What I Learned about Pitching Story Ideas in Hollywood
Since most low-level development execs are in their 20s. never utter the title of any movie that was made before they were six years old. If you mention My Man Godfrey, you’ll get no reaction. The upside is that you can pitch the plot of My Man Godfrey and they’ll think it’s a fresh idea.
Wear blue jeans, running shoes and a sports jacket, elbow patches optional. This is the official writers’ uniform as mandated by the Writers Guild. If you overdress, you could spend the whole pitch session talking about fabric.
Youngish development execs don't understand sarcasm. Either they'll just stare at you blankly, or they'll think you've just insulted them, which you’ll probably do, but later in the day
If you’re pitching a comedy, start off with an impromptu witticism to determine whether the exec has a sense of humor. For example, when the assistant asks “Can I get you anything,” answer with a droll retort such as “lobster thermidor.” If the exec informs you -- with a straight face -- that they don’t have lobster thermidor, you're in deep shit.
Don’t be offended if execs are on the phone when you enter their office, or if they take a call in the middle of your pitch. They do this deliberately to make you feel inferior to the really important person they’re talking to, which could be their plumber or nobody at all.
(I once pitched a story to David Ladd and, just as I was nearing the payoff, his secretary entered to tell him he had an urgent call. It was his wife, Cheryl Ladd, asking his opinion on where the Malibu lights should go.)
Do not be put off if the exec has a condescending smirk on his face during your pitch. In Hollywood, writers are at the bottom of the creative food chain. The common wisdom is that any halfwit can write a screenplay, but that professional screenwriters type better and are more adept at bending brads and choosing colorful folders.
Keep your pitch as short as possible –- try to explain the whole spiel by just touching on the major plot points. Producers have the attention span of a eight year old with ADHD.
Describing your story idea as "edgy" or "character driven" will make producers salivate, and greatly enhance your chances of success. Nobody really knows why this works, but it does. Think Pavlov.
Use combinations of other movies to describe yours, such as Schindler's List meets New Moon. Always stick to big moneymakers. Obviously, nobody wants to hear Ishtar meets Death to Smoochy.
React enthusiastically to their ideas, then ignore them completely when you write the script. The ideal strategy is to make producers think that your idea was actually their idea. Do whatever you can to foster this fantasy.
If they start talking about casting, or propose “packaging” the project at CAA or another big agency, you’re dead meat.
Don’t believe it if execs tell you they love the concept. They all say that, because they have no clue what the pitch was about, and this remark makes it seem as if they do. Just about everything people say in Hollywood is meaningless. Only believe them if they call your agent later and offer money.
If a young, wannabe producer loves your pitch and claims to have oodles of development money, don't be offended if he leaves the room. It means he's calling his parents for a loan.