‘The Hollywood Pitching Bible’: The way of the pitch
by Douglas Eboch & Ken Aguado
I was four minutes in and I couldn’t breathe. My voice was getting weaker and weaker. The two women on the couch opposite me were trying to maintain their poker faces, but I could see the fear creeping into their eyes. “Is this guy going to have a heart attack in our office,” they were thinking.
I realized I had to stop or I was going to have a heart attack. “I’m sorry,” I said, “I need a moment.”
I looked down at the water bottle that rested in front of me, judging me, mocking me. I composed myself. Started breathing again. Then I launched back in and finished my pitch.
As I was driving home, my cell rang. It was my agent. Oh God. I answered the call, “hello”?
“They loved you!” he said.
“Did they mention my panic attack?” I asked.
“What?” he said, using the same voice I imagine he’d use if he were reconsidering his decision to represent me.
“Never mind, just kidding.” I hung up and thought: nailed it!
To the people who work in Hollywood who find themselves pitching their ideas (or buying ideas) for film and television, this true story is an experience many know all too well. And we’ve seen all, and from both sides. Doug’s a screenwriter and Ken is a producer and former studio executive, so collectively we’ve sat on both sides of the desk during countless Hollywood pitches – for decades.
Despite this Rashomon-like experience, or maybe because of it, we were compelled to find our way to a deeper understanding about the nature of pitching in Hollywood – a way to understand the soul, or DNA, of a story. On the most basic level that’s what a pitch is intended to do: convey the DNA of a story. This approach led us to write a book on the subject: The Hollywood Pitching Bible: A Practical Guide to Pitching Movies and Television. More on that later.
Our pitching journey – as a team – began about a year ago when we were asked by the Art Center College of Design to develop the curriculum for a graduate level film class on the art of pitching. We’d never met before and couldn’t be more different. Ken is a buyer of pitches. Doug is a seller. Ken’s from New York, Doug is from Alaska. (It’s one of the 50 states, look it up.) Ken is Jewish. Doug Eboch? Not so much.
But we agreed to this arranged marriage by the Art Center College and started developing a curriculum for pitching that would be based on our years of collective experience.
Yes, most everyone in the Hollywood creative community has some direct or indirect experience with pitching and the related anxiety the process can induce – as our above example dramatizes. But remarkably there is really very little information available about the techniques of pitching when compared to, say, screenwriting or other aspects of film and TV production.
Moreover, the few people who are actually good at pitching often arrived there through years and years or decades of painful, embarrassing trial and error. There are a couple of books about pitching but most are out of date, superficial or more akin to get-rich-quick advice. We determined that our curriculum could become the basis of a more practical, comprehensive book that provided a logical framework for constructing a pitch. And something more:
We quickly realized that writing a book about pitching allowed us to do something deeper – not just a list of tips and trick, but also a way to analyze and understand something more fundamental about the nature of a story. We wanted to explain pitching not only as a way to sell an idea, but also as a way to decode the DNA of the idea itself – understand it, reverse-engineer it, perfect it.
Hollywood Journal has graciously offered to publish a few excerpts from The Hollywood Pitching Bible. The first is “What is Pitching,” an overview of the challenges and variety of potential pitching scenarios.
“What is Pitching”
“Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.”
– Frank Zappa
Pitching in the entertainment industry is the process by which artistic ideas and points-of-view are conveyed verbally (and occasionally visually) from one person to another. In most cases the content of the pitch is a concise summary of a film or television project. Typically, the intention of the person doing the pitching is to get paid to write or rewrite a screenplay, a teleplay or adapt something from another medium (such as a book) into one of these things.
Usually the person doing the pitching is a screenwriter, but it can also be a director or producer. For the purposes of this book we will mostly assume it’s a writer doing the pitching, but the techniques for directors and producers are much the same.
Sometimes the person on the receiving end of the pitch is a “buyer.” After all, the term pitching is derived from the phrase “sales pitch.” Film and television production executives are good examples of buyers.
However, pitching is often (perhaps most often) done to people who aren’t buyers, such as producers, agents, directors, stars and even other writers. Typically, these people are intermediaries in the development process, but the ultimate goal is almost always the same: to get the writer paid to write something or paid by selling something.
Novice screenwriters frequently think of pitching as the classic scenario where a screenwriter has an original idea for a film or television project, meets with a studio or television executive and summarizes the project they want to write, hoping that executive will agree to buy the pitch and commission the writing of a script. But this is a very narrow view of pitching and in fact it may be many years before a working screenwriter finds him or herself in this classic scenario. Here are some other common pitching scenarios:
• The writer is trying to convince someone to read a screenplay they’ve already written. This might occur during a casual conversation at a party or industry event, over the phone with a prospective agent, during a general introductory meeting with a producer, or at a pitch-fest type of event.
• The writer (or a producer) wants to interest a financier, producer, director or star in an independent film project.
• The writer is attempting to land an assignment to adapt a novel, a comic book, a play or some other source material into a film or television show. Or the writer is trying to get a job rewriting an existing script. In these examples, the writer is pitching their “take” on the underlying material.
• The writer is proposing a potential episode of a television show to the show-runner either because the writer is on staff or (much more rarely) to land a freelance assignment.
• The writer is presenting potential “spec” ideas to their agent or writing partner. In this case, the initial goal is not to get paid, but rather to convince one of these business associates to invest their time and energy in the idea.
As you can see, pitching encompasses a variety of scenarios and purposes. Each can require a different approach with respect to the buyer or listener. By the way, in this book we will use the term “buyer” and “listener” interchangeably when referring to the person on the receiving end of a pitch, but in most cases the listener will not be a buyer.
Working in the entertainment industry means you will be immersing yourself in the world of competitive, creative ideas. Learning to pitch, and pitch well, is one of the best things you can do so that you enter the industry with the ammunition you will need to succeed. We want to teach you as many techniques as possible to help you handle all the exciting opportunities that come your way.
Excerpt from: The Hollywood Pitching Bible: A Practical Guide to Pitching Movies and Television by Douglas Eboch & Ken Aguado Copyright 2013 – All Rights Reserved