Time to address a little correspondence from that overflowing email in box of mine.
You need answers. You deserve good ones.
I’m handing over today’s Q & A to the scintillating and smart Dr. Paige Turner.
I have every confidence she will deliver.
Dear Doc Turner,
Long time reader; first time writer.
I have this fantasy that I just can’t get out of my head. I’m sitting in a well-appointed office. I’m enveloped in a big, leather chair. Everyone in the room is focused on me, waiting with baited breath. I can tell that they want me.
I’m taking a meeting.
A real, live, industry movie pitch meeting.
But that’s where the fantasy ends.
I’m simply dying to know what happens next.
Please tell me how this torrid tale plays out!
There’s nothing wrong with fantasy. Indulge yourself, you naughty writer you! Let your mind run wild with thoughts of driving off afterwards in the back seat of a limo.
But that’s a bit of a stretch. Here’s a taste of reality:
You will kill yourself to get to the meeting on time. When did LA traffic get this bad? Why doesn’t the studio map make sense?
Then you will wait. Your heart will pound with excitement and nerves. This meeting could change your life. Or you could throw up.
While you wait, you will be given water. If you take a lot of meetings, you will accumulate an impressive collection of half-drunk water bottles rolling around in the backseat of your car.
Trust me Beav, if there’s any rolling around going on in your backseat, it ought to be you and a companion.
Eventually, you will be ushered into the inner sanctum. Introductions are made.
Next, comes a charming ritual dance, performed to the tune of “Who Sits Where.” This game of musical chairs is ever more entertaining the more people there are in the room. You may have a co-writer with you or a producer. The Exec may have a Junior Exec along for the ride. Everyone grasps the convoluted subtext here and will do-si-do accordingly.
Mr. Big has his own, personal chair. Wait for him to sit so you don’t inadvertently park your own toochis in it. Once his position has been determined, then seat yourself. Here’s the important part – ensure that you are in his direct eye line.
Greet the Junior with enthusiasm! They may well rise up through the ranks one day. Then ignore them. Their little head will be hunkered down in frantic note-taking as, at present, that’s their sole purpose in the room.
Your producer should seat themselves where they can watch Big’s reaction, not you. This way, they can give you feedback in the post-meeting debrief on what’s working and what’s not.
If, by some chance, you do not have water at this point, Big will insist on having you watered as though the success of the entire meeting depends on your being wet. Regardless, you will barely have a chance to take more than a single sip.
NOTE: If you are at Disney, the Big Studio Exec will put his feet up on the table, sit on the back of the chair, or in some way oddly interact with the furniture in the pitch meeting.
I do not know why this is so. I can only say that I have observed this phenomenon many times. Far too many for it to be mere coincidence.
I suspect a secret Disney Studio Exec Handbook exists advising that intentionally treating the furniture as if you were hanging out at home injects a pseudo sense of laidback casualness into a meeting.
In fact, it is simply perplexing.
Once everyone is settled in, it’s time for the chitchat.
There will definitely be some. The Exec will lead the way, but it doesn’t hurt to have some lines of your own. Remarking about the weather is painfully cliché. You might bring up a successful recent film release; an exciting casting coup. A likely topic is the script that got you through the door. There has to have been one, otherwise, what’s the point of him meeting with you anyway?
BOOM! Foreplay is over in minutes.
Time to get down to business. If you’re there with a producer, they should have a tidy preamble all prepared; hit a few key points, then toss the ball to you. If not, it’s your job to shift seamlessly into the movie pitch, setting the tone of your film as you do.
When you reach Fade Out, it’s time for a little after play.
Exec will inevitably have some questions. And you will have good answers. If he simply gushes, you are probably dead in the water. Best-case scenario, he makes a few suggestions. Why? It’s how he makes his imprint on your work. To be blunt, he’s peeing on your story. You gamely praise his ideas. If you think they are truly off base, even “cray-cray,” throw in a “Hmm, fascinating! I’ll have to give that some serious thought.”
Perhaps you bat ideas back and forth. Fabulous – they’re engaged! They might ask what else you are working on. You have a succinct answer targeted to the company’s taste and mandate. Hopefully, they like what they hear and ask you to keep them posted. Bravo! A line of communication has been opened! Chances are slim that this pitch is going somewhere, but he likes you and your work enough to want more.
A little cuddling is ok, but don’t overstay your welcome.
We all know that a writer’s life is a solitary one. You struggle, isolated and alone. Suddenly, there you are in a room full of people hanging on your every word. It feels pretty damn good. Of course, they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but there’s no way you’re staying for breakfast.
When a writer doesn’t realize a pitch meeting is over, a skilled exec will start throwing signals.
Uncrossing their legs. Capping their pen. Leaning forward and scooting to the edge of the chair as if about to rise. Be sure to catch them. If you’ve spotted all of these, you have overstayed your welcome. Say something charming and make your exit, souvenir water bottle in hand.
Seems simple, doesn’t it? What could go possibly go wrong in a pitch meeting?