If there’s one thing I hate about being a screenwriter—it’s the pitch.
Doesn’t anyone realize how unnatural it is for writers to be delivering pitches? Hello? If we were “good in a room” we wouldn’t become reclusive writers who like to spend hours on end alone with a computer in the first place. There have been many times when I wanted to shout “Damn it, Jim! I’m a writer, not an actor!”
But whether I like it or not, pitches are part of the job and for those of you who are aspiring writers, here’s a rundown of the process of a recent round of pitches.
First off, don’t believe that you can just come up with a guaranteed blockbuster movie idea and it’s just a matter of going around to studios pitching your brilliant idea of “Zombies in Outer Space.” It doesn’t work that way anymore. Execs are only listening to pitches about known properties with a built in audience.
So in this particular case, I came across a book that had a fresh take on the YA genre. Since the YA genre is particularly hot right now, my agent tells me for the first time in history that “this is commercial.” I live and breathe in the world of noncommercial dramas, so that’s a shocker.
But I still can’t go and pitch this without a producer on board. So I had previously worked with a producer on a project that didn’t pan out, but we had a great working relationship and wanted to find something else to work together on. My producer friend is able to get the “shopping rights” to the book because it wasn’t particularly a best seller and has been relatively low on the radar. A lot of times, the rights to a book with movie potential are snatched before it even goes to print. (But you’ll see in Part II how being low on the radar has big drawbacks.)
First we figure out how we are going to adapt this to film. My producer and I spend months cranking out our ideas and making the story “pitchable”. We’ve deviated quite a bit from the book in order to make it more cinematic and we’ve filled in logic gaps. The protagonist becomes more active and other characters are killed off to centralize the story.
We come up with our pitching strategy and decide to pitch in tandem, so she’ll do some talking, I’ll do some talking and we’ll go back and forth. That’ll help keep our audience from dozing off while listening to the same voice drone on.
Now we have my reps listen to us practice pitch. My reps give us notes and tell us how we’re doing on time. 20 minutes is the usual timeframe I’ve used. I’ve heard some people say 10 minutes, but inevitably when I try to get my pitches down to 10-minutes, it’s never enough information.
My reps give us some pointers like “more movie moments” and since this is a young-adult book, we get the note “more Twilighty”. We go back and work on the notes—add movie moments, make it “more Twilighty” and even kill off a couple more characters. It’s sounding much better now.
Once the pitch is honed, we practice some more while my reps set up a list of meetings with execs. We practice, practice, practice, until we’ve got it just about memorized.
In Part II, I’ll cover what happened once we were sent off to the front lines.