The wind up, the pitch — strike out!

March 13, 2012 § 6 Comments

I had a good laugh today remembering a bizarre pitch meeting that I experienced years ago with my then writing partner. Now, I’ve probably had seventy-five pitch meetings over the years, but this was straight out of an alternate universe. Luckily, our agent at the time (we later found out his best days were back in the 70’s in television) got our comedy spec to an “A” list producer with a long and successful track record of films. This guy’s poster wall stretched down a very long hallway and contained an impressive collection of $100 million earners. While they were considering our spec, they believed we were perfect to write the next in a long series of successful dog films headed straight for DVD. Apparently, we were “the guys” and they “loved” our writing — especially the comedic tone of our writing. They wanted the same tone for this dog film.

Well, they passed on our spec and the deal fell apart when the studio dropped the project and they told us, “the studio said they don’t know how to make such a small budgeted film.”  I recall the budget hovering somewhere around five million dollars. I still laugh.

CUT TO: A year later — we’re making the rounds again with a new pitch and now meeting with the same “A list” production company. We arrive at their new Beverly Hills digs to find our guy in an office, behind a large window and busy holding court to a table of suits. The receptionist politely notifies us, “He’s in a meeting and will be out soon.” So, we sit and wait.  After a few minutes, he spots us in the lobby and quickly pulls the blinds in the office. Okay, weird.

So, we wait… and wait… and wait. It’s now been twenty minutes. My blood sugar has dropped through the floor and I’m in panic mode shaking with sweats. I tear into the pantry and grab a juice and rifle through their cabinets desperately searching for a protein snack. I find some cookies or chips, I don’t remember… but now we’ve been in this Godforsaken lobby forty-five minutes when our guy strides out of the meeting and says, “Gentlemen, good to see you. Come on down to my office.”  Whew, okay progress—we’re going to have the meeting.

Now, this guy was their “head of talent” or some bullshit title. His claim to fame was discovering an actress who is very talented and if I mentioned her name, you would recognize her and know her work. Cool. Good for him. He keeps a photo of her pinned up on his corkboard as some badge of achievement or something. Weird. I also recall this guy always wearing a sports coat that was strangely two sizes too small and looked like it belonged on a child. His loafers were horribly run down and I recall him always complimenting me on my nicely polished shoes. And they were always nicely polished for a meeting. I believe in the little details of life and always being a professional. You can tell volumes about someone just from their shoes. Ever see a guy in a $1,500 suit trying to sell you something and his shoes are cheap and worn? As writer Joe Gillis says in my favorite film Sunset Boulevard: “Rudy never asked any questions.  He’d just look at your heels and know the score.”

Our guy starts with, “So guys, what do you have for me today?” That’s our cue to start our pitch. My writing partner swings into action and begins the dog and pony show.

pitchIt’s going well, and it’s about thirty seconds in when our guy stands up from his desk and shouts, “No, no, it’s bullshit, all bullshit.  It’s fake. Fake!  Nobody wants to see fake!  Just stop, I don’t want to hear anymore.”  He rounds the desk and grabs his crotch and shouts, “It doesn’t have any balls!” My partner and I stare in wide-eyed disbelief.  Now, during our past meetings we’ve had producers look bored, roll their eyes, shift their focus, even squirm in their seats, but NEVER cut us off at the start of a pitch and NOT want to hear the rest. We tried to cover our shock the best we could, but this train was already off the rails and was now a smelly, hot and steamy mess. We had no clue how to recover from this train wreck.

Our guy apparently knew. He regaled us with a story about a nephew who recently sent him a ten page e-mail about an elaborate story involving a guy who shined shoes at the airport — yes, my friends our guy was now pitching us. We listened politely, but in retrospect we should have told him that his “idea was bullshit,” turned over his desk, and broke a window or two as we stormed out. We continued to listen.  At the end he asks, “So do you guys think you can do something with that?” My writing partner and I share a glance and he replied, “Maybe.  Let us mull it over.

The meeting was over. Our guy walked us to the elevator and rode down with us to the parking garage. We said our good-byes and drove off. We never saw our guy again, nor did we ever have another meeting with this “A” list company.

We eventually parted ways with our agent too, but that was okay.  I always believed that he retired fifteen years earlier and never told anyone at the office, but just kept coming in and using the phones. I did like that he always returned our calls when he was our agent. I have to give him props for being old school in that regard. You always step up to the plate and hope for the best, as you never know how a pitch meeting will go, but this one went down in the archives under “most bizarre.”

Keep writing and learn how to hang on during the hard times.—Scriptcat

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

Norma Desmond: “You’re a writer, you said.”
Joe Gillis: “Why?”
Norma Desmond: “Are you or aren’t you?”
Joe Gillis: “That’s what it says on my Guild card.”
Norma Desmond: “And you have written pictures, haven’t you?”
Joe Gillis: “I sure have. Want a list of my credits?”
Norma Desmond: “I want to ask you something. Come in here.”
Joe Gillis: “Last one I wrote was about Okies in the Dust Bowl. You’d never know because when it reached the screen, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat.”

You’ll find that you may not like suggestions about changes to your script.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay and need in-depth consultation, editing and proofing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website.

You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your screenplay. Get it right.”

“Tomorrow morning the critic will be gone, but the writer will still be there facing the blank page. Nothing matters but that he keep working”—Steven Pressfield

“Don’t mind criticism.  If it is untrue, disregard it.  If it is unfair, keep from irritation.  It if is ignorant, smile.  If it is justified, learn from it”—Anonymous

“I love criticism just so long as it is unqualified praise”—Noel Coward

“He has van Gogh’s ear for music”—Billy Wilder

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