the emergency pitch
It’s October, 2011. I’m in Austin attending the Austin Film Festival. There is a huge barbeque at this French Legionnaire place that I have not figured out yet, but it is in with the film crowd, I have been there before to see an outside open air screening. The Legionnaire yard is a big open space. The sun is high. The grass is green and prickly. There are white canvas tents parked over picnic type tables. The meal of the day is barbeque – allegedly authentic Texas barbeque. [I’m sure we are in Texas. I’m not so sure about the food.] I’d rather be admiring David Boreanaz from afar than eating questionable barbeque or talking shop but one of my workshoppers grabs me by the arm and says, There’s someone here who’d like Jane’s story. [Her name isn’t really Jane, but it works for this story.] Can she pitch?
“Jane” is another workshopper. She can write. We both know that. We’ve read her pages in workshop. I have no idea whether she can pitch though. I say, I don’t know, let’s find out. I turn to Jane. What’s your story about?
Jane can’t pitch. I’m getting a jumble of information none of which is telling me what the story is about. Uh oh.
What follows is fifteen minutes of intense “No, that’s not a pitch. Okay, not that, who’s doing this? Okay, what does he want? Okay, what must he do? No, not that, what must he do to not end up dead at the end of this story? Going back and forth with Jane, and then with my other workshopper — who seriously can pitch which is one reason she has the contact in the first place — till we have a simple one sentence description of the story that tells someone what the story is about. And then my other workshopper hauls Jane off to meet the important someone who would like Jane’s story and the important someone hears the short pitch and says, Send me the script.
Tragically, by the time this is all over, I am wrung out and David Boreanaz has moved on. [TRAGEDY!] But. My workshopper has a new contact and a submission and hasn’t embarrassed my other workshopper out of the business.
There are a few things you should be paying attention to there.
One, even though both of us knew Jane could write, my other workshopper was not going to introduce Jane to an important contact unless she knew Jane could pitch — because if Jane couldn’t pitch, that introduction would hurt my other workshopper. “Guilt by association.” That is not just for breakfast. You make a bad intro, your credibility just went down a notch too.
Two, my other workshopper came to me because she knew I would know or could find out real fast whether Jane could pitch. She didn’t go to Jane because she couldn’t trust Jane to know. Lots of writers don’t know they can’t pitch, they think they can pitch just fine – and can’t. So Jane would just say, Sure. But that might not be an accurate answer.
Three, if we hadn’t been able to slam a short pitch together in those fifteen minutes, Jane would never have met that contact or gotten that submission request. We could pull that off because there were two of us who seriously knew how to pitch right there hammering the right information out of Jane and stringing the pitch together for her. But. On her own? Never would have happened.
Think you can pitch?
Think or know?
In this business you have to know.
*The Art of the Pitch begins January 10th.