Textbook Pitching and Catching Breaks

 

I woke on November 3, 2016  gagging because it felt like I swallowed a handful of razorblades and they were caught in my throat. Not good, especially considering the pitch meeting at a major cable network on the schedule. I  immediately recognized my condition as an acute sore throat. I don’t get them often but when I do, I am virtually incapacitated because I get the worst of ’em. However, the pain subsided and I got ready for my meeting. First I had to drive to Santa Ana, 20 miles south (40 miles roundtrip), for a employer related meeting. Afterward I returned home and got ready to drive the 25 miles north. I coaxed my niece Alexa to get my tribe from school — that favor is going to cost me some Starbucks and a position as Operations Manager when I get my production company running at full speed. No worries.

catching the sun.jpgI hit the shower, shave my head and trim my mustache. I’m hoping I can catch a break and survive the meeting and ultimately… day. But oh-oh, I get a sharp radiating pain in my throat again. Now it’s becoming achy.

I grab a bottle of water and head out on the 405 freeway north to Century City, LA. I’m meeting my cohort, Kali, thirty minutes before the meeting to go over any last minute strategy changes. Plus, we’re hoping to get a room with a conference phone so we can conference in Dionna who’s standing by in Atlanta.

On the way I call Dionna and we talk about strategy. She can hear the difference in my voice and I tell her that my throat feels like I have to force the words out louder in order to get them out. She prays for me. Also, my ears appear to be getting clogged as well.

I arrive in Century City, meet up with  Kali and I know I have limited time before my voice goes out. It’s not a question of if my voice goes out, it’s a question of when.

We settle in for the meeting and, wham. Score. They have one of those Polycom phones in the room and we conference Dionna in from Atlanta. We meet  the VP of Development and a Development Manager. Nice. No middle men here.

We pitch. I start, intro concept, proposal, highlights. Kali handles characters and reinforces the concept. Dionna has a person touch and familiarity. She’s been there done that, and lives there! We hit ’em from all three angles. It’s textbook. It’s like the Cubs coming back from a 3-1 deficit. We break out the sizzle reel. They love it.And my voice is holding up. The meeting is my new benchmark for how well a pitch meeting should go! The only thing that could be better would be if they handed us a check on our way out.

We make plans to send deliverables to [our] Agent who will send to the VP and Manager asap. I hop in my Expedition and check Siri. 2.15 hrs of traffic between me and home. Yikes. And then — you guessed it, my throat starts up again. It’s bad this time. Feels like a spiky golf ball is in resting just below my epiglottis. I get home — finally, make dinner for my kids and realize. Uh oh, I’m running a fever.

But you know what? I don’t care. We had a damn great amazing pitch meeting even thought I didn’t feel up to it. All I need to do now is get well before next Friday when we do it all over again.

Signed,

Resting. Recuperating and Working.

 

 

Sizzle Pitch Execute

Sizzle. Pitch. Execute: The Importance of Being Prepared

“Do you have a sizzle reel?” The VP of Program Development asked us.

“Why, yes. Yes we do,” I happily answered.

I said this as we sat in the conference room during a TV pitch meeting with a major cable network on Thursday. I knew we had a sizzle reel because both my pitching/producing partner and I had our Mac tools with us. He had a Macbook. I had an iPad. I had downloaded a hardcopy to my iPad, he came network-ready, prepared to tap into our host’s Internet network to view the clip online (our backup plan in the event that I stupidly dropped my iPad by some off chance).

The sizzle had gone through several incarnations and rewrites. Each time it became a little better and a little more concise. Over the past two years the fatty fluff had been cut from our sizzle reel — I know because I cut every version of it. Each time I cut a sequence I went through withdrawals, but there was job to do and we unanimously did what was necessary.

It’s important to be prepared on all fronts when you enter a pitch meeting. It seems like common sense, no? But I’ve gone into meetings with folks who weren’t prepared to answer questions, who had no strategy. They assume all they are required to do is talk, talk, talk and sell, sell sell.  Not so.

Pitching  film and television is a process of engagement. As the creator/producer you job is to have the tools and words to convince the development executive to come to feel about your project the same way you feel; to love it like you love it. And that includes every aspect of the show, the characters, the premise, the theme, and the format.

We came with the sizzle. We were pitch-ready. And we executed our plan.

