Film Courage: Let’s talk about the good, bad and ugly of writing meetings. So how does a writer personally contribute to the success or failure of pitching meeting? Or maybe it’s not really within their control, but they feel they’ve contributed to it.
Larry Wilson: Well, you do contribute to it and it’s really grossly unfair to having been on the other side of the desk, having been a studio executive. Everyone has pitch nightmare stories and they are true. But it’s really unfair to development people and executives to assume that everyone in those meetings is there to basically make your life miserable and say no to you. It’s not true.
And how you contribute to it as a writer? You come in with an idea that you’ve actually thought through and that you have some passion for. And that also, you need to be willing to listen. It’s a conversation and the control you have of the conversation is you’re the one coming in with the idea, you’re the one coming in saying “Hey, I think this would be a great movie. This would be a great television show.” Whatever…and you should have thought it through and you should have prepared well-enough to when they say “Well why do you think it’s such a great idea?” to be able to answer the questions. And you should know enough about your story that you can do it justice in the room.
But then having sat as an executive, I’ve also been in those meetings where you say to someone “Yeah, I get it but…” And they immediately “What but? There is no but! This is the story. You have nothing to say to me!” And a defensiveness goes up and that’s a huge mistake. Don’t go to the meeting. Just write the stupid script. It’s a conversation and it’s a dialogue. And don’t assume that you know more than the person in the room who you are speaking to. Have it as a conversation and be strong and know when you need to dig in your heels. And know that if people are changing your story in the room so much that you don’t even recognize it anymore (which could happen), that you need to say no and say thank you for the meeting and leave. But engage in the conversation. Having a little bit of effing humility, for God sakes, you know? You’ve been invited into the room to tell someone a story. Don’t assume that they don’t have a thought in their head.
And there are so many stories (and again), a lot of them are true. And I could tell you nightmare stories about pitches. We could stay here all night and I could tell you those stories. But I could also tell you great stories with great development people who have given me enough rope to hang myself, then said “Well what if this happened or that happened?” And they’ve given me a better idea and a better take.
It’s a dialogue and a conversation and it’s part of the business and I hate to call it a game but I will for a moment, it’s part of the game.
But if you just can’t stand the idea of going in and telling a story and someone’s going to try and change it or have an idea, write the script. Don’t be a pitch monkey, be a screenwriter.
Film Courage: So then how does a screenwriter keep their side of the street clean? Whatever happens on the other side of that desk, whether the person’s kind with their suggestions or not, how do they keep their own integrity…and remain poised and all of that?
Larry Wilson: By having integrity. And knowing that you are going in with something that you believe in and that you’re excited about. And so if they completely don’t get it or say stuff that you think has nothing to do with what you just pitched with them, you know within yourself that the story you went in to tell is the story you want to tell and you really believe it can be a movie and you can be really excited about it.
Integrity is an inside job. And if you’re looking to have your integrity brought to you by Hollywood, oh my God!
Film Courage: No?
Larry Wilson: No! It’s an inside job and if I go in to pitch a story, I don’t do it unless I believe in it. And I may be wrong. I may be wildly wrong. But I won’t leave going “You know what, I thought I’d put that one over on them, but they didn’t get it but oh well.” I mean I’ll go “I told the best story I could.” And then you let it go. You just let it go. It’s a good meeting. It’s a bad meeting but you did your best. And that’s an inside job. And it’s a learned experience, too. And you will come out of meetings wondering who you are and what you’re going to be when you grow up. I still have meetings like that but most of the time I come away feeling good.
Film Courage: Yeah…that was my next question. Because it sounds like you just have to go through it, have a few [meetings] where basically you are in the fetal position when you go home. And then it’s less so, you’re just on the couch and then the next time you just take a walk around the block.
Larry Wilson: Yeah…and I don’t end up in the fetal position much anymore because I believe in what I do. It doesn’t mean anyone else has to believe in it, but I believe in it.
Film Courage: But it sounds like it’s a learned thing and there is no magic answer?
Larry Wilson: No. No, there is no magic answer and it’s one of those things that I’ve seen people get crushed in these meetings, crushed where they can’t come back again and that’s again that thing about having an over-developed sense of perfection, perfectionism to say it more simply that will be your worst enemy. You had a bad meeting.
There was this time when everything was supposed to be based on Joseph Campbell, remember those days? When everything you had to go in and if you were going to pitch something and Joseph Campbell was going to end up in the sentence. And I was going in with a producer who said “Now remember to get the Joseph Campbell moments in there!” And I was pitching, I was about three minutes into it and the guy across the desk said “Oh jeez. Can we get over the Joseph Campbell stuff. Can you just tell me the story?” And the meeting died a horrible death. And I should never have done it. I should have just said “Here’s the story. If you see Joseph Campbell in it, good for you.”
But those are those things…don’t trick yourself, just go ahead and tell the best story that you can.
Question for the Viewers: How long was your last pitch?
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