Saturday, October 1, 2016

#5 Pitching a Script

#5 Pitching a Script

Our local screenwriters group brought a producer to town for a select few of us (first come, first served) to practice pitching our scripts.

We had read about and discussed pitching a script to a Hollywood producer. It seemed like an exercise in masochism. Reports of producers rudely doing other work, taking phone calls, interrupting with irrelevant comments or hogging the allotted appointment time with their own ideas were all too common. 

One should not expect the producer’s attention or even interest.

A successful pitch is supposed to end with the producer asking you to rewrite your screenplay or asking you what else you have written.

Nowhere was it mentioned that a pitch might end with the producer saying something like “Great! I’ll buy it!”

What I really found depressing was that some writers with connections or a referral…

(I have a friend of a friend who knows a producer who is looking for a script that sounds vaguely like your idea!)

…don’t even have a script going in. They just pitch an idea. I’ll give them credit for audacity and apparently they have about the same chance of being successful as someone with a completed screenplay. Of course, to get away with this kind of pitch, one does need some evidence of being able to actually write.

So, we got to pitch to an actual producer. I looked this producer up on the IMDbPro web site, source of all knowledge (supposedly) for aspiring actors, writers, etc. The producer had a pretty thin resume but had produced or co-produce a movie or two although they were movies unknown to me. Not that that means anything. The producer’s web site also mentioned a little directing, a little acting and a lot of classes, workshops and lectures on screen writing, producing and such.

As a former teacher, an old saw about those who teach came to mind.

The “day of the pitch” (possible movie title?) arrived. The ten or so of us chosen ones gathered in an hotel lobby at the appointed time and waited. And waited. And waited. The producer was late. We talked nervously about our scripts and what kind of abuse we might be in for. There was some posturing, not unlike what actors do during a cattle call (audition).

Finally the producer arrived all in a tizzy. Held up by plane connections, bad taxi service, etc., etc. Mostly the producer was starving. Hadn’t eaten all day. Busy schedule. Rush, rush, rush! Food was ordered. The place for the pitches was deemed inadequate and another room was found. 

Finally, the first victim was invited to face the producer. The door closed. The rest of us waited nervously.

“Sometimes they’ll just cut you off after thirty seconds and throw you out,” one of us said.

More nervous silence.

After six minutes, someone said: “Aren’t people only supposed to get five minutes each?”

More silence.

After fifteen minutes, the first writer emerged with a big smile on her face.

“The producer loved my script!” she told us. “We talked and talked all about it.”

I was number 9 in the queue. If each pitch took fifteen minutes it would be almost two hours before it was my turn. We already had waited an hour and a half.

The second person was out in about ten minutes.

“I was interrupted every few sentences but got lots of ideas for rewriting my script. Instead of a horror story it needs to be a romance,” he said proudly.

The third victim went in. We remaining victims talked about the problems of publishing short stories and novels. Several of us had done self publishing on the internet. Results and tactics were compared. It didn’t sound very profitable to me.

The third person came out looking dejected.

“I only got two sentences into my pitch and then the producer interrupted me and told me all the rest of my plot in great detail. I guess it’s been heard before.”

The event organizer consulted with the producer and then told us we were taking up too much time. The producer was tired and wanted to go to bed. We were asked if any of us was willing to drop out. No one volunteered.

“We’ll shorten the pitches to three minutes, but if the producer wants to quit early, I guess we will just have to live with it,” said the event organizer.

Really? Three plus hours of waiting for nothing? 

Eventually it was my turn. By now the producer was exhausted and thoroughly pissed. This was not what the producer had expected. 


I sat across a table from the producer who was noisily slurping up some soup.

“I actually wrote a pair of screenplays,” I began.

“No! Only one screenplay! You don’t get to do two!”

“I am only pitching one screenplay,” I replied, “but while it is a science fiction romance…”

“I hate science fiction!” said the producer.

“Well, that’s what I came to pitch, so…”

I laid out my romantic SF plot as succinctly as I could. I had practiced this pitch on others for a year so it was a pretty good pitch. The producer worked at the bowl of soup while glaring at me over the soup spoon. Not one interruption after the comment: “I hate science fiction.” I wondered what that meant.

I actually wrapped up within my allotted three  minutes. The producer put down the soup spoon and leaned back.

“I’ve never heard that plot before,” the producer admitted. “It’s pretty good but you’ll never sell it. No one buys original science fiction screenplays on spec. You need to turn it into a novel. Get it published. Get a fan following. Then you can sell it as a screenplay.”

Great! Two plus years figuring out how to write screenplays when I should have been writing novels? I had been considering rewriting the comedy about community television as a play. Why not try writing the science fiction screenplay as a novel? Obviously, my screenplays weren’t going anywhere in their current form unless I won the lottery. 

Hmmm, the lottery! No! Bad idea. Stay focused!

(To see what happens next, click on "older posts" below right. I know, this makes no sense as it takes you to subsequent posts in this series)

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