In the end, I pitched to six out of eleven producers and commissioners. Of the five that I didn’t sit down with, two were no-shows to begin with, two left before I started working my way around them (there were two rounds, as it were, and I was in the second round), and one left thinking she’d finished (or survived – understandable considering she’d just sat through twenty-plus two-minute* pitches without a break).
For me, the best thing was experiencing firsthand most of what I’d read or heard. It’s one thing to know in a theoretical sense, Don’t take it personally if they’re sitting there poker-faced, but it’s another to sit opposite someone and fight the urge to babble about your project just because they’re not leaping out of their seat, kissing you on both cheeks, and declaring the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
The most useful sit-downs were where a conversation took place. Once the logline, plot description and themes were out of the way – what else did they want to know? The remaining ninety seconds were filled up by a Q & A where I showed off the depth of my knowledge**. Whether they could do anything with the project or not was almost beside the point. It was pretty cool to talk about a project as if it had real possibilities, rather than as just An idea I’ve got for a show….
Did I like it? Yes – I rather enjoyed it actually. Even if you get an ignorant and short-sighted producer, it’s good to realise in the rush of blood to the head, I disagree with your noises of disrespect – my mistake for pitching a drama to a reality-programme maker.
Would I do it again? Yes. I have survived the gauntlet that is DateNight. Bring it on.
* Short two producers, Mr Gannaway tried to ease the load by cutting the pitching time down from three to two minutes.
** Except for when I was asked what target audience I had in mind. No matter how often you’re told and read that you need only write for yourself and don’t worry about the market – that’s what the producer worries about, you will be asked what target audience you have in mind for your project.
A pitch is where you, a writer, a person used to working long hours all by yourself, a person usually socially awkward with bizarre idiosyncrasies, a person who chose writing for a living because you can’t express yourself in words, a person who is the furthest and farthest thing from any type of salesperson, must now sell your idea.
Never have a meeting. Always have a conversation. Tim Clague (emphasis added)
Less than a week to go until DateNight 1.1, and the familiar tendrils of fear and self-loathing plait my intestines.
I’ve drafted leave-behinds. Single-page distillations of the project*, not only do they succinctly describe the project (‘It’s a situational comedy about a jive-talking skateboard’), they’ll be a crutch for whatever I end up blathering (‘Did he just say it’d contain coarse lang- whoa!‘), and will quite handily include my contact details.
I’m practicing smiling. I’ve been told that I come across as rather serious and unsmiling. I’m looking to strike a balance between confidence and humility (‘Yeh, shucks – I so rock’) that won’t unnerve people.
Which leaves the spiel. An interesting observation: instead of writing to be read, I have to write to be heard. And as with dialogue writing, it’s not just content I have to worry about (the leave-behind is a big help there), I need to ensure that I provide sufficient motivation:
... A jive-talking skateboard.
Called Samuel L Jackson.
Producer can only blink rapidly, momentarily struck dumb.
And his sidekick, a laid-back surfboard. Called John Travolta.
The Writers Guild, along with the directors’ guild and the producers association, are putting on Date Night 1.1 Auckland (1830, Thursday, 21 February at the Classic): ‘a speed-dating-format networking opportunity for writers and directors to pitch to producers’.
I missed out on DateNight 1.0 last year but I was okay with that (a large portion of that being relief from avoiding the stress and pressure). So when I got the email last week, I made a snap-decision and quickly replied with a count me in before I gave it too much thought and chickened out.
But now that my registration has been confirmed, I’m burning with questions like what have I done? and ua a la ‘ia?*
Self-pity aside, a rather pressing question is so, what do I have to do?. A synopsis is bad enough. But pitching?
Some research, I believe, is in order.
I may be some time.
* Ua a la ‘ia? – Samoan, loosely translated as ‘what did you expect?’; peculiar to Samoans, it is a character-building parental response to a child in tears, whether it was their fault or not.