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5 Things to NOT do when you Pitch

fancyI had a string of meetings at the end of last year, and I got some insight on what works and what doesn’t. Obviously there’s more than one way to pitch something, but I thought it would be helpful to put a few common mistakes out there. Here’s some things to NOT do:

WING IT

Lack of preparation is a huge red flag, it looks like you don’t care enough about your project. You might be good at discussing it, but you need make sure you’re concise and clearly getting your vision across. Simply reading from your document or inventing new characters in the room is not professional.

ANSWER A QUESTION WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW THE ANSWER

I have had to learn this the hard way. Execs like to ask a lot of questions, and that’s a good sign they’re interested. Some like to simply test out your knowledge. But inevitably there will be a question you can’t answer. If that happens, don’t start babbling about season arcs and power-ups (for example). Be honest – say ‘That’s a great question, I’ll have to give it some thought.’

TELL THEM WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR

Obviously you want to sell your pitch, you’re not just there for the cold water and warm handshakes. In order to make something happen, it’s tempting to pick up on what the exec wants and start pandering to that. DO NOT DO THIS. No matter what you do, stick to your vision. It’s YOUR ideas they want, not their own reflected back at them. Execs hate that. They will be disgusted with you.

ACT LIKE THIS IS THE LAST TIME YOU’LL EVER BE ALLOWED IN THE BUILDING

Just relax, will you? This isn’t a job interview, it’s just a meeting. There are no wrong answers. The final decisions are out of your control, anyway. Be professional, but enjoy yourself. It will give the buyer confidence if you’re not stressing out. Be entertaining.

BARE KNUCKLE FIGHTING

In rare cases, things can devolve into a shouting match, and chairs can get tipped over. If they are not seeing your project in the way you’d hoped, challenging the exec to a one-on-one fist fight on the top level of the parking structure is not going to help. Plus, you want to leave the door open to pitch new work HAHA THIS IS A JOKE

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THE FORCE AWAKENS TRAILER

ball_droidIt’s been seven days since the trailer came out. We’ve had Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Terminator Thursday since then. The world has changed and it’s taken me this long to catch up. So here goes.

I saw it on Friday morning at the El Capitan theater in LA. The theater is owned by Disney so it makes sense they’d have a ball with it there. It wasn’t exactly a packed house, and I doubt many of the audience were there specifically for the teaser, but it was ideal conditions to get some new Star Wars into my eyes. While the organist was busy bashing out some Frozen tunes on his organ, I starting thinking about what I was going to see. What exactly would the trailer show? Would we see Han, Luke and Leia? The Falcon? Tatooine? Would I be able to keep my shit together? All this and more swirled around my head as I was waiting. Eventually the organ dude sank into the ground and an usher came out to let us know the program. Here’s the rundown: we were going to see three regular Disney trailers first, and the fourth would be The Force Awakens teaser in 2D. Then it will run again, this time in 3D.  Then – a laser show with a live-action Baymax, followed by a short called Feast, then Big Hero 6, THEN, the teaser in 3D again. If you think this took a long time to explain, that’s what I was thinking while the usher was going through the list. I was never going to get out of there. With the scene set and the audience primed, the lights dimmed. Never have the trailers for Into the Woods, some Kevin Costner coach drama and Cinderella looked so- Oh shit, here we go.

THOUGHTS

It’s always surreal to watch a new Star Wars thing. I seem to have some powerful, almost out-of-body experience like I can’t believe it’s even happening, and then get tunnel vision on the screen. I need to get over that (in case someone tries to attack me from the side). Anyway, here’s what I thought: the teaser was interestingly paced, but there’s exactly zero to get worried about, in fact, everything to look forward to. I love that John Boyega in a stormtrooper suit is the first thing you see. The ball droid is a wtf moment, which I’m hoping we get more of. Daisy Ridley’s character looks like she popped straight out of the Original Trilogy and the X-Wings and cross-shaped lightsaber guy were awesome to behold. Then there’s that shot of the Falcon. A little bit pre-vizzed for my liking, with both the camera and the ship looping upside down, but I’ll take it. Word on a Grantland article was that that was in fact a practical effect shot with a motion-controlled Falcon, which if true makes my mind explode with joy. THE GODDAMN FALCON, PEOPLE. Everything’s gonna be OK.

I FELT IT

I’m glad it was dark and I had 3D glasses on because I was a mess up in the theater. And we didn’t even see any of the other characters, meaning there are clearly more freakouts like this to come. So this is The Force Awakens. I immediately tried piece the clues together about what I saw and the little I know about the plot and it all added up nicely. I’m excited, and the best thing about it for me it that I already like the new folks, especially Boyega who I’m a big fan of. The teaser contained more surprising things (to me) than I thought it would, but was 100% set in the Star Wars universe we’ve visited before. When I got home I watched it all again on iTunes, and while it had a different vibe to the big screen, it still got me hyped up for next December. Great way to spend a Friday morning.

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Nicholl Near Miss

I received a pass latter from the Nicholl Fellowship yesterday. It was close:

…your script placed among the Top 10% of all entries and fell short of advancing to the quarterfinals by two-to-six points.

Two points! Not bad for a loopy sc-fi script. Oh well, there’s always next year.

