07-21-2002, 03:07 AM
As someone stated, sounds like what you have there is a "meet and greet." Talk about yourself, and above all - SHOW INTEREST IN THEM. The person sitting across the desk from you, their life, the company they work with. Make the conversation go both ways (i.e. don't just talk about yourself.)
Eventually, they WILL ask what you're working on. Talk entusiasticlly about your ideas, but it doesn't sound like a "full on" pitch meeting, so keep it casual, but interesting.
Have fun. Try to be the high point of their work day. At least they'll remember you that way.
Following is an informative post on pitching by Zoditch (cut and pasted from the Writing for TV section). He was addressing a question on TV pitching, but much of the info (esp. the later sections) applies to features as well.
Okay, this may take a while. And this is reflective of my experience on both sides of the desk.
The first thing and the most important thing is to be PROFESSIONAL. I cannot stress this enough. Anyone who has read my previous posts understands that this is a big deal with me. Not just me, but with the business because it IS a business. Be professional. You are respectful, but you expect respect. You are a contributor. You are someone who counts, otherwise you wouldn’t be in this meeting. And, you have a right to say NO to anything that really bothers you. At the same time, you are expected to be a team player and work within the bounds set. You are expected to give 110% in your effforts. And if there is a problem, you are expected to be professional in how you handle it.
If you can, watch the show on TV or get tapes of some of the episodes. More importantly, get scripts that they have produced. Do NOT be afraid to ask for these. They are tools for your pitch and all series will provide them. Most do it without even asking. If they have a “bible” for the series, that will be provided as well. Even better, if they have an episode list of stories already done or in the works, get that, too. Again, don’t be afraid to ask for all of these. They may have them, they may not.
Don’t go in with ten ideas. Go in with no more than five. I really recommend three, but I have cheated on occasion. Make sure that you have those ideas well thought out. A beginning, middle and end. Have your B plot figured out as well, including how it affects the A plot. Know your stories so well you can answer any question thrown at you. And, if for some reason you can’t answer the question, turn it into a positive by brainstorming in the room. Move quick, react quicker. Welcome the question, don’t dread it. The more questions they ask in the room, the more they are trying to move you toward what they need. And they wouldn’t do that if they weren’t interested in working with you.
Remember that your primary purpose in the story is to service the characters. Not the new, nifty character that you hope they will spin-off into a series. Everything has to be reflected on the main characters. Keep in mind that the characters are all different and have different attitudes. Make sure you throw those differences in now and then. “Claudia and Tom have to go get the child from the mother, which will be really interesting because, you know, she was adopted herself and Tom doesn’t understand it.”
Keep your ideas within budget. This will take some finesse as most freelancers aren’t aware of budget issues. Watching the series will give you some idea, but be prepared to hear that your idea is beyond their budget. When you do hear this, keep in mind that they are talking about something that will be hard to visualize, so have a back-up idea ready. Not another story idea, but another way to get your story point across. There is always a cheaper alternative. Have it ready as a back-up.
Have your ideas on paper for your reference. More on that in a moment.
Remember that different series rely on different presentation styles. I personally believe it’s all about characters, no matter whether you are doing E.R. or V.I.P. But the focus is different. Remember that V.I.P., for example, is much more visual and appeals to more common denominators; action, sex, humor. Doesn’t mean you can be a hack, but it does mean you have to keep those things in mind when you write. For example, you can have two character discussing their character differences at a romantic dinner or in a hot tub. Which one do you think will sell better for V.I.P.? It doesn’t change what the discussion is, just the presentation.
If you feel the series is beneath you, don’t take the meeting. No matter what you do, it will show. No matter what the series is, you are going to write the best episode that they have ever seen. Along those lines, don’t think that any series is easy to write. “How difficult can it be?” is an often heard phrase. Well, damn difficult. Don’t get cocky, don’t get arrogant. Want the job or don’t waste anyone’s time.
There are many different ways to approach your pitch. The hardest part for me is just the first couple of lines. The transition from the pleasant talk to the pitch itself. Sometimes, it’s just good enough to say “okay, let’s get into it. My first idea….”
When you actually pitch the idea, again, there are different ways to do it. One way is to give the logline. It’s straightforward and antiseptic. It relies on the producers being able to see the consequences of the idea and play it out along their series lines. The logline should be somewhere around three to six lines long. Nothing more involved than that at the moment. If they don’t throw the idea out completely, you are then free to go into detail.
