Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Chronicles 11 - Hollywood Player - "I like your shoes!"

October 28th 2002

I check into the Hilton hotel in Woodland Hills. Not the coolest location in LA since it's, "in the Valley", but, luckily I've still got some reward points left over from my Cannes trip so I manage to stay there for nothing. They even upgrade me to a friggin' penthouse suite! Great! I feel like I'm some big-shot Hollywood player. I'm not, of course. I'm identifying with an illusion. That I've 'arrived', and as I found out later, I hadn't 'arrived' anywhere.

Meetings don't mean a thing. Even a posiitve meeting doesn't mean a thing. Even, "that's a really cool idea, that's a great pitch, I look forward to reading the script, I'm really interested in this project ...", doesn't mean a thing.

I spend the evening checking my itinerary. How I'm going to get from A to B etc and practice my pitches out loud. This is the only way you can realy practice a pitch. You need to rehearse it, like an actor. The main thing is to grab them with the main hook, the hopefully high-concept hook, and hone in on key scenes in a concise way with passion and enthusiasm.

October 29th 2002

I hit the ground running. My first meeting is at 9:30 a.m. in Glendale. It's Dream Works Animation. It feels pretty cool to drive up to the Studio gate, hand over your I.D., grab your, 'Studio Pass' and park the car. I wait in reception for some time. If you've never done Hollywood meetings then you better get used to that. They can leave you waiting for quite some time. It's very rare to go straight into a meeting at the pre-assigned time which means you have to allow for that when you schedule. Leave plenty of time for hanging out in reception areas at studios and prod. co's. drinking Evian and reading 'The Trades' i.e. Variety, Hollywood Reporter, etc.

Anyway, I'm ushered in by a friendly female and the first thing the development executive says is, "You've got fifteen minutes". No problem, I was used to that from Cannes. First pitch. He didn't like it. Second one he liked but it was TV. No luck. So, not wanting to stop the meeting there and then I pitched him my new family comedy which I thought could also be adapted as an animation. He loved the pitch. He said it would be a great vehicle for Ben Stiller and Jack Black, (who both have Dream Works deals or whatever it will be called after the Paramount buy-out). He urged me to meet with Dream Works live-action while I was in town. I told him I was setting up a meeting with the Head of Creative Affairs, (with the help of my co-producer) over in the Amblin building on the Universal Lot. That was it. Meeting went pretty well and he said I was always free to pitch him projects. Cool.

On the animation front the rest of my LA schedule was spent pitching people like:

1) Disney - I pitched the head of development - He liked my ideas. Said I was always welcome to pop round whenever I was in town. A nice guy. He's left now.

2) Fox Animation - Tough. They only make one animation every 2 years and develop in house. A long shot.

3) Nickelodeon - Very positive. Liked the feature animation project and the family comedy idea, "That's a really cool idea!". Great!

4) Warner Brothers Animation - Met with a producer who said the childrens TV concept was, "Awesome". Wow! I've progressed from cool to awesome. Not bad.

5) Sony - Really nice guys over there. Liked my ideas and were in the market for new material and opening up channels of communication. This was good. It meant I could submit projects without flying over to LA every time. They were looking for projects without human characters at the time though.

6) Met Disney Channel. I was told my children's TV project was a strong concept but, "Too Disney for Disney". I jest not. They were looking for the next Spongebob and Squarepants.

7) Met a number of animation production companies. In one meeting I was ushered in to the CEO of a very well known animation company. The first thing he said to me was, "I like your shoes!". So for a couple of minutes we talked about my traditional English brogues which I'd taken a fancy to at Heathrow before flying off to LA.

So there you go, if you want to break the ice at a meeting, wear smart shoes. As it turned out he didn't, "take pitches", so I was led in to meet with the development executive. Did my, 'thang', and went on my merry way.

The problem with all this swanning in through studio gates and 'giving good shoe' with serious industry CEO's AND getting a positive reaction is that one is lulled into this false sense of security. A feeling that you've entered the sanctum santorium, you go where very few of the 'great unwashed' have gone before. Screenwriters dream of getting through those studio gates. Screenwriters who have lived in LA for years, who have been unable to get read, never mind, get a meeting.

Bottom line is: You can't eat a meeting. You can't live off Evian. Meetings are a necessarry part of the buisness and most of them come to nothing, and getting them is good, but you have to maintain a balance between enthused optimism and well-grounded realism. My take on the schedule was, "This is about 20 meetings, I'm pitching about 4 different projects, so by the law of probabilities SOMETHING has to work out, right? Not necessarily. Scripts get sent out by the big agencies all the time, some of them go 'wide' (40-60) to production companies, and they don't sell.

Trouble is, the first time you enter into these sort of intense, flying-into-town, jam-packed schedules and enter into the fortress-like dream factories it's hard not to buy into it. It feels good. It feels good to feel like Griffin Mills (The Player - Robert Altman) especially when you get 'in-the-door' and get comments like, "Awesome concept", "These are GREAT ideas", it's hard to believe that the result of all that will still end up being a big fat zilch. An obese and rotund - zero. I don't mean in terms of building up relationships, which is essential in this business, I mean in terms of getting a deal.

This isn't the washer and widgets business. If you make decent widgets then it's a case of targeting the market and getting out there to sell the damn things. You're selling something real. Something you can hold in your hand. In Hollywood you're selling an idea, words on a page that people will respond to, (or not) in ways that you cannot predict. Okay, you can predict to a certain extent but how a human being responds to a pitch/script depends completely on that person's emotional-spiritual-personality-make-up matrix, not to mention the remit of the prod. co./studio. There are many unknowns in that matrix.

I've gone into meetings which I thought would be a waste of time which turned out, in some ways at least, to be fruitful. I've walked into other meetings, convinced that they would love my pitch, that I was in a 'slam-dunk' zone and have been met with, well, consummate underwhelment. A wall of coma-inducing passivity that hits you like a sledgehammer. People with such low-energy that you find yourself wondering not only how such people could be working in such as high-energy, passion fuelled business but how their internal organs could still continue to function. I hate those meetings. They're the worst. Such people shouldn't be in the movie business. They should be treating insomniacs. Creating sleep inducing relaxation tapes. It's a rare and special skill.

Anyway, I digress. Onto the live-action stuff.

I met with Dream Works. The exec. liked the rom-com idea but was more enthuiastic about the family comedy. Great! It seems that idea has legs. Better write the script. I also met New Line Cinema. They also really liked the family comedy idea.

My feeling is that the rom-com is a UK flick. I don't really see it as something the Americans would make but would probably pick up for distribution if the package, (director and cast) is good. My co-producer thought it was worth pursuing. Okay, why not. What do I know?

I met with Mirage, (interested), Jersey Films, (interested in the family comedy), Bedford-Falls, (not really for them) and the Scott Rudin company over lunch in the Paramount canteen. This was serious Griffin Mills territory. I had a great lunch with the CE who loved the animation feature project but wasn't so sure about the rom--com for Scott Rudin. Oh, well. Lunch was nice.

November 8th 2002

Fox 2000 cancel. We set up a phone meeting instead.

See Chronicles 10