A guide for dummies like me


I'm back again with another (hopefully!) helpful post on becoming a writer in Hollywood. For this post I am assuming you have read my earlier post on how to get an agent. If not, read that one first, then come back here.

For those who are unfamiliar with what a spec screenplay is, let me give you a short overview. There are two ways to sell a screenplay in LA: either someone hires you to write one (hopefully based on a novel you wrote!), or you write a screenplay on your own hoping someone will purchase it. This second type of screenplay is known as a spec screenplay. You have written it "speculating" that you will sell it. Once it is ready, then your agent will set up pitch meetings with the development folks at the various companies in LA that buy spec screenplays. This can be anyone from a major studio to a small production company (who hopefully has a development deal with a major studio) to an individual actor, producer, or director.

My personal preference is to not do more that two pitch meetings per day, mainly because LA is so spread out and the traffic is so unpredictable, that you are risking missing a meeting. So I set up one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Of course you're at the mercy of your contact's schedule, so be flexible. But above all else remember the cardinal rule when it comes to meetings: if you're not early, you're late.

If your pitch meeting is at a studio, have your agent ask if your contact will give you a "drive on." This is a studio pass that will allow you to drive onto the lot and park by their office. Otherwise you will have to park in the studio's parking lot and walk. Most studios have trams to ferry you around, so if you're not familiar with the studio, ask your contact how to navigate the studio. The bottom line here is if you have to park off-lot, allow time to get to your contact's office. Some studios, like Disney, have close-in parking, but others can be challenging.

When you arrive at your contact's office, you will most likely be greeted by an assistant or a secretary. Be friendly to them and cordial. They will be your gateway to future meetings. Besides, it's just the right thing to do.

When you are invited into your contact's office to present your pitch, be aware they have a limited amount of time--as little as five minutes or as much as thirty, but rarely more than that. If they give you a choice of chairs, pick an uncomfortable one and do not slouch. Slouching conveys arrogance and/or disinterest. Sit forward and be excited.

There will usually be two people in the room--the head of development and their assistant taking notes. There can occasionally be more, so don't let that psych you out. Be prepared for some small talk--usually less than thirty seconds. If they do not invite you to start your pitch, find a way to segue into it. Remember, time is your enemy, so keep your pitch short and concise and focus your attention on the head of development.

In your pitch, just hit the broad strokes. If you can compare your story to a successful movie (especially if it's one of theirs), do so. Open with something funny or exciting, depending on the type of story you're pitching. The writer of TWINS began his pitch by saying, "Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwartzenegger...TWINS," and he left the meeting with a sell.

Tell the beginning, middle, and end of your story, what is at stake, the main characters, then end with something pithy and wait for questions. Be prepared for them to ask for details. That is a good sign--it means they're interested. If they're not, they may ask you what else you have, so be prepared with two more short pitches just in case.

Rarely does a pitch meeting end with any sort of commitment, so do not push. Thank everyone and leave. You want to leave them with a good taste in their mouth. You can bring a synopsis of your script or even a treatment with you, and offer to leave it.

The next day, send a note of some sort, either text, email, or letter, thanking your contact for their time and expressing your hope that you can work with them in the future. Do not call them.

So there you have it. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment in my contact section.