Another way is to use a hook. “What would happen if…” for example. You want to present them with a scenario that BEGS to be told. You might lay the groundwork for your hook by saying “As I understand it, Character B is really in love with Character D. So, what would happen if…”
Yet another way is to use a set-up. “We open the episode on a dark road…” You will tell, basically, the teaser. Remember that the teaser to any episode is, really, a hook. And if done well, it will leave the audience wanting more, wanting an explanation for what they saw, it will leave them wanting to see how their characters will respond. After you get to the “ooh, yeah!” moment, you can stop and say “Okay, now what’s really happened is….”
It’s actually a George Carlin term. It’s that moment that everyone in the room goes “ooh, yeah!” At that moment, they got it. And you got them.
BEFORE YOU GO IN
This starts before you get into your car. Go over all your ideas. Read them out loud without pitching them. Read them as they are written on your pages. This serves two purposes: One, it gets you up to speed on your material. And, two, it works the kinks out of your voice. And, yes, this is something to pay attention to. You want your voice to be comfortable and not strained. Any one of you who were actors knows exactly what I am talking about and the importance of vocal exercise in any presentation.
If you have a regiment of doing a physical workout, do it. Loosen up. Feel good.
Depending on the time of day, eat whatever is your norm but don’t overdrink. This is IMPORTANT. You don’t want to notice that tingling in your bladder when in the pitch. Hold off on drinking a lot until you get there. Chances are they will ask if you want anything to drink. At that point tell them you want some water. Then, don’t drink it until you are actually heading into the pitch room. The water isn’t to refresh, it is to keep your throat from being too dry.
Take a small notepad, a pen, your pages and a tape recorder (more on this in a bit).
Dress comfortably. Don’t overdress. If you’re a guy, wear casual slacks or nice jeans and a nice shirt. If you are female, you can wear slacks, nice jeans, a nice dress, whatever. For both, don’t try to impress with your wardrobe. That means don’t show off how wealthy you are or how sexy you are. That’s not what this meeting is about and it’s distracting.
When you are in your car, repeat your pitches, again, out loud. You can’t read this time, so it will reinforce what things stood out for you in your stories. And you will also discover certain turns of phrase that will more than help you in your pitch. Turn the radio off, stay focused.
When you are in the waiting room, take out your pages and go through them again (not out loud this time). And, here’s something that is also important; mark up your pages. Take a pen (hopefully you brought one with you) and MARK THE PAGES. Make notes in the margins, even if you don’t have anything to note. Just harmless things. Why? Read on.
Be careful what you say to anyone. You never know who you are talking to or who might overhear you. I was once heading into a casting session when I heard an actor talking to another actor about the sides he had to read. He told the other actor “I could do this in my sleep” while waving the sides. He didn’t notice me so when he got into the room, he didn’t react to me being the one he was auditioning for. Fortunately, this guy was not real good, so it cleared my conscience. But when he was done, he asked if there was another way I wanted to see it done. I said “How about in your sleep?” He froze. He apologized and we had a laugh over it, but it’s a good lesson to learn.
Now, IF you are made to wait (and you will be) only you will know your tolerance level. I have a few rules of my own, but they don’t apply to everyone else. I can be a little more intolerant and stand on righteous indignation, a beginning writer can’t. Just understand that you will have to wait longer than you expected. Hopefully you will get an apology at least.
IN THE ROOM
You will be introduced to everyone in the room. Try to remember everyone’s name. If not, certainly remember their titles. And keep in mind that EVERYONE in that room is important. Do NOT neglect anyone in your pitch. The assistant is just as important as the Executive Producer as far as you are concerned. And, please, if you miss the introductions, or if you are just told “here’s the gang”, do NOT assume that the only woman in the room is an assistant. In my many many experiences in pitch sessions, I have seen this happen over and over. Guys are more guilty of it than women, but women do it as well.
Don’t meander around. There will be a seat for you, sit in it immediately.
Keep in mind that this is not JUST to hear your ideas. The people in the room want to get a sense of who you are. Unlike features, where the writer writes a script and the production doesn’t have to deal with them, Television develops WITH the writer. They have to work with you, so they want to know what you are like. Do you listen? Are you overbearing? Are you opinionated? Are you humorous? Are you quiet? They want to get an idea of what it will be like. How much does this play in your hiring? As long as you don’t offend anyone, it plays a minor role. But, and whether anyone likes this or not, it is very true that the room will be more forgiving to a writer if they enjoy having her around.
