The Business of Screenwriting: The Travails of Pitching (Part 1) — The Distracted Exec

We are seated in a studio executive’s office for a pitch meeting. He’s late. Very late. We’ve been waiting for close to a half-hour. His assistant is apologetic — “He’s hung up in traffic.” More like air traffic. For the last 20 minutes, we’ve been privy to one-half of a phone conversation between the absent exec and his harried assistant as they try to lock down travel details for said executive. Back and forth they’ve gone… this flight is too early, that flight is too late, he hates this airline, what about business class.

Meanwhile we’re left to pick lint off our clothes.

Finally, the exec barges in. Pokes his head into the office. “Hey guys, sorry, it’s been a bit crazy.” Then back with his assistant, a several minute — and loud! — harangue.

Now he heads toward his seat. We prepare for the obligatory five minutes of schmoozing before we launch into our pitch. We are no more than two sentences into it when he suddenly buzzes his assistant. More travel issues. “Excuse me.” Off he goes to hassle his assistant again.

By now we’re nearly 45 minutes past our scheduled meeting time. At last he sits down to give us his full undivided attention. We start our pitch. We get approximately two minutes into it when he shoots his hand up into air.

“Is this a frustration comedy? Yeah, I don’t do frustration comedies, sorry.”

Welcome to the travails of pitching. It’s bad enough to bust your hump working up a story, rehearsing the pitch, then actually delivering it. But a pitch is kind of like a space shuttle launch — it’s exciting, however there’s a million things that can go wrong. And sometimes they just do.

There was the exec who was totally loving a pitch, then suddenly turned cold because — as we discovered later — he didn’t like an African-American accent we used for one character.

There was the time my partner’s ink pen leaked all over the brand new couch the exec had just received.

There was the producer whose junior development exec — no lie — fell asleep during our pitch (don’t ever schedule a pitch between 2–3PM when people who are suffering from a post-lunch low).

Pitching is not fun. It’s not easy. Frankly it’s a pain in the ass.

But if you want to go up for OWA’s (Open Writing Assignments)… or try to sell an original idea… you have to learn to deal with the travails of pitching.

The irony is that pitch? The one where the exec treated us like shit while he dealt with his travel plans, then cut us to the quick just barely after we’d gotten started with our spiel?

We went to another studio to pitch it. Sold it in the room. And it got made into a movie.

That story next week: The Travails of Pitching (Part 2) — Expect the unexpected.

The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.

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