The Business of Screenwriting: The Travails of Pitching (Part 2) — The Surprise Visitor

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After the humbling experience of pitching the latest project to a distracted exec, we actually sell it to another studio. We head out to Palm Springs to hole up and jam out the rest of the first draft of another project we are writing when we get a call: The studio’s offer on the pitch is a low-ball. Our agents and the producer on the project think we can get a better deal at another studio.

So we turn right around and zoom back to that studio for a hastily called meeting. As we show up and swap hellos, the producer says to the exec, “Hey, thanks for squeezing us in.”

We are about to find out exactly how squeezed the exec’s schedule is.

Just as we’re set to launch into the pitch, the door scoots open and this ancient gray-haired guy hobbles into the office, lugging some gear. Turns out he’s there to shine the exec’s shoes! The exec apologizes to us. “You don’t mind, do you? This is his regular time slot.”

With visions of yet another distracted exec before our eyes, suddenly our producer bolts upright, and calls out to the shoe shine guy:


Turns out our producer remembers Jimmy the shoe shine guy from years ago when the producer had a deal on the lot. A regular customer, they’d gotten to know each other pretty well. But they hadn’t seen each other in over a decade. They shake hands, clap shoulders, and catch up a bit, the rest of us startled by this crazy coincidence. Then the producer says:

“You don’t mind listening in while these fellahs do their pitch, do you?”
“No sir, that’d be just fine.”

So while the shoe shine guy goes to work on the exec’s shoes, we get to work with our pitch. It goes great, everybody laughing in the right spots, the exec jumping in with ideas that slot right into where the story is going. At the end of the pitch, the exec turns to the shoe shine guy:

“Jimmy, what’d you think?”

All eyes turn to Jimmy. A big grin spreads across his face and he says:

“That is one helluva funny story.”

We sell the pitch in the room. And end up with double the other studio’s offer.

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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To read more articles in the Business of Screenwriting series, go here.

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