Make sure your energy is up. Many staffs are very quick, they have worked together, they have a shorthand they speak. They have in jokes that they all know. Ignore the in jokes, you’ll only look foolish trying to participate. But be quick to adapt to changing situations. One of the best things that can happen is when the staff starts to rewrite your story in the room. Best things, you say? Well, from an employment viewpoint, yeah, it’s a good sign. It means that the story has affected them and they are already trying to make it fit things in their series. If this happens (and you want the job) don’t stop them and say “Hey, this is MY idea and it doesn’t change!” Idealistically, you will be revered… on the unemployment line. That’s the best way to lose an assignment. No, what you want to do is join in. This is your chance to actually be a part of the staff, spitballing on an idea. And, more than that, it’s your chance to shine as a team player. Go with it.
There will come a time when you are beginning a pitch and before you get three words out, someone will say "We're not going to do those kinds of stories" or "we're already doing that." If that happens, don't push it UNLESS you haven't yet reached the meat of the story. My suggestion is to stop your pitch and go immediately to the logline version of the story. If all you've mentioned is the window dressing, make sure they understand that it isn't what the story is about. But if they say it again after hearing your explanation, drop it and move on. If this happens to ALL your ideas, don't become desperate. Admit that you don't have anything else to present at the moment, but that you have some things to think about. Say you'd like to come back in again. Then thank them.
If it is allowed, bring a tape recorder and record the meeting. This is for your protection and theirs. If the exec is smart, she will start with a disclaimer that says that there are other ideas in the works their may be similarities, you should understand that, etc. That’s for their protection. Your protection is that if they say you have a job, then renege on it later, you have proof. But what you tell them is that you want to make sure you get everything because you might have a great idea in the room that you’ll forget about later. You want to make sure you get it on tape. If the room says that they are uncomfortable with a recorder, don’t argue, but make sure you stay focused on the idea of taking notes. Say that you would still like to take notes just in case and pull out your pen and pad.
Now, having said how you need to project an image of being enjoyable, don’t suck up. Don’t try to be chummy with the room. Follow their lead. Many times, the room will just want to get down to business. Other times, they will chatter and will want to talk a bit. Don’t be thrown off either way. One of the things I have been accused of by my staff is that I tend to go off on tangents and chat a bit. My Co-Exec producer on my last show made it a habit of sitting slightly behind the freelancer so that she could glare at me when I was taking too much time. But that’s not for you to worry about, just go with the flow. At a certain point, you’ll feel when the room is ready.
Keep in mind what the room has already been through. Many times, the room has seen other Writers that day. They are probably tired. They are probably frustrated. They are DESPERATELY trying to find someone to fulfill the open slots so they can get back to their own jobs. Be that person.
Don’t stay any longer than is necessary. If possible, end the meeting yourself. Finish your pitches, see if there is anything else they would like to hear, then thank them and go.
Someone will inevitably ask you if you have something to leave behind. Do you do it or not? In general, I would say “no, but I can get some pages to you later today”. The reason for this is that you will get a certain read from the room when you are in there. You’ll be better able to focus in on what the room seems to spark at. So take that new information and rewrite your pages to play up those new things. Then send it to them. You will also hear things in the meeting that you realize that they shouldn’t see. For example, in Xena, we made a clear distinction between Magic and Powers. We didn’t have Magic, but gods had Powers. It may sound slight to you, but it was an important difference to us. We also took exception to being called a “swords and sorcery” series as we felt it misrepresented what we were really doing. In your pages, you suddenly realize that you played up Ares having using his magic to defeat Xena or started a page by saying “The staple in most sword and sorcery series…” You are completely innocent and you meant no offense. However, you don’t feel comfortable leaving those pages. So you say “Let me send them to you later” so you have time to change them. And your excuse to them? Instead of explaining it all, just say “Well, these pages are all marked up with notes in the margins, let me send you some clean copies”.
Before you leave the office, take a moment to thank the assistant for the water or whatever. Establish communication with that person. Get their name and remember it. Don’t linger.
AFTER THE MEETING
Forget about it. Don’t obsess about what could have or couldn’t have happened. Move on to your next project or meeting. Never let the last meeting carry over into the next.
No one is required to call you and tell you that they turned down your ideas. You may, after a week or so, call the assistant and ask. But only do it once.
THE FINAL NOTE
When people ask me what the key is to getting hired by me, I tell them the answer is to make my life easier. Showing me that you are a creative, energetic professional goes a long way in showing me that. I want to feel that with you on the job, I can rest easy at night.
Good luck. Let us know what happens.
Edited by: ZODITCH at: 6/20/02 12
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