True Hollywood Story: my first pitch meeting

The year is 1992. I have a semi-hit play running Off-Broadway. A Perfectly Nice Woman who runs the New York office of a Fairly Large Movie Studio comes to see it and is impressed. She invites me up to her office to talk about any ideas for movies I might have.

It’s my first pitch meeting! I’m so excited. I know all about pitch meetings — I know that to sell your pitch, you need to take your original, dynamic, exciting new idea and express it as a tired old cliche — preferably two tired old cliches combined in an interesting way. It’s Star Wars meets Die Hard, it’s Benji meets The French Connection, it’s Serpico meets The Sound of Music. Maybe, if your idea is outrageously difficult to define, you can throw in a third cliche — it’s Silence of the Lambs meets The Muppet Movie — in space!

(At this stage of my career [that is, 1992], the reader should know, I am of the habit of walking past subway posters, describing the action, and then adding ” — and they have to solve a murder!”  “A woman goes to a laser surgery clinic, where she meets a bespectacled Mideastern doctor  — and they to solve a murder!”  “A woman tries a new toothpaste — and she has to solve a murder!” This joke backfired on me one day when I passed an ad for Newport cigarettes and said “A fun-loving young couple is getting married — and they have to solve a murder!” and then realized that that was actually a pretty good idea for a movie.  Try it some time!)

I go to the meeting. The offices of FLMS are classy in a New York way — lively and plush, lots of edgy, post-modern art in the lobby.

We go into PNW’s office. Pitch meetings are never just the writer and the Person Who Can Say Yes. The Person Who Can Say Yes is always flanked by at least two other people, Pilot Fish really, whose job is to sit there and listen and maybe take notes and then later discuss the pitched projects with the Person Who Can Say Yes. The Person Who Can Say Yes is generally inclined to Say No, and they need, I think, those two other people to help them feel better about that.

Anyway, so PNW has two of these people flanking her. One is a Perfectly Nice Younger Woman and the other is a young man who I will call Blow-Dried Little Asshole. B-DLA looks like he’s 20 years old. His haircut looks like it cost more than my monthly rent and he carries with him an opaque, impenetrable sense of entitlement and arrogance.

I go into my pitch. The movie I’m thinking of is one I’ve written with a friend of mine, a love story set against the alternative music scene of the 1980s. I remember my pitch rule, and I say “It’s The Way We Were meets Slacker.” PNW and PNYW smile and nod, but B-DLA snorts with derision, tosses his head back and says “Slacker performed like an art film.”

I can’t tell you the impact this moment had on me. I loved Slacker, I had never seen anything like it, and, more important, I had never seen a movie that so accurately described the concerns of my peculiar generation so well. Even worse, I loved art films as a genre even more — they were the mainstay of my cinematic diet. Half the movies I saw were either at the Angelika or Film Forum. “Art Film” to me was something to aspire to, not something to spit on.   Bergman and Kurosawa, Kubrick and Antonioni, Fellini and Almodovar, Jarmusch and Lynch, these guys weren’t curse-words in my household, they were models of creative behavior.  Yet this B-DLA had just spit on both Slacker and Art Film in one breath. What I didn’t know was that when a writer says “Art Film” in a pitch meeting, he might as well be saying “Dog Shit.” It’s The Godfather meets Dog Shit!

So, my pitch was dead at that point but I was too green to realize it. And keep in mind, this was not a Big Time Studio, this was the “edgy” studio, the “young” studio known for taking chances and fostering daring young talent.

I still don’t know what B-DLA meant by this statement — how could you denigrate Slacker for performing like an art film? It’s got 100 characters and no plot, how should it perform? It cost $27,000, grossed $1,000,000, introduced a new term to our language, defined a generation and began the career of Richard Linklater, but apparently for B-DLA that’s not good enough, Slacker should have performed like Iron Eagle.

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25 Responses to “True Hollywood Story: my first pitch meeting”
  1. lol @ Iron Eagle.

    Now I’m trying to imagine a film that’s a cross between Iron Eagle and the Way We Were….

  2. greyaenigma says:

    I can’t wait for the sequel, where B-DLA gets his comeuppance.

    My first reaction to that comment was actually “Slacker isn’t an art film?”

    I’m always confused by how haircuts can cost so much. Now matter how much I spend, my hair always seems to look the same, sort Harry Potter-ish, it instantly get messy again.

  3. chmmr says:

    Imagine an entire industry full of B-DLAs and you have the modern mainstream videogame industry.

    And we wonder why we command zero cultural respect.

  4. eronanke says:

    There aren’t enough Murder-Solving movies.

    There, I said it.

  5. mcbrennan says:

    What’d they make instead, I wonder?

    So you’re saying I shouldn’t walk in with a script called Dramatis Personae and describe it as “a seriocomic pastiche of The Way We Were, Trust and Les Enfants du Paradis, with a little Philip Roth thrown in for the night school crowd”?