Author Angelo: Transitions

In January of 2016 I decided to start work on my first book. I took an old screenplay I’d written and obsessed over and repurposed it as an 20,000 word outline for a manuscript. An epic novel. I wrote little by little every week. Then, a strange thing happened. I became less focused on finishing the book, and more focused on telling the story. A year passed and remarkably,  the script-outline had been transformed into novel of approximately 101,000 words.

Not one to kill momentum, and feeling an emotional high as well as an intense sense of accomplishment at the relative simplicity with which I completed the first book — I said simplicity, not ease — I decided to start another.

My current book, “A Perfect Weapon” was first conceived as an action thriller screenplay for a movie. At the time, in my mind I’d written the script as if I’d adapted a Tom Clancy novel and had commissioned Michael Mann to direct the movie. After several rewrites and the typical independent film production struggles to get it made, I put the project aside. I revisited the concept in December after I’d completed my first book. As I looked back I remembered feeling constrained by the screenplay format for “A Perfect Weapon” and how pissed I was that much of the narrative had to be edited out for length. I imagined that working in reverse, adapting the screenplay into book form, was the perfect way to reintroduce all the material I had cut. 

“A Perfect Weapon” tells the story of a troubled US Marshal who subconsciously seeks redemption in his quest to apprehend an escaped prisoner who has been linked to an international terrorist event. During his investigation he uncovers confusing evidence in the woman’s background that don’t add up to terrorism. Meanwhile, his personal battle with inner demons over a catastrophic career mistake he made intensifies. Unfortunately intention turns into obsession and he’ll do and say anything to keep the trail from going cold. What he doesn’t know is that the escaped prisoner wants him to keep chasing her because she’s obsessed with him too.

“A Perfect Weapon” is coming along amazingly well when in fact I didn’t want to use that particular script as my next outline for a book. But a funny almost serendipitous thing happened. Sometime just before Christmas I sat down to start my second book and I forgot that I’d chosen a different script. I wrote for three or four hours on the first chapter. When I was done, I got up from the table and I thought, “Good thing I switched scripts, that was easy.” And then I remembered that I’d forgotten to switch scripts!

I’m now 25,000+ words into the book (including the 120 page script-outline). Every time I sit down to write, it’s a simple act of remembering the feeling I had when I wrote the screenplay, then transcribing those feelings into visceral narrative content.

The cool thing is, I also considered myself a prolific writer. Now, the proof is in all the IP content on my hard drive waiting to be adapted into a book.

 

Fear Can Stifle Your Dreams Or Inspire Action to Achieve

What Drives You?

The other day I was having a delicious Caribbean meal  and I reminisced about the time I was neck deep in pitching the networks at NBCUniversal. At the time I was developing my action thriller, Resurrection of Serious Rogers.

During dinner my friend asked me, “What drives you, Angelo?”

No one had ever really asked me that question so succinctly before. I’ve been asked what do I want to accomplish in life? How do keep going? But never have I been to discuss what drives me.

I sat and thought about it, but I already had the answer swimming around my brain. What drives me now is different. I’m older, hopefully more experienced, have more fruitful connections with people.

What motivates me is the knowledge that I love this business and I’m confident that a career as a writer, and all that comes with it, is my destiny.

What drives me, the thing that keeps me going one more day – day after day after day, is the fear that I will not be prepared to take advantage of an amazing opportunity when it presents itself. That is why I continually create stuff, and why I’m never satisfied with the amount of things I’ve created. It’s why I’ve written two books (three if you view the first book as a two). It’s why I have a heavy plate of screenplays and teleplays to write this summer.

My fear drives me, but if unchecked I know that it can cripple me.  It is a double-edged sword, but a sword is a skillful weapon nonetheless.

I use this fear to push me to do things I am not comfortable doing. I used to hate pitching. In fact, I still hate it. My throat would clench at the mere thought of pitching to some snooty stranger. Even after 40+ pitches with network TV executives I still need two minutes to gather myself if I want to be good in the room. However pitching is a necessary evil, and now I envision every pitch as an opportunity to succeed rather than a chance to fail.

I fear not having pitches more than I fear attending a pitch.

What’s my greatest fear now? Phone calls. I loathe them. I get tongue-tied and stammer like an incoherent babbling knucklehead.

So guess what I’ve done more of in the last few weeks? I’ve made phone calls. Why? Because I fear not being prepared to take advantage of an opportunity as a result of my I refusal to call an agent or development executive more than I fear sounding like a dope on the phone.

