Friday, October 09, 2009

LONDON 9A: Day 6 - Pitch Panel

I forgot to mention the rain. It’s been raining all day. It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, too. I have brought with me (since my luggage is here) a raincoat - but it’s very heavy and warm, and it’s not *cold* here, just wet. I also brought a sport jacket and Script Secrets baseball cap... and decide those will be my rain gear for the day. This ends up being a good choice as the rain is on and off all day, but walking across town in the warm humid weather would have killed me in the raincoat. I get to the Café a little damp both from without and within (perspiration, I didn’t pee myself or anything) and prepare for pitches.

I’ve done the Live Ammunition Pitch Panel a few times in the past - here’s how it works. The person pitching pays 5 pounds, pitches for 2 minutes, the panel then critiques the pitch, and we write little notes, and at the end of the night we go into a back room and figure out who is the winner, and the two runner ups... and the winner gets all of the money collected and the runners up get lovely parting gifts and the home version of the game (actually, some Raindance swag). I decided to break this out into its own blog entry because there were pitching lessons to be learned.

I have been on a million pitch panels and they are all pretty much the same - whether you are in Los Angeles or London. People make the exact same mistakes pitching their screenplays, and I suspect the problem lies with the screenplay itself instead of the pitch... but all I can do is comment on their pitches. On the panel with me were a writer-director who I talked with before and I liked him, a member of the UK Film Council (they fund films), a producer who packages projects to take to the UK Film Council, and somewhere... legendary producer Stephen Wooley. He made CRYING GAME and MONA LISA and many other great films that I frequently use in script tips as examples or talk about on message boards... because I love those films. They do interesting things within a genre and are popular with critics and the audience. I have no idea what he looks like, and accidentally sit next to him at the panel. I thought it was hippy director guy I hadn’t met, yet. When we go down the panel and introduce ourselves, I’m surprised that this hippy guy is one of the biggest producers in the UK. I guess I expected a suit.

When we went down the line introducing ourselves, we also were supposed to mention what we were interested in a pitch... and *everyone* mentioned genre. I was afraid that, as the Hollywood guy in a room full of artsie Brits, I would be the only one stressing commercial issues; but *everyone* stressed commercial issues. (Though, afterwards someone said they thought the Film Council guy may have just been saying they wanted commercial projects because everyone else said it, and when push came to shove all he really wanted to see were artistic scripts guaranteed to lose money). So, there is a lesson - even those who are artsie will say they want genre material... because genre material is what the paying audience wants to see.

Usually Elliot explains the basics of how to pitch your script, but this time he does not... and should have. Everyone makes the same mistakes... and no one seems to be learning from the mistakes of those in front of them. First up - my friends Robert and Paul... with a romantic adventure script. They make some of the mistakes I’ll talk about in a moment, but the after the pitch Elliot wants me to critique the pitch and I feel uncomfortable doing that - I’m afraid I’ll go easy on them or be too hard on them. So it’s given to someone else who ends up saying what I would have said.

And then we go through the line pitch-by-pitch until time begins to run low... as it always does, and instead of getting feedback from the panel, they get feedback from a single member of the panel. Then time begins to run low and they get 90 seconds to pitch... then some get 1 minute to pitch. But here’s the problem - even those who had 2 minutes usually ran over... way over. And even when we got down to the 1 minutes, they would just keep going. No one actually cared about the time or adjusted their pitch for less time. So the 1 minute pitches were often over 2 minutes! Again and again, the problem was that people didn’t pitch their story, they tried to tell it scene by scene! After several people read their pitch of a piece of paper in a boring monotone looking down at the page the entire time instead of making any sort of eye contact, Elliot asked me if I would tell people not to read... I made that announcement, and the *very next person* read off a piece of paper in a boring monotone!

One of the problems with giving instant feedback on a pitch is that you don’t have time to think about it - and often say things in the bluntest way possible, or the vaguest way possible (because you can’t put your finger on the exact problem). But often you are left with some major question about the story and you ask it - something that didn’t make sense in the pitch that may make perfect sense in the 110 page script. I’m never sure the instant feedback is really constructive, but that is the format, here.

We had been given a sheet of paper with space for pitch title, notes, and a rating of 1 to 10. I had a problem trying to gauge the pitches - since many were not good. I left the ratings section blank and concentrated on notes. Those pitches that were really good I noted, and ended up with 3 that I thought were really good. After the last pitch rambled on for a minute past the bell, we retired to the conference room to decide who would win... and several people followed us trying to repitch their stories so that we would reconsider them. Um, this backfires. Instead of hearing your pitch again and liking it even more, you are stalking us like a crazy person and we begin to fear you. Chances are pretty good that if we fear you we are not going to vote for your pitch as the winner.

When we discuss the pitches, everyone else’s favorite is not on my top 3... because I believe they misunderstood the pitch. They thought this crazy idea a guy pitched had to be a kid’s animated film... but I thought it was about an *adult* who still lived at home with his parents and had a strange fantasy life. Maybe I was wrong, but I swear the guy never said the lead was a kid... Anyway, everyone else was taken with a kid’s fantasy story, and so it won. I was concerned - being the Hollywood guy - that I would be the only one who liked a horror movie pitch, but it was on everyone else’s list as well. The pitch was good, clear, to the point, and different. That one was a runner up, and was another on my list of 3. We went out to announce the winners, and again people cam up to us on stage and asked why their pitch didn’t win when it was much better than the rest, or complained that if we had only heard the complete 10 minute version of their pitch it would have won, and then they launched into that 10 minute version. Folks, if you didn’t win you didn’t win. Look at your pitch and see how you can improve it!

At the party afterwards - with the music cranked up so loud no one could hear each other speak - Paul and Robert asked for some feedback on their pitch and I gave them some pointers... and decided to share them with everyone.

Next up - Pitch Pointers...

- Bill
SCRIPT SECRETS: LONDON - October 10 & 11, 2009 - BIG IDEA class, using GHOST as our primary example and it includes the new Thematic element!

No comments:

eXTReMe Tracker