  6. ghostgecko says:

    “Silence of the Lambs meets The Muppet Movie”

    Meet the Feebles? That sketch from the State?

    Is it sad that I would actually enjoy seeing something like this?

  7. schwa242 says:

    It’s got 100 characters and no plot, how should it perform? It cost $27,000, grossed $1,000,000, introduced a new term to our language, defined a generation and began the career of Richard Linklater, but apparently for B-DLA that’s not good enough, Slacker should have performed like Iron Eagle.

    Wait… what term did it introduce? You don’t mean “Slacker” I hope, because everyone knows that was introduced by Principal Strickland in Hill Valley High School back in 1955.

  8. dougo says:

    Did your pitch become The Wedding Singer or Donnie Darko?

  9. toliverchap says:

    So what was the point? That art house movies can both represent a [blank] (in this case generation OR to be more accurate a subculture, ’cause generation is quite a broad brush and art house films are anything if not esoteric; otherwise they’d have broad appeal and be economically “popular” entertaining all sorts of hairdo a-holes who’d pay their money to look up into the flickering abyss and say: “I identify strongly with that.”) and define it?

    • Todd says:

      I think B-DLA’s “point” was that all movies should gross $100 million, or else they are failures. My shock came from the blunt rejection of an idea, that because Slacker didn’t gross $100 million, it therefore contained nothing worthwhile and had nothing to add to any cinematic notion (ie, taking the sensibility of Slacker and adding to it a conventional love story).

      • toliverchap says:

        So how smart would it have been to fight economics with economics. As you pointed out Slacker was a small budget film that did turn a profit as such it was a success, though not in a blockbuster sense. And really that would have forced your a-hole to either admit that he was not making an economic argument but one of taste OR that he was wrong to dismiss the film as being a failure. I think the best way to argue that smaller films are worthwhile is to stay out of the esoteric discussions about the value of art in cinema and all that. If you are talking to suits it seems like you should stick to numbers. “We can make this product [film] for a small cost and it should, based on reasonable quantifiable numbers on similiar projects (which is all these guys have to go off of when greenlighting an expensive blockbuster assumption) turn a profit such that your company will make money. But maybe I’m being a simpleton by dismissing all that political shit and taking a strict capitalist approach.

        • Todd says:

          Well, but that’s the thing. I thought that by bringing up Slacker I was putting it in capitalist terms — as you note, in pure numbers, Slacker was smash hit, a phenomenon even. For B-DLA, however, it’s not enough that a 16mm, plotless, cultural lodestar be hugely profitable by its own standard, it has to make $100 million. That’s what baffled me so much about his reaction — Slacker was clearly, and famously, a success story. To say “Slacker performed like an art film” is to say “I didn’t see Slacker, and know nothing about it, but I didn’t find it in my top-ten list and, more importantly, I need to take this opportunity to demonstrate that I am superior to you.” Which I could find no argument against, at least not one that would help me finish my pitch.

  10. mikeyed says:

    If I had to express a movie in cliches…

    I’d restrict myself only to Keanu Reeves Movies, like oh, Transformers = Something’s Gotta Give + Constantine. His career just seems to encapsulate Hollywood cliche as a whole so perfectly.

  11. randymonki says:

    It reminds me of a skit i used to perform for friends about a desperate writer who enters a pitch meeting trying to sell an action thriller set in 15th century China and ends up with VIN DIESEL IN SPACE FIREFIGHTER.

    Perhaps in some alternate history, Slacker ended up as DOLPH LUNDGREN IS ACTION SPACE WARRIOR?

  12. teamwak says:

    Having watched The Player, nothing suprises me about the film industry.

    I wonder if thats why storys from Tinseltown are so popular with audiences. We dont often come across such outrageous people in our normal work lives. I love watching Entourage and State & Main. Even Sunset Boulevard has that kick when you find out they only wanted her car, not her.

  13. gazblow says:

    B-DLA snorts with derision, tosses his head back and says “Slacker performed like an art film.”

    See, I thought he meant the actors performed like an art film. That’s how green I am.

  14. Anonymous says:


    One rainy day in 1991, when I’d quit my job and was thinking about applying to film school, I went down to MoMA to see whatever was playing that afternoon at the New Directors, New Films series. It was Slacker.

    After the screening and Q&A, I went up to Richard Linklater and said, “That was the movie I wanted to make! But now I can’t do it, because you’ve already done it.”

    He replied, “That’s the best thing anyone has ever said to me — in my life.”

    I’ve been slightly obsessed with him ever since.

    — Ed.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Slacker

      The best thing anyone has ever said to me in my life was a well-known actor who came to see One Neck and later told me that he had had dinner plans after the show, but two and a half hours later he found himself 50 blocks away from where he was supposed to be with no memory of how he’d gotten there.