Pitching an idea can be a tricky thing. While we all want to make films about subjects that we are passionate about, sometimes we must for commercial purposes pitch things that we can finance. Over the years we have been successful in getting a number of shows financed by broadcasters. The keys to making a sale happen are: connecting with the green light people at the broadcasters that you feel fit the shows you create, preparing exciting pitch materials, including a teaser video, knowing that the people you are pitching to want what you have to sell. These may seem obvious but I cannot stress enough how important your research into the wants and needs of your potential buyers must be.
Here are two examples of how things can go wrong.
We went to Los Angeles to pitch a group of series and movie ideas. We had managed to wrangle a number of meetings with people that bought and made the type of projects we were pitching. There were 3 of us and 18 projects so we decided that each of us would be the key pitcher on 6 projects. One of my projects was a suspense film about a newsman who did the soft news, pie eating contests, the man with the giant ball of tin foil or perhaps the auto version of Stonehenge. But the hidden part of our central character’s life was the fact that he was a serial killer. Fork In The Road was a very well written and tight script written by Nelu Ghiran. Now they say the short pitch with a complete description is the best. So clever me, I thought Americans would liken our killer to Charles Kuralt. Not that Charles was a killer, just that he traveled America doing stories of interesting people and events. Walking into the offices of Wilshire Court Productions I knew I had the best pitch for this movie. They specialized in thrillers about killers for Showtime. It was a lock. Mathew Gross, their Executive in Charge of Productions ushered us into the boardroom and we got down to business. I was up first and ready to let it go - the best pitch line ever. Mr. Gross said “tell me about your project”. I handed him the script and uttered the words I knew would make a sale. “Charles Kuralt serial killer”. Mathew immediately put up his hand and said, “Don’t do Serial Killers”. My pitch was over in four words.
Later in the same week we visited the offices of the Belgian man who brought the Smurfs to America. We were connected to Mr. Freddy Monnickendam through a friend who wrote children’s animation shows for NBC at the time. We drove out to the western end of the San Fernando Valley to a silver building with blue windows, dark blue not Smurf blue. It was a tiered building and in the tallest tier were the offices of Mr. Monnickendam. We rode up in the elevator of this glass and steel building and when the doors opened we entered an old world gentlemen’s club; wood paneling, leather chairs, heavy drapes, not what we were expecting. An older woman in a conservative dress escorted us into the “small” boardroom. She then asked if we wanted coffee or tea and we accepted her offer. She came back with a formal silver coffee service, very posh. As we waited for Freddy I was nervous. A fantastic Canadian children’s writer, Mary MacKay-Smith, wrote the film we were pitching and I wanted to make sure I did a great job. The story was about children who were just a little too greedy at Christmas and the film had a mix of live action and animation. We had sent a copy to Freddy ahead of time. Finally he entered the office, a handsome but somewhat diminutive man in an immaculate suit and tie. We were less formal. He sat down and said “Boys you have a beautiful little film here, but you know we probably would only make two or three million dollars if we produced it and well, that is just not enough for us to get involved.” “It did bring a tear to my eye, tell Mary a job well done.” Then he got up and left the room. We finished our coffee and the older lady let us out.
To date neither film has been made. The moral of the stories: make sure that you have the right product for the right person. Do your research!
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0343446/ Mathew Gross
http://www.imdb.com/company/co0040388/ Wilshire Court Productions
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0315797/ Nelu Ghiran
http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0598353/ Freddy Monnickendam