Thursday, February 27, 2014
How NOT to pitch a pilot
Generally, we keep our pitch down to about fifteen minutes. We never read. We may go in with a sheet of bullet points or no notes at all. We explain the premise, the theme, and what about the project excites us. We introduce the characters briefly, and offer possible story suggestions for down the line. Along the way we integrate a few jokes.
The idea is to spark their interest in a way that they can actually picture the show on their network. We answer any questions and keep the dialogue going for as long as we can. The more they talk about it, usually the more interested they are.
Generally the whole process is over in a half hour and we leave. Networks tend to bunch their pilot pitch meetings together so we know they already heard three pitches this morning and two more are scheduled after us. It must get very tedious hearing all these pitches back to back. I don’t envy them.
But that’s what we do. And like I said, we’ve had a fair amount of success.
A few years ago we met with a non-writing producer who told us he had a pilot sold at Fox but needed it developed. The money was good, the timing was right, the idea was decent enough that we said we’d attach ourselves to the project.
We crafted characters and developed the pilot. Then this producer, we’ll call him Slick Sam, told us we had to pitch it to Fox. Why? They already bought it. Well, it seems they hadn't already bought it. They just liked the area. Strike one.
Okay, we’ll pitch the pilot.
Slick Sam wanted us to come in so we could rehearse and refine our pitch in front of him. We said that wasn’t necessary. We knew how to pitch. A family loved one was in the hospital at the time so I was also spending a lot of time there.
A date was set for the pitch and the day before Slick Sam calls. He’s nervous. He really wants us to come in and rehearse the pitch. I say no. At the time I’m in a hospital room. He asks me to then do the pitch on the phone. I reassure him that we’ll be fine and hang up. Strike two.
The pitch was at 2:00 at Fox, right after lunch. We met with Slick Sam a few minutes before. The premise involved food. Two minutes before we were going to go upstairs for the meeting his assistant arrives with giant grease-soaked bags. Slick Sam, ever the showman, had brought food for everybody to liven up the pitch. Greasy, disgusting BBQ food.
We told him to leave all this shit outside. This was a bad idea. But he was the master showman and insisted. We troop into the Comedy VP’s office and Slick Sam’s assistant starts laying out the food. Thick gloppy ribs, congealed brisket, beans, sauce, hot links – you name it. The Fox execs were repulsed. Plus, it was right after lunch. I would bet money that office still smells of BBQ food to this day.
Needless to say, it was the worst pitch ever. They couldn’t wait for us to finish so they could clear that lethal shit out of there. The pilot didn’t sell. Strike three.
We walked out of that meaning and immediately told Slick Sam we were done. “But we have three other networks to pitch,” he pleaded. “Not with us,” we said. We were out of there like the Road Runner.
Stunts don’t sell pilots. Nor do flashy power point presentations. Ideas sell. Ideas that fall within the parameters of what they’re looking for at that moment. If you have so little confidence in your idea or your ability to pitch that you have to resort to St. Louis style ribs then you don’t belong in a network VP’s office wasting her time. Unless you’re prepared to hand out half slabs to 10 million viewers, concentrate on the idea, not the catering.