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From the Blacklist

crystal01

The blend of Victorian-era settings with science fiction storylines is always a fun way to tell a story, and this script does a great job of combining the mores and trappings of that era with the strange new realities that Haldane encounters. Scenes such as those where Haldane is in his lab examining the crystal are particularly easy to envision in this context. The reader spends almost every moment of the script following Haldane, so it’s crucial that the author is able to maintain sympathy for him; and, while it’s never quite clear if Haldane is a ‘good’ person or not, his adventures and actions are never boring. Also strong is the presentation of Haldane’s slow acclimatization to his newfound powers. This is reminiscent of superhero stories in which the protagonist finds himself entering a new reality, but, set in Victorian times, it feels fresher and more fun. The script’s final scene, with the alien ships arriving one hundred twenty years later, is a great moment that vastly expands the world that the story inhabits, and opens up the door for more stories set in that world.

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Guided by Forces

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The Fellowship of the Nick

patrickI sent my submission to the Nickelodeon Writing Fellowship today. Two copies of a comedy spec, a one page resume, a half page bio and the application form and release. Ended up being quite a stack of paper. Satisfyingly hefty.

The script I sent was a Simpsons spec, which is traditionally a hard show to write due to the fact that they’ve covered everything in known universe. I somehow figured out two ideas I hadn’t seen before, then went through TEN YEARS of episode synopses to see if they’d been done already. One had and one hadn’t, so I wrote the one that hadn’t. Oh, and I should really say thanks to Simpsons writer Bill Oakley, whose outline for an episode I found online and then shamelessly copied like a Canal Street bootlegger.

One interesting thing on the application is you have to point out how ethnically or culturally diverse you are. I put that I’m English, which is fine I guess, but just realized my mother-in-law is Indian. I should have put that! Missed opportunity.

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Inspiration

With this show, I wanted people to laugh and cry… and shit themselves all at the same time.

– Garth Marenghi

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Open letter to Nien Nunb

niennunbDear Nien,

I wasn’t going to write this letter, but today I have been procrastinating at work and dodging Photoshop and I have been thinking about your role in RETURN OF THE JEDI and the impact your actions will have on people. You don’t get much screen time but you certainly make a big impression with your minge face and blinky eyes. Not only that, but your skills as a pilot must be pretty great to get that job as second-in-command on the leading attack ship in a biggest space battle since BBY.

So why the jokey attitude? You don’t seem to be taking a daring raid against a superior enemy very seriously. I mean, it’s intergalactic war and you’re giggling in your little pilot suit. C’mon, cut that shit out.

I don’t know if it’s some Sullustan thing, but let me tell you those in charge don’t find your behaviour funny. They can’t even understand you. No one can. And yet you continue your mission to distract those around you with reactions of extreme surprise, total confusion or basic amusement. That is not the correct tone to set for the rest of the  Rebel pilots.

For example, the ship you were co-piloting, the Millennium Falcon, had a close brush with disaster inside the bowels of the second Death Star when it sheared off its communications dish at high speed. Going ‘WHHAA!’ does not solve the situation nor make it better. You could have avoided that collision if you were concentrating and not trying so hard to impress. And believe me, those crew mates, they don’t give an ounce of shit. They’re more focussed on A) not burning to death and B) saving the lives of their loved ones from a lifetime of tyranny.

I’m sure you know this. You don’t get put next to General Calrissian on a whim. You’re a talented pilot. People look up to you. And it’s your job to set the tone in that cockpit. Drop the facade and get down to the business of zero gravity ship-to-ship close combat.

Your friend,

James

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Cats in Movies

jonesyA few days ago I was trying to think of movies with cats in them (real ones, not some giant CG Garfield monstrosity), because (I think you’ll agree) cats are awesome. I could watch those cute little guys all day. But sadly, after ten minutes of deep thinking, all I could come up with was ALIEN, MILO & OTIS (which is in fact a horrible Japanese pet torture movie) and five seconds of TO CATCH A THIEF. This is not enough cat content. Seriously.

Luckily, my wife heard my call for help. A rapid Google search lead her to a great site with about a million cat movies – http://catsonfilm.wordpress.com. Now my to-watch list is filled with the likes of THAT DARN CAT, HARRY & TONTO and THE THREE LIVES OF THOMASINA. Oh god.

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Elysium

I saw ELYSIUM last night. As my most anticipated movie of 2013 I was pretty excited to get into a press screening at the Arclight Hollywood. We were literally the last people in line, got the last passes, were the last to have our phones taken and bagged, and the last to enter the theater seconds before the light dimmed for the screening. That’s when an usher opened up a reserved aisle, and we got seats together in a perfect spot. Don’t know what the moral of this story is. Sometimes it pays to be late?

Anyway, the movie is entertaining and goes faster than a dropship breaking through Earth’s stuffy atmosphere, but I my feelings are I only liked it rather than loved it. The style and the execution of the world is amazing, and every frame is recognizable as a Neil Blomkamp film, but a lot of stuff doesn’t land. It follows Matt Damon’s character, a downtrodden worker human on Earth, as he tries to get himself to the orbiting ringworld of Elysium for urgent medical attention. He has five days to do it before he dies, and a bunch of people on Earth, as well as up in space, do not want that to happen (because they hate poor people? It’s never explicitly explained).

The real problem I had is with the film’s antagonists – for a start there’s too many. It muddies the plot to have not one, but four different people against the lead for different reasons. Specifically, Sharlto Copley’s character is a kind of government-sanctioned bounty hunter straight out of a comic book, and he really is the film’s weak point. He has ludicrous action, barely any motive and just a weird performance that doesn’t work at all.

There’s a bunch of little plot holes that don’t really bother me, but the general switching of stakes kept the story from really building to a nice ending. There was a goal, quickly achieved, then another totally separate goal that needed attention, and so on.

It’s entertaining, but not the genre-defining kick to the balls I was hoping for. Lower your expectations, cause Neil Blomkamp is human after all.

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