Wednesday, March 5, 2008

How NOT to Pitch to a Studio

On your way to the studio, get stuck in traffic. Use this time to review the pitch and discover glaring plot holes. Regret your decision NOT to rehearse the pitch beforehand so that it will seem more “spontaneous.” Arrive at the studio gate with sharp pains in your stomach. Finish your triple shot latte to help you focus. Forget to ask the guard what building you’re supposed to be going to, and get lost while parking.

As you walk past the soundstages, consider how all the events in your life have led you to this particular moment. Remember the girl who sat with you in a bean-bag chair in the seventh grade. Recall her recoiling from your cold, clammy hands, and squealing, “You are so NOT feeling me up.” Consider how this has become a metaphor for every botched opportunity in your entire life.

Now realize that while daydreaming, you have walked past your destination and nearly been hit by a passing tram. Maintain your dignity by waving at the tourists, knowing that you are a Real Hollywood Screenwriter on his way to a Real Studio Pitch…

… who is now 20 minutes late.

Later, in the waiting room, when the perky assistant asks if you’d like a bottled water, say no, and then wonder why you said it. As your mouth becomes drier and drier, decline to change your mind out of spite.

As you see that there are others in the lobby with you, waiting for their own pitch meetings, notice that they all have whiter teeth than you and much cooler shoes. They speak in confident whispers. They cackle with insider’s poise. Decide that they are a bunch of arrogant hacks. Page through your notes, but discover you can’t concentrate because you’re just so… thirsty.

As you look up at the framed posters on the wall of Hollywood Classics, get lost in fantasies of success and acclaim for your final film. Imagine yourself doing DVD commentary, or swapping cocktail chatter with Woody Allen and David Lynch. Compose your Oscar speech. Become smug. This way when the perky assistant tells you that the Big Executive is ready, you can be absolutely certain that all of your lifelong dreams are entirely dependant on the next ten minutes.

Begin to panic.

Arrive in the Big Executive’s office feigning an attitude of ultra cool detachment while understanding fully that you are fooling no one. As she sits politely, her pen poised expectantly over her notebook, make small talk about how you were almost killed by a tram.

At this point, a soft, rational voice in the back of your head will remind you that she is just an ordinary person, well-meaning and intelligent, who is just as eager to hear a good story as you are to tell it. Ignore this voice.

Instead, become paralyzed with rage and paranoia. Assume that this Hollywood gatekeeper is your personal enemy, the bane of artists worldwide. To her, it’s all about box office returns and bottom lines. Know that her friendly smile is secretly mocking you – judging you. Blurt out. “You wanna know what YOUR problem is?”

Silently pray you haven’t actually said this out loud. Fumble with your papers. Clear your throat. Feel your mind go completely blank. Look down at your notes, and discover they have morphed inexplicably into Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Then, without warning, remember the first beat of your story and abruptly begin pitching. Speak so quickly that the words gush out in an incomprehensible stream of gibberish. Continually glance up at the executive’s face to gauge her every reaction. When she stares blankly back at you, betraying nothing, assume that it’s all going terribly wrong.

When you see finally see an emotion cross her face, forget that you are pitching a horror film and that her revulsion is probably a good sign. Assume instead that she not only loathes your story, but that she hates you personally. She hates the dry-clicking sound your parched lips make in-between syllables. She hates your shoes.

As you continue to crash and burn, make up new story points and new characters off the top your head. Allow these impromptu thoughts to lead you into hopeless tangents. Make up further improbable twists and absurd details; then listen to yourself explain how at the end of the second act, your heroine vomits a three-foot-long centipede. Discover, as you listen, that you are pitching The Most Insipid Story Ever Told.

But then, when all seems lost, remember your story’s electrifying climax. Rise from the ashes. Speak clearly and emphatically. Finish with a crescendo of unexpected payoff and shocking revelation. Astound yourself, but resist the urge to burst into tears.

Bask in triumph.

As you stand to leave the executive’s office and she shakes your cold clammy hand, hang on her every word. Listen desperately for any sign of affirmation. Look for any indication that you might have gotten through. When all she says is “It’s really… very interesting. Thanks so much for coming in,” know with absolute certainty that you have failed.

Lose faith in yourself. Hate your pitiful life. Abandon hope.

Hours later, sit in your little office and sulk. When your agent calls and asks how it went, explain to him that it was perhaps the worst pitch in recorded history, and that you are seriously considering giving up filmmaking forever.

“I just called her,” your agent will say. “And she said the pitch went great. She loved you, and she wants to think it over.” Knowing full well that “think it over” is code for “you are so NOT feeling me up,” assume that your agent too has joined the vast conspiracy against you.

Lastly, as you turn off the light to go to sleep, describe these painstaking details to your long-suffering wife. After the long silence, do not – DO NOT under any circumstances – consider her suggestion…

“Honey, try to get some sleep.”

“I’m too anxious. I’ve got another pitch tomorrow.”

As you lie there, staring up into the darkness, allow her fingers to lace with yours, palm pressed against palm, dry and warm. For a moment, just one moment, be content.

(by Sean Hood - originally published in Written By)


Anonymous said...

"you are so NOT feeling me up"...

Boy, I know this "metaphor" so well. Good post, Sean!

icucreate said...

Great Essay. Lots of rich mental anguish reminiscent of Woody, but with your own flavor of hysteria. I like the last bit very much. That puts all of our trips to hell in perspective. Happy endings. Good luck. - Gene Wilder, myspace tribute

Unknown said...

This was so entertaining! I am not a writer (well I feel I cant call myself one yet) however, I am an actress so I just switched the situation around a bit, me walking into the "Big Agents Office" hoping he is going to sign me so I can let my "click and submit" agent go! LOL. I love the part when "he" starts just making stuff up! I was laughing out loud for real:)

Rusty James said...


Stephen said...

So painfully on the money. Insecurity can be crippling. Seriously, this piece will be printed and kept for future reference. Thanks!

Pegarty said...

No wonder it got published. Any writer/Filmmaker/actor can identify with it. It truly is hilarious. Thank you.