Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Pitching Scripts: at Harvard Square Script Writers

Dearly beloved scriptwriters, we're gathered together in this church in Harvard Square to pitch scripts. It's the Harvard Square Script Writer Group's Pitching It Workshop.

The Harvard Square Script Writers group has been going for some years. It’s meetings are held in a Lutheran church just a short hop from Harvard Square.

Usually they meet and go over a script from one of the participants, but every now and again they have a meeting on more general topics. Tonight they have four people from the industry talking about the art of pitching, and then about 16 people will each get a chance to do a five minute pitch to one of the speakers.

I've never pitched.
I won't be pitching tonight.
I'm here to observe because I'm curious about pitching.
It's not something I think I could do well, even if I tried. It's too close to selling, and I'm not good at that either.

There’s about 40 people present, including panelists.
The crowd is mostly middle aged, about two of them might be in their twenties.

The panel are:
Barry Brodsky, a produced playwright and screenwriter who teaches screenwriting and playwriting at Lesley University and at Boston University's Film School.

Vinca Jarrett, an entertainment attorney focused on film, television, digital media, and theatre, counselling clients around the world.

Michele Meek, a filmmaker, professor, writer, and creative entrepreneur.

Janice Pieroni worked as a co-writer and an executive at Universal Studios.

Here's my notes from the meeting.

Q: What do you look for in great pitches?

Meek: Do I understand the concept, the tone, the genre, and who is pitching and where they are coming from?

Jarrett: I look for your excitement, your enthusiasm, and how much you believe in it.
Who is your audience and how do you see the film being distributed?
Your pitch has to be on paper. I had someone whose pitch was great, but it wasn't anything like the script.

Pieroni: It's the person. Do I like the person, can I work with them?

Brodsky: I agree [it’s the person], particularly if pitching to a small company.
For introverts it's good to practice. Don't take anything personally. There's no one perfect way to pitch, except at the end the person on the other side needs to want to read the script.

Meek: You have to know who you are pitching to - What can they offer you?
Jarrett: Know what you want to get from them

Pieroni: It’s okay to be an introvert. There's a lot of great writers who aren't good at pitching.
Jarrett: If you are an introvert, go with someone who isn't.

Q: What's the most important things to include?

Brodsky: Show some passion, and that you've got an engaging protagonist that the audience can relate to.
Compress, you can't tell the whole story; tell the important stuff.
If you compare your script to other movies, only do it to movies that made money.
Don't lead off with the title. It means nothing to me.

Jarrett: Don't pitch if you don't have the rights to the project. Particularly for true stories. The person you pitched to can go out and get the rights themselves.

Meek: Listen to the questions you get asked. If you get asked the same question each time you pitch, maybe that means something.

Jarrett: Be prepared. Even if you go in to do a five minute pitch, be able to go longer.
Everyone says yes, because they are afraid to say no. If they seem excited, but they don’t talk about a contract or agreement, it means nothing.
If I was pitching to someone under 25, I wouldn't mention a Hitchcock movie as they may not have seen any, as terrible as that seems. This audience all looks like they've seem Hitchcock movies, no offence intended.
You need to think international now. You need to be thinking about budget.

After the general discussion, we got to watch people making pitches.

What did I get out of it?

All did a great job; better than I could for any of my projects, so points for that.

But pitching is hard. I sat in on five pitches, and I’m not a producer or director, but I thought all of them had good parts, but all of them had issues, and none hit it out of the park. Several went too long, were too detailed in places, or they meandered off on tangents, and got confusing.

I felt like all of them had a great half. Either they started great, but then the last half got too detailed and meandered, or they started a little hazily, and then the presenter got into the story in the second half and became more enthusiastic.

Tangents are clearly dangerous; one person went off on a tangent about his background, and that started to sound like a more interesting project than the one he was pitching.

In conclusion: Practice! You should record yourself and play it back, so you can listen to your own pitch. Give your pitch to friends and ask them; does this make sense? What don’t you understand?

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

David Mamet: Do one thing for your art every day, and one thing for your business

For the past few months, ads for have been following me around the web. Somehow they figured out I might be interested in their content—I must have clicked something—and I've had their ads popping up all over the place on different sites. That's annoying.


While most ads I tend to be able to ignore, they managed to suck me in. And I'm here to report that some of their stuff is pretty good.

