after one hundred plus pages of laborious work on our first feature. The moments act as proverbial lighthouses that guide one securely through the otherwise turbulent seas known as a "writing career". Few “lighthouses” loom with more intimidation than the writer’s first professional pitch meeting. (A pitch meeting is when a writer meets with someone of relative importance in an attempt to sell their script.)

“A large part of being successful comes from knowing your strengths and weaknesses.” Not sure when/where, but I’m fairly certain I’ve heard that phrase uttered a time or two throughout my life. Although my next statement will be dripping with the unbridled hubris of a meth-fuel Kanye West competing at your local elementary talent show, I’ll write it anyway. I’m a damn good writer. I put "pen to paper" with the ease, brilliance, and similar consistency of Stephen Curry shooting a basketball. Yeah. I think I’m that good. The “writing” part of being a writer isn’t an easy task by any measure, but I’m very comfortable with that aspect of the job. The "business" part of being a writer is where the challenges arise for me. And one could reasonably argue that “pitching” is the most critical component within the business side of my chosen profession. So while I'm not lacking confidence in regards to my ability to compose words to form an amazing story, I’m substantially less proficient in the art of pitching that aforementioned amazing story.

My first pitch became a reality after I had the good fortune of having an encounter with a film producer while at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. He isn’t one of those guys with an IMDB page that's littered with credits that no one outside the families of the cast and crew know. This producer has produced more than a few films you’ve heard of. None of which I will tell you. During our brief interaction he asked me one question outside the topic of Sundance. “What do you do?” To which I replied confidently and proudly, “I write.” “So what’s your script?” The only thing I said was the film’s genre. Literally nothing more. He raised an eyebrow, smiled, and gave me his card. I emailed him a week after I got back from Utah, his assistant replied, we set a date and time for a pitch meeting, and that was it.

Fast forward a few more weeks and the day finally came. After a stressful drive over to his offices in Santa Monica, and a few angst ridden minutes that felt like eons in the lobby, I was ushered into a spacious conference room for my pitch. I would love to tell you that was a roaring success. That I'm now a lot richer and that it was the Gettysburg Address of pitch meetings but... it wasn’t. However, it wasn’t a complete dumpster fire. In short, I probably could not have been the worst he's seen but I surely wasn't the best. As hard as I tried I don't feel like I gave an articulate account of the story. My story. You’d think the person who wrote the damn thing would be the one person that could accomplish that essential task. When the conversation was focused on my script, which was about half my time, I was nothing more than an agglomeration of nerves, mumbling words when asked simple questions about my story. Oddly enough, once things steered toward talking about myself, I was far more relaxed and spoke with much greater enthusiasm. Not sure if that speaks more to my inability to pitch or to my furtive narcissism.

Once we finish discussing everything I thanked the producer for his time, gave him a physical copy of my script, which he promised to read over the next few weeks, and that was that. Like seemingly everything a person does in their life, hindsight has offered me a myriad of different choices I should’ve made. In retrospect, I can admit that I was terribly unprepared. I spent most of my time before the meeting tightening and polishing my script until it was near perfect, instead of actually practicing my pitch. I should have drilled that pitch over and over until I could recite it backwards… upside-down… blindfolded... in Mandarin.

My second mistake was not having enough passion. Which I’ve been told is a HUGE part of pitching. Just having an overwhelming amount of passion and confidence in what you’re pitching can be the difference between success or failure. Now all have I left to bank on is my script and the hope that my writing is strong enough to sell my script because my pitch wasn’t. I can envision this opportunity ending in one of three ways. Realistic best case scenario, maybe the story isn’t right for his production company but the writing is cogent enough to warrant more opportunities to pitch other scripts to him. Worst case, my script’s in the trash and I’ll never talk to him again. Fantasy best case scenario, he options my script, makes my movie, I get rich, and develop an addiction to cocaine and Brazilian booty models. (That’s partly a joke. Which part… I won’t say.) 

I'm not a glass half-full guy but I can reflect on a few good things about this whole experience. Speaking to the assistant in the front, who was also a writer, I realized how rare this happening was. The assistant has been working with this producer for a couple of years, sits less than twenty feet from the guy Monday through Friday and still hasn’t been able to pitch anything himself. So when he learned that I got this meeting not by way of a manager or an agent, but from a random meeting at Sundance, he was shocked to say the least. Win, lose, or draw, I was able to secure an actual pitch meeting with a multi-millionaire producer with nothing more than the words “blaxploitation, kung-fu, revenge thriller.” That’s it. I didn’t even tell him what the story was. As I said earlier, I only gave the story’s genre. (The script is titled “The Telling Of The Untold Legend Of Sonny Whispers”. The title character takes his namesake from an alternative moniker of my older brother Shelton. And the title was a suggestion of my friend Al Green and no not THAT Al Green. Thanks fellas.) Maybe one day you’ll see Ol' Sonny Whispers in movie theaters. If you like, you can actually read it. Just leave me a comment saying so and I’ll happily email it to you.

Either way, I’m glad it’s over and I’m even more glad I did it. Just getting that meeting was an accomplishment. There are countless writers and directors in this town that would perform a variety of unspeakable sexual acts for a mere handshake and hello with that producer. I got thirty undivided minutes of this guy's time off the strength of my story's unique nature and the confidence I oozed when he asked what I did. If anything that's something and I learned a lot about the process of pitching. Mainly that I need to get better at it but I learned something. I HAVE to and WILL get better at it. The art of pitching that is. Because like I said, I’m a really, really great fucking writer and THERE will be a next time. And after it's over, I'll be here to write about it.

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