On pitching.

August 3, 2008

So I spent a large chunk of today listening to people pitch and trying to help them be more fabulous.

Here is a decent way – not the world’s greatest or anything, but you won’t die of embarrassment – to pitch:

“Okay, I have this script ILL, it’s an action thriller about a former Special Forces guy who has to go to North Korea and rescue his ex-girlfriend, a US-born Korean girl who disappeared while visiting relatives in Pyongyang.”
(pause)
“So our lead is [blah blah blah reasons why he’s awesome and could kill you with a roll of paper towels], some backstory about the world this is set in, what happens to catapult him on this journey.”
(pause)
“And then here are a few big twists involving nuclear weapons and action set-pieces and the conclusion.”

That is totally fine. Some people just do not dig action thrillers set in Korea. Or maybe it’s eerily similar to a project you never heard of, set up at Fox. Or everybody hates action thrillers right now and is really looking for teen pregnancy comedies. You can’t do anything about that. But it’s doubtful that someone will go “You’re retarded” if you pitch in that way.

On the other hand, here are ways to start your pitch that are pretty bad:

“I have this script ILL. So first let me lay some backstory on you. In 1942, a remote tribe in what would eventually be North Korea found this magical amulet that turned people to stone and stuff–”

“I’m really interested in Korean food. I got really into making kimchi while I was researching this–”

“Here is the opening scene. Here is the next scene. Here is the scene after that. I’m going to keep talking until you make me stop.”

“My main character is this guy who’s emotionally broken due to all the awful wars he’s been in, so he can’t really connect with his girlfriend even though he totally loves her and wants to give her babies, so she gets all cranky and dumps him and storms off to Korea–”

“Thematically, this is about loss and emotional isolation.”

“This story came to me when I was bicycling through Connecticut a few summers ago. I’m really into heirloom apples, so I was visiting all these farms that grow them. Here’s a map of my route–”

“This is probably a really bad idea, but–”

It was amazing to see how very hard it is for writers to tell you WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT. Don’t tell me what happened when someone was 12! Tell me the genre so I can visualize tone in my head (it’s awkward to have to ask “So… is this a comedy?”) and then tell me what it’s about. Keep it pretty short. People are NOT going to like your story more if you talk about it longer.

It was also interesting to notice that Confident Person is much more pleasant to listen to than Neurotic Person. Neurotic people give you sympathetic nervousness in the pit of your stomach! And you feel all awkward for them and hope they don’t start crying or sweating!

And you know what? I HAVE BEEN AROUND THE BLOCK. I knew ALL OF THE ABOVE ALREADY but I guess it hadn’t penetrated my brain. For some reason. Isn’t that bizarre? But I think I get it now. The next time I have to pitch anything, I am going to pretend that I am supremely confident in my ability to produce awesomness, and not going to go “So this is about AGRICULTURAL TERRORISM and THEMES OF TRADITIONAL MASCULINITY and it’s probably a PRETTY STUPID IDEA, but–”

Everyone I know, stand by to have me practice pitching you on stuff constantly. FUN.

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