Register Tuesday | August 20 | 2019

Pitchin' Ain't Easy

The woes of pitching ideas

I pitched a few movie ideas last week to a company in Hollywood. As any development executive will tell you, "pitches are tough," which is another way of saying that nobody really buys pitches. Until, of course, somebody does buy a pitch, usually for some ridiculously large sum of money, and makes pitches look "really easy." So even though pitches are "tough," sometimes you feel compelled to try anyway. Like the lottery. You can't win if you don't play.

Such was the case awhile back when I had a great meeting with an executive and was invited back to pitch a few of my ideas. At first I was reluctant (if pitches usually don't go anywhere, then what would be the point of sharing your brilliant ideas with a stranger?) but eventually I decided that, if nothing else, it would be good practice, a way to test out whether or not these stories have any commercial potential.

I decided two present two ideas, both "high-concept" comedies, one in the vein of "Uncle Buck," the other a hip-hop comedy that my writing partner and I had written a few years ago but which I always thought had potential. I spent the week working on the stories, fleshing out the plots as best I could while trying to find the good jokes that would spice up the story. Despite the often-heard stories of a writer selling a one-sentence pitch (like in "The Player"), usually you have to give the executive a real sense of the story and its "beats," without getting too detailed. It's a fine line: tell them the movie but don't tell them the whole movie. Easier said than done.

The night before the pitch I drank a few beers and tried the pitches out on my roommate. She listened intently and I got a few laughs, but eventually her eyes glazed over and I realized I had lost her a little. Fortunately, she was able to tell me what was wrong with the story and I stayed up late fixing it. As I went to bed, I still felt completely unprepared. There were so many details to remember and not enough jokes. If you're pitching a comedy, you better be funny, right? And I didn't have enough "funny."

The next morning I took a run on the beach to clear my head and get my blood flowing before the meeting. I may have mentioned this before, but for me, there is no better way to prepare for a meeting than to exercise beforehand. Running in the fresh air clears my head like nothing else, and when I got home everything felt very sharp. I put on my "pitch outfit" (blue button-down shirt, jeans, Adidas; selected by my roommate) and headed to Hollywood. After a short wait reading magazines and sipping the required bottle of water, the exec ushered me in to her boss's office. Suddenly, I got a little freaked out. Her boss's office? Was I pitching to him? Not to mention I had visualized the whole thing happening in her cozy little office. They were throwing me off my game. Fortunately, he wasn't there, so we settled down on the couches and made a little chit chat for a few minutes, until the exec said, "So..."

"So...," I replied. "I've got some movies for us to make." Yes, it sounds dumb, but trust me, she liked that one. The old confidence, however false, tends to do shockingly well in Hollywood. I sat up, glanced at my notes, and jumped into it. Amazingly, I remembered all of the details (with only a few glances down at my notes) and got her to chuckle a couple of times. I went through both pitches, pausing only for strategically placed sips of water (to build the drama: what will happen next?), while she scribbled notes on a pad of paper. A half hour later, I was done. "So that's it," I said. "Which one do you want to make first?" Confidence again.

There was a pause and then... "I love them both," she said. "They're great. The first one has a lot of potential. I can definitely see it being a really funny Vince Vaughn kind of thing. And the other one, seriously, could be huge. Really huge." I couldn't believe my ears. "But," she said. Oh, here it comes, I thought, the standard "pitches are tough" line. "But," she said, "I want to run these by my bosses. The hip hop comedy is really really funny, but we have something in the same vein. It's not rap, but it might conflict. But I really love them."

This was a new one for me. Someone actually not only liked the pitch but might want to do something with them. I downed the last few drops of my water while she continued about how she'll get back to me next week and if there's interest, she would love to develop them with me further and then take them to the studio. She ushered me out of the office and promised we'd speak soon.

A week has passed and the news thus far has been that the hip hop comedy is indeed too much like their other project. Which I suppose I saw coming and at the very least confirms that I've got a good idea there that might find a home somewhere else. As for the Vince Vaughn movie, they're still mulling that one over. Hopefully I'll hear something next week, though I know better than to expect too much.

After all, pitches are tough.