For those not familiar, MasterClass offers online "classes" with different prominent people in the arts (and even a fews sports figures and others.)

Presenters include: Annie Leibovitz, deadmau5, Aaron Sorkin, Hans Zimmer, Steve Martin and David Mamet.

These classes are all in the same format; a series of short video lectures by the presenter, each of the individual lectures being anywhere from about 5 to 15 minutes long. There's also a workbook provided with each course, that includes highlights from each lecture.

Though I don't really think you'll learn everything you need to know to become a comedian, or a writer, or a filmmaker, from watching one of these courses, they are very inspiring. For the sessions I've watched so far, each presenter talks about how they got started, and how they go about; writing a play, writing a screenplay, or making a movie.

You can buy unlimited (perpetual) access to a single course for $90, but I think the better value is to do a year's subscription for $180, which gives you unlimited access to all of the courses. I've already watched Steve Martin's and David Mamet's courses all the way through, and am part way through several others including Aaron Sorkin, Hans Zimmer and Werner Herzog.

Here's some of my notes from the David Mamet course.

I'll be honest, before watching David Mamet's videos, I knew of only some of his work; I knew the name, but I didn't know that much about him.

Early on he provided a great quote from Hemingway: "Writing is easy – you just sit down at the typewriter and bleed."

I liked that quote. I liked it enough to Google it, and discovered that while it's variously been attributed to Hemingway, it's more likely that it's a variation on "You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed," from Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, used in 1949.

It's still a great quote.

He also said one thing that I wasn't sure I agreed with, that we must: "Tell stories as honestly as we can." It sounds good, and if you said that storytelling is about revealing 'truth' then I'd probably go along with that. But I don't think storytelling is about telling stories as honestly as you can.

That's why all those movies say "Based On A True Story,' not "A True Story.'

But that's just me.

Here's some other quotes from the lectures I wrote down:
  • Write the best story you can and throw out all the good lines. (I think that's a variation on the 'kill your babies' idea.)
  • I'm not any less uncertain about my work or my worth than you are, I just got into the habit of doing it. And you can too. 
  • Two things I learned;  Cut away that which is not needed and Keep doing it
  • Many people would rather put up with lethargy and would rather put up with failure, than put up with uncertainty.
  • I go back and forth between this is the greatest thing anybody ever wrote, and why was I born, I'm a complete fraud.
In reality, it's more stuff to inspire you and guide you, rather than nuts and bolts instruction on how to do things.

Finally, he offered a piece of advice that you can immediately take to heart: Do one thing for your art every day, and one thing for your business.

That's great advice, because I tend to suck at the business side of things.

My only question is; if writing is your art, does editing count as business?

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

This is why we can’t have nice things: Dumping YouTube

Youtube sent me a nice form email today, essentially accusing me of being a spammer, an impersonator or a re-uploader. They didn’t phrase it exactly that way, but the inference was clearly there, and the result was the same: they are no longer allowing me "access to monetization tools associated with" the Youtube Partner Program

As you probably heard, we recently announced updates to the YouTube Partner Program (YPP). We made these changes to address a spike in abuse on YouTube by bad actors like spammers, impersonators, and re-uploaders. Our goal is to ensure a healthy ecosystem where original creators can grow and thrive. As of today, your channel, notesonvideo will no longer have access to monetization tools associated with YPP because it doesn’t meet the new threshold of 4,000 hours of watch time within the past 12 months and 1,000 subscribers.

Admittedly, I haven’t been uploading videos to YouTube recently, so my traffic is way down, but it seems just a little annoying that they are accusing me of being a spammer or impersonator after I’ve been in this program for several years.

YouTube says “we’re doing this to address spamming” but it’s unclear to me how this limit helps with that; many spammers and impersonators get thousands more hits than I do!

YouTube says that many of the people being dumped were making less than $100 a year, and that’s true too, but hey, that’s a nice lunch! And clearly what this really means is that more of the money will now go to those making money, at the expense of those at the bottom.

But that’s capitalism at work.

Anyway, I’m unpublishing my videos on YouTube, and plan to use some other service (maybe Vimeo) from now on. If I’m not going to get paid even the few dollars they were paying me, there’s no incentive to stick with them; why support the monopolies?

Oh crap. They’re probably going to do the same thing on Blogger.