Author : Sandra Leviton
It was a cold and dreary day when I signed up to represent my company at an upcoming Pitchfest. The promise of fresh new talent was the ray of sunshine I was looking for on such a dark day. New writers, a swank Hollywood hotel, and the promise of a free t-shirt excited me on that Saturday morning. I arrived dressed to impress and ready to listen to pitches for the next few hours.
In this Pitchfest, writers, upon signing up for the event, had access to the list of companies that would be attending. They had time to prepare, tailor their pitches, and choose which companies they wanted to pitch to. At the time of this particular Pitchfest, I was working for a TV network and so I expected to hear some TV pitches. Empty slots would be filled with random writers who wanted practice pitching and I was happy to help.
The first few writers were decent, OK stories and some well-rehearsed pitches. A few more writers came and went and something started to become very clear – not only had some of them not known we were a TV network, but despite having the information about the attending companies, never bothered to look it up. They would sit down and ask, “What movies have you made?” If they’d heard of the network, they’d ask, “What TV shows do you have on the air?” I maintained a polite conversation with them while quietly, in my brain he grew: the Google Goblin. He would grab ahold of my brain and twist it, screaming “LET ME GOOGLE THAT FOR YOU” until they moved on to the next table.
The Google Goblin would calm himself when we’d get appropriate pitches and when a writing team of twin from Australia sat down and excitedly exclaimed that they flew all the way out to LA just to be able to pitch to my network, the Goblin disappeared all together. Then, HE sat down…
HE, we shall call him, Lucifer, sat down. Sweaty, out of breath, and gasping for air he tells me about how he just woke up and decided at the last minute to run down to the hotel to pitch his film. I asked him to continue once he caught his breath. He then looked me directly in the eye and asked “What is your company?” “A TV network” I replied as I felt the Google Goblin waking up. Lucifer flinched, rubbed his sweaty bald head and declared “OH. WELL…I SUPPOSE I CAN DUMB THIS DOWN FOR TV. YEAH, MAYBE FOR AN HBO OR SOMETHING, I CAN DUMB THIS DOWN.”
The Google Goblin exploded in a fit of undeniable rage. The remaining goblin guts took a whole new shape, one of horror and confusion. It looked something like this but with more shock and less smiling, but otherwise it’s pretty accurate:
Lucifer, then continued to talk about how smart his film was, something about guerilla filmmaking and I don’t know else; I wouldn’t know, because the Goblin had consumed me. I stopped listening the moment he insulted what I do and a medium that I love. I couldn’t tell you a word more about the pitch, because I shut down. I had to – he repeated “I COULD DUMB IT DOWN FOR TV” at least three more times during the 2 minutes he was at my table. I did my best to contain the now gelatinous Goblin, let Lucifer finish, and promptly sent him away from my table.
Dumbfounded, angry, and confused, I ambled over to collect my free t-shirt and swapped stories with other creative execs, agents, and managers about their similar experiences. How could some of these writers not have researched any of our companies? None of these writers walked away with script options or any further interest.
I tell this very true and very scary story often. It’s not uncommon among buyers and representatives to swap these sordid tales. And so writers (and yes, you too producers), we give you some of the most important advice we can:
KNOW YOUR BUYER!!
Do your homework – utilize all of your resources to learn everything you can about the people and companies you are meeting with – either for a general meeting or a pitch.
GOOGLE IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. Seriously.
Google the company you want to pitch. See what they do and who they are.
– Do they specialize in TV, film, or web?
– What do they currently have on the air/ in theatres/ online?
– Watch and/ or read some of the projects they’ve released. You want to be able to talk intelligently about their body of work.
– What do they currently have in development?
– Check out the trades to see what kinds of projects they’re buying and the people they are choosing to work with.
Ask friends and check Facebook to see if you have any mutual friends with the person(s) you are set to meet with. If so, talk to your friend – find out what its like to work with this person, or if they have any tips on their personality; maybe they have a very dry sense of humor that you can play to. Be careful to avoid TMI and personal details that may have been revealed to you, you don’t want to come off as a stalker or get your friend in trouble.
If you are going to a Pitchfest and there are multiple companies that you’ve signed up to meet with – prepare ahead of time. If you do not know the companies attending – keep your smart phone close by and Google them in between seat swaps. And if all else fails, be friendly and just get right to your pitch. Chances are the person you are pitching to will let you know if they only develop film or TV projects and you can chalk it up to some good practice. Or better yet, have multiple pitches (a film and a TV show) ready to go….
TAILOR YOUR PITCH.
If your meeting with Twisted Pictures (the “Saw” franchise), chances are they will not be looking for “50 Shades of Grey” unless Christian and Anastasia sexy time routine includes a bear trap and barbed wire. In which case, include the bear trap, barbed wire, and throw in an accidental ripping apart the ribcage instead of her bodice for good measure. And if this isn’t the story you want to tell, find a more appropriate company to pitch it to.*
Never assume your project is so great that everyone is going to want to buy…unless you’re J.J. Abrams because then, everyone will want to buy it. One of the biggest problems I had with Lucifer at the Pitchfest was his arrogance. Before even telling me anything about the project, he assumed that he was so good as a writer/ director and the project was so smart, that I would want to buy it. Now, this isn’t saying to not take pride in your work – you absolutely should. But it is a major turnoff to come in with an incredibly arrogant attitude (and especially a rude one). No one ever wants to work with that person. Also, don’t brag about how you just tumbled out of bed and ran down here to grace us with your presence. Only J.J. Abrams gets to do that.
NEVER EVER INSULT THE PEOPLE AND COMPANIES YOU MEET WITH.
You would think this is a no-brainer, but it’s not. When I tell this story to other creative executives, representatives, and producers, they all reply by sharing horror stories of their own. Do not tell people who work in TV they are inferior or dumb. Do not tell Adam Sandler “Jack and Jill” was a terrible film if you ever want to work with Happy Madison. Don’t express how much you dislike low budget web series when you’re trying to get one made. You get the idea. Besides the facts that it’s rude and chances are no one asked for your opinion (or if they did, chose your words and delivery wisely), the person will shut down. The light will flicker from their eye and from that moment on, all they will hear is the insult. What was an open door, has now been slammed closed. From this point, it won’t matter how good your script is, this exec/ producer/ company is not going to option it.
Moral of the story is – Don’t let the Goblins out, they are terribly distracting to your potential buyer. Don’t take yourself out of the game before it’s even begun.