Thursday, September 14, 2006

I Am Scriptwriter, Hear Me Burble

I had to do my first verbal pitch for a feature film the other week. If you've even seen 'The Player', it's that bit where the Hapless Writers try and convince the Studio Executive to invest millions of dollars in their movie, which is usually as yet unwritten, by making it sound like the best thing in the world. The quickest way to do this is the 'X crossed with Y' format ('It's like Magnolia crossed with 2001! But funny! And with heart!).

Now I hadn't actually realised I was supposed to be pitching in that meeting, so I was a bit taken aback when after some perfectly nice rambly chat about science fiction of the nineteen seventies, we cut to this (to me) complete non sequitur:

EXEC: So, Big Financial Man will be coming in in just a minute, so if you're okay to do the pitch now...
ME: Hmm?
EXEC: Did I not say his schedule had changed and we were having the Pitch Meeting today?
ME: No, I thought this was the Pre-Pitch Meeting.
EXEC: Ah, it was, but now it's the Pitch Meeting.
ME: (whining) Where did the 'Pre' go? I liked the 'Pre'!
EXEC: By the way, if during the pitch, Big Financial Man starts picking his nose, or wanders off for a wee, or just, you know, gets up and wanders off, he's not being rude, that's just how he is.
ME: Okay, but if during the pitch he does any of those things and I PUNCH HIM IN THE FACE, I'm not being rude either, it's just how I am.

I didn't really say that last bit, but I was within my rights I reckon. 'Just how he is', honestly. It's like that stupid Levellers song with the chorus 'Only one way of life and that's my own' which all the stupid hippies in my sixth form used to sing along to in a smug self-righteous way, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the same sentiment could equally well be used to excuse the actions of anyone from Hitler to the people behind Big Brother, who I don't place on any kind of moral parity by the way, Hitler being clearly mentally ill and lead astray by those around him.*

But I digress. The pitch actually went very well, and then segued into a discussion about Benjamin Disraeli, who hadn't been part of the pitch in any way, so I'm not sure how he found his way onboard, to be honest. Weirdly enough, I felt better having to pitch it out of the blue, as it's very easy to overthink these things, and end up sounding horribly stiff, and thrown by the simplest question. Like 'Why should I go and see this film?' for example, which I tend to answer with 'I wouldn't, cinemas are all icky and full of talking children and mobile phones, ew, wait for the DVD' which misses the point rather.

Anyway, in the end it went to The Other Guy - it wasn't an original idea, the film company had bought the rights to an Obscure Thing and were looking for writers to develop it, so I had written a treatment and it had got down to the two of us - but as I got the call on my way to BBC Drama where I'm developing a thing set not a million miles away from Cornwall (okay then, it's set in Cornwall), I didn't mind too much.

Still, my first proper film pitch. And he only picked his nose a bit, and I didn't punch anyone, so frankly a good day all round.

* Warning, I am not an actual historian.


Anonymous said...

Was it anything like those god-awful Orange adverts at the cinema with B-List celebs pitching frankly awful films?

Be aware you might be about to shatter a long held illusion with your answer...

Anonymous said...

I wonder how Hitler would have got on in Big Brother, should he have been alive today... I know it's got nothing to do with what you wrote, but it has given me something to think/have nightmares about..

Anonymous said...

So what was your pitch then James?
'it's like Seven Samurai only with toys. Oh and plenty of cultural theory and it's funny.'

James Henry said...

Always happy to spread the nightmares Hells...

Those adverts are a bit weird, as it's never big famous actors (or small famous actors) who pitch films, it's the writers. I suppose every now and then an actor gets an idea for a little movie he's like to write himself, but not very often. But then I don't know that much about films, so maybe I've missed the point somewhere.

Pitches are a nightmare though, especially for comedy films, which this was. A complex and interesting idea doesn't translate well to a brief summing-up, whereas if something sounds funny in eight words, it probably won't stretch to a hundred page script. The problem of selling a script in a nutshell there.

Which is why things more often get pitched with 'look, it's that actor you know is good, that producer who's been successful, and that writer who's just got an award, what does it matter what it's 'about'?"

Anonymous said...

Yeah, and while we're on the subject, what about that? Eh? Eh? You can't just leave Steve and the Other One stuck in that hole forever, you know.

They'll decompose after a while and make the wallpaper all damp, for a start. Assuming they're real, of course, and not, you know, toys.

Anonymous said...

That comment should follow Realdoc's, not yours, in case you were wondering.

I feel such a fool.

James Henry said...

Mine's all out of sync as well now. I probably ought to keep mum on the exact pitch, to be honest. It'll be interesting to see what the Other Guy does with it, anyway - I did check and his take was completely different to mine, which was a relief.

No immediate plans to revive toy-fu, partly because I lost the software I was using before. I'm still quite fond of the characters, but it would be nice to give it the time it deserves, and I'm a bit busy at the moment.

They did get out of the hole though - matt's going to update the main site when he gets a chance, so people can read it from beginning to (current) end.

Billy said...

It's generally used by reviewers rather than people pitching but I have a soft spot for the 'it's like another film, on some kind of drug' approach. Even though it's generally rubbish.

"It's like a Passage to India on Woodstock-style 'brown acid'."

James Henry said...

I quite like it as a shorthand - something about which Danny Stack has written here.

patroclus said...

Ooh, Billy, that's one of my top five Most Hated Journalistic Clichés, as written about rather manically here.

Oh yes, I just steam in and plug my own blog. Which I like to think of as being 'like Danny Stack's blog on coke'. In that it's got the same template, but is much more boring.

Billy said...

Problem is they always say "...on acid" I wish they'd vary it a bit.

"...on battle-cocaine"
"...on haliparadol"

and so on.

Anonymous said...

Ye've been linked from Things. Combined with you knowing The Other James, this is an utterly indecent amount of Worlds Colliding. For shame!

surly girl said...

i like the levellers, me.

but i am a bit of a crusty at heart.

*whistles for dog, reflectively turns string in hands*

Anonymous said...

Your spelling's good today!

eg: segued

I've always wondered how to spell that.

Anonymous said...

I miss Steve. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

so what if you had to pitch a show/film while living in the big brother house? huh?

hasn't got hitler in it but all of your other topics!

Anonymous said...

Hi James,
I was trying to think of a nice pithy comment, but then found I am a bit tired and can't really be bothered with that type of thing today... So I'm just going to to let you know that I like your blog.