Writing and Finishing

NEW WRITING UPDATE:

On 4-7-17 I called it like a surgeon with a body on the table. Avoidance, Lethargy and Lame Excuses were dead. No more missed opportunities. If there was a Diversity Initiative or mentorship program at a network I was going to apply. No more using my disinterest in writing spec scripts as an excuse. Sure, I have tons of original series pilots but I needed to write a spec script.

So, I vowed, this time I’d find something to write. Hell, there were plenty of shows I liked on TV. I’vew already binged-watched the shit out of a dozen of so Netflix and Hulu series.

I decided to outline and write a spec script for an episode of Sleepy Hollow. I put it out there on social media to make myself accountable to friends and family and industry colleagues.

I started the outline on April 7th, 2017. I finished the rough draft April 15th, 2017. Fifty-five pages for a one hour episode. WHOOHOO! I plan to take a few days away and then jump into rewrites, edits and polishing. I’m fairly confident I will make my APRIL 30TH DEADLINE.

And soon, if you tune into this blog next week, I will tell you about the cunning idea I have to garner even more attention to my spec script for an episode of Sleepy Hollow.

Back next week! 🙂

The Surreal Writing World

BE PREPARED. An ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure.

That’s what I always say. Or at least I am saying it now that I’ve finished my first spec episode of a TV series in over five years in an attempt to be better prepared.

I finished a spec episode for one of my favorite shows, Sleepy Hollow. It was fun to write and a nice challenge for me since the last time I wrote a spec episode was when Breakout Kings was still on the air. The show was abruptly cancelled soon after — but I digress.

After I’d written my spec for Sleepy Hollow with the specific intention of submitting it to the CBS Writers Mentoring Program I realized I hadn’t opened just one door, I’d opened several. Or so I thought.

Every major network has some sort of diversity initiative designed to give “other” folks a shot at writing for the network. One caveat however is that a writer must have at least one spec script. I didn’t. I tend to write original series concepts, after all I want to be the next K/O Paper Products, Carlton Cuse,  Shonda Rhimes, JJ Abrams, etc. I want to do my own thang.

But I got with the program, revisited my fav series, binge-watched and wrote a spec episode. Then, I thought, “Wait a minute, I now have a freaking spec to send to other network diversity programs too!”

Or so I thought.

Turns out, two networks of the big 5 have very specific requirements for their program and a very specific list of shows they will accept a spec script from. Wouldn’t you guess it, Sleepy Hollow isn’t on their lists!  So, I went back to the drawing board to decide for what show to write a spec.

However, my list of shows was short. I could write for Supernatural (Fox), Elementary (CBS) or Jessica Jones (Netflix).  Since my original series is sci-fi/contemporary fantasy with a horror edge I ruled out Elementary despite the fact that I know that series inside-out.  I ruled out Supernatural because of the time investment required in getting up-to-speed. I haven’t watched the series in years (I dropped out after the second season). I’d have t watch an entire season and episodes from the other 11 seasons. Ugh.

That left Jessica Jones. A gritty, dark, anti-hero series where the line between heroism and vigilantism is blurred and smeared with blood. Lots of people get dead. Lots. Perfect for my gritty sci-fi fantasy.

One more spec script for a TV series coming up. My deadline is May 20th, in the can.

ps. my new website www.angelojbell.com is coming soon. This blog will be moving there 🙂

45

Forty-five.

The number Forty-five has incredible significance to me right now. For one, it’s the number of the presidency of the scariest figurehead of the United States I’ve ever encountered in my many years as a human being.

On a more delightful note, forty-five is the number of days it took me to complete spec teleplays of two shows. I needed these spec scripts to submit to several network television diversity programs for writers. There’s more than one way to break-in, and although I have been focused on developing original concepts for series and shows,  I am not adverse to writing in someone else’s voice to keep those doors open.

I set about writing an episode of Sleepy Hollow, one of my favorite shows, which has also, coincidentally, been cancelled by Fox. Upon hearing of it’s cancellation, and learning that two of the TV networks I’d be submitting to did not accept SH spec scripts as writing samples I set about learning the fundamentals, character voices & tonality, story structure and pacing of another favorite show, the Netflix Original series, Jessica Jones.

I’m done. And I am very happy with both spec episodes especially since I was able to introduce characters from my original series concept in each script.  Doing so created a nice segue into my original sci-fi series concept pilot script.

Now, we wait.