I’m about to start pitching a couple of new projects around town. It’s not my favorite thing to do. To me, pitching to a potential employer always feels a little like making love to a whore. Sure, they might seem to be enjoying it, but are they secretly thinking the last guy was better? I’m not exactly a stranger to pitching. I’ve done plenty of it and my pitch-to-paycheck ratio over the last ten years hasn’t been bad. This was not always the case.
When I first arrived on these sunny shores, I was a tweedy, East Coast playwright with nothing but a few yellowing New York Times Theatre reviews to my credit. Inexplicably, I was scooped up by a big agency and assigned to a heavy-hitting agent with a reputation for aggressiveness. She scared the living shit out of me. A self-described “No Bullshitter,” she had been blessed with a fierce personality and a phone manner so forceful, I tended to hold the receiver about 18 inches from my ear every time we spoke. I distinctly remember telling my new agent that I had no idea what I was doing and that I would need lots of help navigating the shark infested waters of the movie business. No sweat. I was assured that my hand would be held every step of the way. That, of course, didn’t happen. The following Monday I was shot out of a cannon. To her credit, my agent was astoundingly good at generating pointless meetings, but that left her with little time to mentor me in the fine art of landing a job. I had no fucking idea what I was doing. I just tried to stay afloat. My first pitch was an excruciating 45 minute disaster where (while speaking in an unnaturally high voice) I managed to sweat completely through my vintage gabardine shirt. The executives were polite and actually wanted to hire me. In fact, they were planning on hiring me until they were both tragically beheaded during a studio regime change the following week. On I went, pitching and pitching, mostly in abject terror. Never booking a job.
The bottom was finally hit when I was sent to the office of a producer who was described to me as “old school.” The guy was loud, crass and had no discernable attention span. About the fourth time he interrupted my pitch to take a call, he informed me that he had no interest whatsoever in the story I was selling. Before I could lift my humiliated ass from the guest chair, he barked at me. “Space!” “Space?” I replied. “That’s what they like now. Space. And shit about teenagers.” Then his eyes lit up. I watched as a heretofore unthought-of, billion dollar idea suddenly took shape in his cortex. “Hey!” he yelled. “You got anything about teenagers in space?” I said I might, but I would need a few years to refine it. I slipped out the side door as his next call was coming in.
Shortly before she stopped calling, my über-agent took me to an expensive lunch in Beverly Hills. I had, by that point, been on the client list for a year and a half and had only managed to book one low-paying “polish” job. Although a little less terrified of her now, I still had to fight the instinct to lean back in my chair when she spoke to me. I told her I was considering taking a class on pitching. “Don’t waste your money” she said, stabbing at her Cobb salad. “Nobody can tell you how to pitch. You just have to know. You have to take your talent into the room with you.” This turned out to be the single smartest thing anyone (to date) has ever told me about working in Hollywood and I’ll always be grateful to her for having said it.
A few months later (without tears or fanfare) I quietly moved to a smaller agency. Soon after that, I began booking jobs. Why? Because I started taking my talent into the room with me. If you’d like to hear my thoughts on the art of pitching, come back next Monday. I only know what works for me, so don’t get your hopes up. By the way, if you’re looking for tons of great advice on screenwriting, please check out my friend John August’s site http://www.johnaugust.com/. John is a supernaturally talented writer-director who takes great pleasure in sharing his insight with others. You should definitely check out his site. See you next Monday. Onward.
Copyright 2008 David Dean Bottrell