[Editor’s note: I decided that in order to post something here about pitching, I should call in someone with more experience in that arena than I have. I am still learning the art of pitching, having done most of mine so far on the phone or via e-mails. But these two guys, who know a good amount about comedy writing and the writing business, "pitched me" and I was sold. So here you go. Feel free to post comments below with your own pitching stories -- good and bad. --Craig]
by Peter Desberg and Jeffrey Davis
In our book Show Me The Funny!: At the Writers Table With Hollywood's Top Comedy Writers, twenty-seven comedy writers take a generic premise we gave them and develop it into twenty-two unique stories. An unexpected bonus is some great pitch stories that emerged during these interviews. Both screenwriters and sitcom writers from the golden age of TV to Everybody Loves Raymond talked about their experiences with producers and executives. That gave us the idea of writing a pitch book. We called in two friends: a writer/director with forty movies to his credit who has spent time on both sides of the desk and a producer who has two Oscars to her credit. The four of us started spit-balling.
Within twenty minutes we heard that a competent producer “can smell a good story regardless of how it's presented.” Then we heard: “The story isn't that important. It's the enthusiasm of the person making the pitch.” The same person made both statements…our award-winning producer.
This double message showed us why so many people go into pitch meetings with shaking knees, sweaty hands and pounding hearts. We decided we could be much more helpful talking about how to handle the stage fright that emerges whenever even the most experienced and successful writers pitch.
Stage Fright? What is it good for?
Stage fright can actually be useful if you can convert it into excitement. Too much of it can be devastating, but it can motivate you to practice. To kick that off, here's one tip to help you project enthusiasm.
1. Go over your idea or script and make sure it's good enough to merit your enthusiasm. It's important that you think it's great.
2. Take a stab at this classic acting exercise: practice pitching over-the-top; do it with wildly exaggerated enthusiasm. Go for a cartoony effect to get in touch with the most extreme enthusiasm you can create. (Make sure you're alone when you do this.) Next, look for something within that crazy, out-of-control pitch and find an element in it that resonates with you. Try it again, only this time, dial it down to a level you feel comfortable pitching with.
3. Use a camcorder to record yourself. Tinker with the presentation until you're happy with the results.
4. When you're ready, try the pitch out on a few discerning friends who will give you honest and knowledgeable feedback.
5. Find some other more extreme friends to help you simulate a pitch going very wrong. Ask them to push even beyond that point. Tell them they can't hurt your feelings. Remind them that you're a writer and you have no feelings left.
We were struck by the level of enthusiasm Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio (Dinner for Schmucks, The Santa Clause 2, Bubble Boy), one of the writing teams we interviewed, generated during their pitch. As they were developing a story their enthusiasm for what they were creating grew exponentially. Soon they were finishing one another's sentences and feeding off each other's energy and ideas.
If you find this useful, we'll be happy to provide many more tips to battle “Pitch Panic.” Come to our web site Show Me the Funny! [or www.smtfo.com]. And, hey while you're at it 'Like' us on Facebook.
About the Authors:
One out of every 150 people in America bought a copy of a joke book that Peter Desberg has written. Unfortunately, Scholastic sold the most popular one for $1 each, so he still has to work. Counting his five joke books, he has had twenty books published. In addition to this lucrative writing career, he is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in the area of stage fright. He has worked with many top stand-up comedians, who are regularly confronted with massive cases of flop sweat. He also has been moonlighting as a full professor at California State University Dominguez Hills for over thirty years.
Jeffrey Davis's earliest memories are of sitting around the writers' table at Nate & Al's Delicatessen, where his father and his comedy writer cronies gathered over corn beef and Doctor Brown's Cream Soda, told war stories, and tried to fix third acts. He began his own career writing jokes for Thicke of the Night. Among his situation comedy credits are Love Boat, House Calls with Lynn Redgrave, Give Me a Break, Diff'rent Strokes, and Night Court. He has also written for such shows as America's Funniest People, America's Funniest Home Videos, and Small Wonder, and has had film projects developed by Bette Midler's All Girl Productions, among others. His plays have been produced in New York and Los Angeles. His most recently published play is Speed Dating 101. He is the Screenwriting Department Chair and associate professor of film and TV writing at Loyola Marymount University. His one night of stand-up at the Comedy Store convinced him that he should stay permanently seated at his desk.