Saturday, June 26, 2010

PITCH MEETINGS - The Art of Seduction

Ever land a pitch meeting and then feel like a deer in headlights? After all, how do you reduce your story to five minutes or less? It's impossible. ...Right?

Well, actually ...yes, you're right. But - you're going to have to do it anyway. Here is one strategy that works:

First, you need a log line. Your log line needs to set up the world & main character's journey and end with a tease, so they're asking for more. Don't reveal too much. A pitch meeting is a seduction. Don't hand them home plate. Make them work for it.

“A man, trying to escape his criminal past, moves to a small town, falls in love and builds a family - but sees it all threatened when a dangerous stranger appears and demands that an old debt be paid.”

The next steps of your story pitch are like concentric circles. Begin with the innermost circle and work your way out. After your log line, the next circle expands your story into a brief paragraph. More story details about supporting characters & conflicts, also more about tone. Your exec or agent is now on first base.

By continuing your playful seduction, they will be eager for more. Keep in mind that pitch meetings are like a chase. If you chase them, they will pull away. If you seduce them, they will chase you.

I know, I know, it looks like I'm reducing pitch meetings to a psychological game the writer plays with the producer, agent or development executive. And it feels that way because it is. Once your listener is on 1st base, there's a moment when they're deciding whether they want to go to 2nd.

If they want to hear more, that's a good sign. Your next circle would be equivalent to 1/2 to 3/4 of a page. By this time, they will know if they're interested. They may begin to ask questions. That's good. Anytime an exec or agent asks questions, it means they're engaged.

It also means that you haven't told them too much. You have given them space to come to you. You've made your pitch into a conversation instead of a 10-minute speech. From here, you should have a full story beat sheet worked out, just in case they ask for more.

Be aware, you should not leave your beat sheet behind for them. Although you may leave a paragraph description, if you want to. The reason for this is if they want the full pitch again, they should set another appointment. No one can tell your story the way you can.

If your exec or agent asks for a full pitch, keep it to 5 min. or less. No matter how complex the plot. Broad, compelling strokes are all they want to hear - and it's all they're capable of remembering. Your audience will begin 2 check out after that unless you are a truly gifted story-teller "in the room." Or they may continue to ask questions until they feel that 1) you know what your story is & have done the work to get it right and 2) that they can sell this to their boss.

Pitches are tough for so many reasons. Reducing your story to a brief meeting is the first challenge. You will also be expected to have ideas on casting and promotion. If your lead roles are right for hot actors, you need to have a few star names ready.

You will want to have ideas on "what the poster would look like." How might they promote this? How will this movie sell over another movie?

They will probably ask these things. Pitch meetings used to be about story. Now, the writer is expected to have thought about it all.

Is that fair? Yes. In a pitch, you are asking a studio or production company to pay you to write your script. Exex already have other scripts in development. You need to convey to them why they should add your idea to their list. The more work you do for them, the easier it makes things for them. And it also shows that you go the extra mile. A little respect goes a long way.

Have a great writing (and pitching) day!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Garbage Happens

OKAY, YOU'RE STUCK. You have a scene ahead of you and you have no idea how to write it. You know your dramatic elements and what needs to be accomplished to advance the story and characters, but you keep starting over because everything you write turns to garbage.

Seriously. It's garbage.

Don't give up hope. This doesn't sound like writers block, exactly. It's more like "scene block." Keep breathing. You'll get through this by simply accepting the following: you have permission to write garbage.

Norman Mailer once said that as he got older, his writing became more difficult because he was no longer just some writer working on his next book - he was Norman Mailer working on his next book. Pride can paralyze all creative thought.

But, unless you actually are the late Norman Mailer, you have nothing to worry about. Everyone else in the world writes badly, sometimes. Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk more seriously about garbage.

Allowing yourself to write garbage is liberating. When confronted with "scene block," you need to write the worst version of your scene that you can possibly think of and write it as fast as you can.

"Huh?" I can already see your heads turning in that sideways quizzical way, the way my dog's does when he's thoroughly confused. Stay with me a sec ...

You think too much. You need to stop it. You already worked your outline and know enough about your character histories to write this. You're thinking way too much from your left brain. You want this scene to "make sense." But life doesn't make sense sometimes, and neither does writing.

Just do what it takes to get it on the page.

When you give yourself permission to write something awful, you free yourself. Sometimes, you really do write an embarrassingly good example of bad writing. Other times, the expectations and demands that you put on yourself are the problem. Releasing expectations can access interesting things that you didn't know you had inside you. But in either case, the scene is written - and you have given yourself permission to throw it away later.

The other critical thing that writing a "garbage scene" does for you is that it allows you to move forward in your script. As you continue through your story, you grow to understand your characters even more fully. Everything sharpens.

When you finish your draft, review your script, paying special attention to your "garbage" scenes. Are they as bad as you thought they were? Have you learned things that now make these scenes easier to write? You might find that you have communicated the content of these scenes in other ways and don't need these scenes at all.

Screenwriters, like sharks, must keep moving forward or their story will drown.

Keep swimming and have a great writing day!