I have had a cold ever since November 3rd, the day Kerry conceded to Bush. Coincidence? I don’t think so. In fact, almost all of my friends have been ill since last week. An epidemic of Bushitis, I think. No wonder healthcare in the U.S. is so screwed up. Our own president makes us sick.
So I’m still a little bitter about the election. I spent the rest of last week avoiding all newspapers and TV news. I didn’t want to hear any speeches or ruminations on “what went wrong.” I needed to detox from more than a year of a heavy dose of American politics, and I must admit I felt much better by Sunday. Despair slowly turned to inspiration and ideas of how I can use all these feelings I have to create something positive. Isn’t that what artists do? Channel their emotions into their work? Try to change the world?
So far all I’ve come up with are some good ideas for post-election t-shirts. So many that if I had any sense I’d put all this movie stuff on hold and start selling shirts on the internet. (Previously, I had come up with a bunch of funny slogans for pre-election bumper stickers, but of course I didn’t do anything about it and watched as others came up with the exact same slogans. I swear I came up with “Buck Fush” about two years ago. Oh well.)
In other news, I went to a seminar last week on “pitching.” For those of you who may not know, “pitching” is the art of presenting your story idea to producers and studio executives with the hopes that they will love your “high-concept” idea so much that they’ll want to buy it before you can even tell them how the story ends. Everybody “pitches” in Hollywood, despite the fact that most meetings end with the executive telling you they “really liked your idea but unfortunately nobody is buying pitches right now.” I can’t tell you how many times I have been told that “pitches are tough.” Nevertheless, every once in awhile a pitch sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars, so everyone keeps pitching. Nobody’s buying pitches until someone buys one, etc. The cycle continues.
There was a time when I was pitching a lot. Some of the ideas were my own, others were stories I developed with producers who had asked me to “flesh out” their high-concept ideas. I pitched everywhere, sitting on couches, sipping bottled water and trying to convince development people that this story would make a brilliant movie. It would usually take about fifteen minutes. They would laugh, smile, nod, tell me they really liked it and wanted to “kick it around upstairs”. A few days later, we would get the news: “It’s not what they’re looking for right now. But they LOVED meeting you and if you have anything else, bla bla bla…”
The woman lecturing on the “Art of Pitching” confirmed my theories, explaining that not only are pitches “tough,” but these days studios don’t buy any pitches from anyone unless your latest script is currently on display as a $100 million blockbuster in the multiplexes AND you have an A-list star attached. And of course she’s right, for the most part. The decision-makers want you only when everyone wants you. Then they’ll buy any group of words that comes out of your mouth. That’s why a handful of writers are RICH, even if only one of their ten sold pitches actually makes it to the screen, and the rest of us keep on hustling around town, drinking a lot of bottled water, sitting on a lot of couches and thanking a lot of people “for their time.”
As I listened to her, I couldn’t help but wonder: if pitching is futile, why are we here listening to her? But after she was done speaking, several people got up and pitched their ideas to her for feedback, and it was interesting to see what stories my peers had in their heads, that they wanted to tell. Some were utterly incomprehensible, others were simple and quite good. And that must be why people pitch and people listen to pitches. Because everyone is different and has ideas and stories in their head and that is what makes the movie business special. Finding a good story (or selling an idea) may be like finding a needle in a haystack, but you have to try. A century ago we had the California Gold Rush (“There’s gold in them hills, I tell ya!”) Today may not be so different.