Tales from the trenches: Paul Guay pitches ‘Liar Liar’
by Douglas Eboch & Ken Aguado
In August of 2013 we published our book about pitching, “The Hollywood Pitching Bible”. While the book was intended to offer solid advice about selling projects for film and television, along the way we also discovered how the pitching process can become a way to analyze and understand something more fundamental about the nature of a story – a way to decode the DNA of the idea itself – understand it, reverse-engineer it, perfect it. The response to the book has been fantastic and we got some great feedback from readers. Many asked that we amplify some of our ideas, and also include more real-world examples.
So for the second edition of the book we asked creative professionals who have sold pitches for movies and television shows to tell us the story of their pitch. Each of these stories illustrated one (or more) of the points we made in the book. Hollywood Journal has graciously offered to publish some of these “tales from the trenches.”
— Doug & Ken
I was introduced to Paul when my first film, Sweet Home Alabama, came out and I was looking for advice about what I should do next from someone who’d been there before. When I heard the story of how Paul sold Liar Liar, I thought it was both hilarious and illustrative of how much screenwriting careers rely on being at the right place at the right time – and being prepared when you are. Ken agreed, so we made the story part of our chapter on “Meetings” in The Hollywood Pitching Bible.
– Douglas Eboch
On March 18, 1990, I jotted down an idea for a movie: “For one day, a guy who’s been a liar must tell the truth.”
On March 18, 1997, my then-writing partner and I attended the world premiere of Liar Liar.
What happened in the intervening seven years?
First, we turned my idea into a pitch. In 1990 we pitched a basic story to nine different companies.
All of them turned it down.
One company said they already had two liar projects in development. Another thought it might be interesting if our hero were four years old. We agreed it might be interesting. Stupid, but interesting. (We may not have said that aloud.)
We moved on to other projects, including The Little Rascals, when on April 14, 1994, we had a general meeting at Imagine with David Friendly. I didn’t particularly want to go, because in my experience, general meetings – meetings where you’re not discussing one of your specific projects or one of their specific projects – were a waste of time. But I went.
David mentions that Brian Grazer has an idea for a film about a liar.
Being young and full of ourselves, we say “Stop!” And before David can tell us Brian’s idea, we tell him ours.
David says, “That’s very interesting. Unfortunately, Brian’s not in the office right now. When he gets back, I’ll tell him your idea.”
At this point, we’ve been to a lot of meetings. We know when we’re being given a hand job. We think, “Yeah, that’s gonna happen.”
We’re in the lobby getting our parking validated, which is the high point of the day for us, when a force of nature speeds by at 200 mph with spiky hair. This, of course, is Brian. Through the glass door, we see him confer with David.
Then Brian opens the door and sticks his head out. “You guys have a minute?”
We figure what the hell, we’re here already, we’ve validated our parking, it’s the president of Imagine – sure, we can spare a minute.
We go into Brian’s office and sit. “So tell me about your idea.”
“Well, it’s about a guy who’s a liar –”
Brian pounds his desk twice. “I love it! I love it! What does he do?”
“Well, we think he’s a lawyer –
Brian pounds his desk twice more. “A lawyer who’s a liar! I love it! We’re gonna make this movie.”
My partner and I walk out of there asking, “What the hell just happened?”
We leave Imagine’s offices in Century City. By the time we get to my house in Santa Monica our agent is on the phone, telling us we have a deal.
What do we learn from this, boys and girls?
One thing we learn is: Don’t blow off meetings. You never know when you might meet the right person at the right time.
For whatever reason – maybe because he too had an idea for a film about a liar (which we never got around to hearing), maybe because at that moment he wasn’t particularly a fan of lawyers – Brian Grazer was the right person at the right time. While we had a lot more than two sentences to offer, Brian saw a movie in our two sentences.
I’m glad we decided to go to the meeting. Now all we had to do was write the damn thing.
Click below to read a few additional “Tales…”:
Tales from the trenches: Grady Hall pitches ‘Spartacus’
Tales from the trenches: Robert Eisele pitches ‘The Great Debaters’
Tales from the trenches: John Gray pitches ‘Ghost Whisperer’
Tales from the trenches: Tony Gayton pitches ‘Hell on Wheels’