Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pitch Hell

Did anyone see the premiere of On The Lot last night? The first task given to the fifty (fifty!) aspiring filmmakers was to pitch a movie to Carrie Fisher, Bret Ratner and Garry Marshall based on one of five log lines.

A country mouse is captured by a phrmaceutical testing lab and must escape.
A man about to become a priest meets the woman of his dreams just before taking his vows.
A box of military equipment destined for a base is delivered to a suburban house in error.
A slacker is recruited into the CIA.
And I've totally forgotten the last one...

It was painful. (And probably not that entertaining for non-writers, non-filmmakers.) They only showed a couple of even half-way decent pitches and a lot of really terrible ones. Amazing how little most of the contestants seemed to know about storytelling. I think many of them wanted to show how creative they were and how they could think "out of the box" but that only works if you actualy come up with a story to go with your wacky idea! Ratner made it clear to them their pitches had to show their movie had a clear beginning middle and end. Some of them were so crazy. Did these people forget that the prize is a development deal with Dreamworks????

Made me think of one of the reasons I've been hesitant to consider writing screenplays instead of novels -- in spite of my obvious love for movies. In movies there are two main (often conflicting) creative people involved in developing the story. The writer and the director. (and that's before the actors and everyone else gets involved.) I'm not sure I could cope with being only one half of that equation especially because the director seems to be the one with more control, more respect (and better paid) and last night proved how some of them are SUCH IDIOTS without a clue about storytelling.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I understand the huge downside of pursuing script writing isntead of novel writing but when I see somebody's passion for films - like you and my dh - I just want to be able to encourage you to go for what's in your heart.

Diana Peterfreund said...

I feel the same way you do. People are always saying to me, "Why don't you write screenplays? That's where the real money is." And then I say, "Quick, name me five screenwriters who aren't also directors -- i.e., Orson Welles and M. Night Shamaylan don't count."

Screenwriters aren't the creators of movies. They write them and go home. Directors are in charge.

HOWEVER, I've been reading the website of Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) who got his start as a YA author for S&S, and realized that, in *television*, the writer is the one in control. The writer is the one who chooses the cast, the sets, the costumes, etc. There's something I could do.

And where is the most interesting stuff happening in the world of video media? Television, not films. Coincidence? I think not.

Maureen McGowan said...

That's very interesting, Diana. No wonder the better written stuff is on TV these days.

Christine said...

I missed it!! I totally forgot it was on and now I'll have to try and "find" it somewhere.

I really wanted to see the pitches too.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Loved it! Loved it like I loved the finale of Lost last night -- there is hope for summer television.

I was just amazed at how after Bret told them what they needed -- they still couldn't get it together.

Kris Eton said...

I was also floored that these supposed professionals were not prepared to do something like pitch a film idea. And they are professionals, they just are big fish in the ocean yet. They know how to make a film.

At least writers understand that at some point in your career you need to be able to pitch an idea to an agent or editor.

Their lack of skills in this area were laughable. And some of their ideas were bizarro. My Lord.

I think this is going to be a very fascinating show to watch. The whole idea of it is very close to what us writers do, so we can sympathize a lot with what they go through.

Kris Eton said...

Oh, and Diana and everyone else, go visit Tess Gerritsen's blog where she discusses writing for television. She also believe at one time 'that's where the money is.' I guess under union rules the base pay for a tv movie script is $30,000. Sounds good, huh?

Well read all about her nightmare getting her story off the ground and actually filmed. It will give you pause, if you are considering going this route.

Here's a link to her post about it:

Click me!

Diana Peterfreund said...

I'm not talking about a TV movie, and I would NEVER say "where the money is." LOL! Films, I would imagine, work the same,whether they are features, made-for-TV, or straight-to-DVD.

I'm talking about television series, and specifically about being a show runner, the way Rob Thomas is.

Thomas's website and the new book Neptune Noir goes into a lot of detail about the development.

Kristen Painter said...

We had very similiar blog thoughts

Kris Eton said...


I guess what I meant was, there is a set amount of money that a union writer will get paid in Hollywood for her work. And I misquoted the amount, it was a little bit over $30,000. How many writers (of books) can claim that kind of advance? There are plenty of newbie authors who don't even make $10,000 on a book.

So, I can see where a writer might think it would be easier to make MORE money writing something for Hollywood, whether it be a series, a movie, or a tv show, rather than risk making a lot less writing a book.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have their book go to auction and end up with a deal that allows them to write full-time. Most authors have other full-time jobs and write when they have time off.

Diana Peterfreund said...

Exactly, Kris. Entry-level screenwriters are likely making more money than entry level novelists. But there are far far far far far fewer of them!

It's simply a case of scale. There are astoundingly fewer movies/films produced each year than there are books published (thousands and thousands of times fewer!), therefore there are many many fewer screenwriters making money on screenplays and television scripts than there are authors making money on books. And each film is likely seen by many more people. Therefore, the script is worth more money.

And yes, the movie business is more unionized -- we novelists should get on that! However, I actually know plenty of writers who are making a living wage off of their work. Probably more than those who have a day job as well.

However, as I said before, money is not my major concern here -- though it may have seemed that way from my remark about what other people say to me. It's about creative control, and I think you get more in the book world. Most of Tess's post doesn't even deal with money -- it deals with the changes the executives wanted to make to her script. I know plenty of novelists who took a stab at screenwriting, and realized that biz was beyond them. Or novelists (like Rob Thomas) who were happy either way. Or novelists who have had a great deal of success in that world but have yet to break through with any of their screenplays.

Kris Eton said...

Very good point that there are WAY more books published each year than TV shows/movies being made. I never thought about it that way. :-)

Let's hope someday I can be one of those authors who makes a decent living off of her writing. For now, I'll make do with a few thousand a year.

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