Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Chin music

Survived my two minutes on the spot at ScreenplayLab's pitchfest with Chris Lockhart. For $20, it's an astoundingly good value, whether you pitch or just sit and watch the carnage onstage. I hung back for the first two hours to try and gauge the quality of pitches and pitchers. When it became apparent that I stood as good a chance as anyone who had gone already, I hopped into line and gave it a shot. Didn't slobber down the front of my shirt and stammer but my title and concept were ones that Chris had seen all around town of late. No surprise there, admittedly it's a premise to whom I would certainly not be the first person it has occurred. Then, as Chris said, it's a question of what's "on the page" more than what's on the stage. But a good experience for me just in the preparation and delivery of the pitch itself.

A few things I took away from watching other attempts (some of which are also essential questions any writer should be asking themselves as they draft their script, outline, treatment, etc.):

1. What is your story about?

The crucial information you need to convey to your audience. Note, this not the same thing as telling your story from start to finish in abbreviated form. We attorneys call long passages of factual allegations that don't do much to further a legal argument the "who shot John?" The pitching equivalent is just getting up and regurgitating every plot point and character action in excruciating detail. Don't do that. Do understand what the heart of the plot is and be able to state that in one or two sentences that draw the listener in to wanting to know more. This includes things like "What is the genre?" The fewer the better. "World War II action-adventure romantic comedy" is not really a genre (except at pitchfests, apparently).

2. Who is your protagonist and what do they want?

Too often, Chris would ask a pitcher either who the protagonist of the story was, what their motivation was, or what they would have to overcome to achieve their goals. If your answer to that question is "stuff" -- as was one person's -- your script has some issues. Why do we care about your hero? What obstacles will they encounter along their journey? What makes it imperative to the story that they overcome those obstacles? How will their character be transformed in the process? Again, be able to state these points clearly in one or two sentences. Conversely, know and be able to respond intelligently to similar questions about your story's antagonist.

3. What makes your story different than every other one like it?

As I learned for myself, as great and original you may think your idea is, odds are it's been done before in some fashion. Or is about to be done. That's okay. What's not okay is being unable to explain how your twist on a concept or genre that has been done to death deserves to be produced. As the old saw goes, they want something like everything else, but different. Along the lines of not mixing too many genres, there are also some genres and story elements that are so common that, if you are going to use them, you better have a watertight premise and better write it better than anyone else. Including but not limited to:

a. vampires
b. zombies
c. the Old West
d. comas
e. time travel
f. Nazis
g. traveling back in time to kill Hitler and, thus, destroying the Nazis
h. elves
i. gnomes
j. other variations on the wee sprite theme
k. body switching
l. hidden codes in lost historical texts that have the potential to destroy humanity as we know it unless the dashing historian and his comely student decipher it in time
n. aliens

NB: If your premise is an amalgam of any two or more of these concepts, e.g., a young elf boy switches bodies with Hitler when he goes into a coma, put down your pencil and stop writing. Also, do not try and pitch that concept to Chris if he holds this event again next year. He is not mean, but he can be brutally honest and is likely to call it "dopey" in front of everyone else who has come to participate. Really, though, if you ever anticipate being in a meeting with the opportunity to actually pitch your script or concept, you will thank him for it.


Post a Comment

<< Home