The Art of the Hollywood Pitch

Danny Strong:  How does one make it in Hollywood?  Wow, that’s the million dollar question.  I think if I could simply answer that I’d be able to be a millionaire just by giving that advice, you know?  It’s extremely competitive.  It’s an extremely difficult industry to break into.  I sometimes compare it to professional sports, like wanting to be in the NFL or the NBA, you know?  It’s one of those things that people grow up dreaming about wanting to be a part of, but in fact, very few people end up actually making a living being in that profession.

I actually don’t think there’s a ton of luck in the writing game because writing is one of those things where you’ve got a script, you know, it’s 120 pages, or 30 pages for a TV show or 60 pages for a TV show.  And it’s either good or it’s not good, and it doesn’t really matter whose name is on that cover page.  Once someone starts reading that script they’re going to know if they’re engaged by this writing or if they’re not engaged by the writing. 

You really need to get the person you’re pitching to see the story; to get them to be able to see the movie as clearly as possible.  And sometimes that means being extremely detailed, and sometimes it’s a matter of having specific details that take them into the world of it and then having sort of more of a general discussion than having the entire thing, you know, beated out moment for moment.  So it varies from project to project.  But definitely the ultimate goal is to do whatever you can to get the person as immersed in the story as possible.  

The first pitch I ever sold was the pitch for “Recount,” and that was a very long pitch.  It was 35 minutes long, but I really wanted them to understand all of the multi-dimensional facets to the story of the Florida recount.  So I opened the pitch with a fake—a replica of the butterfly ballot, and I said, “We open the movie on this,” and I set the butterfly ballot down.  And then I took them through the movie, not as a history lesson but as the story of how I saw the movie layout, you know?  I said, Ron Klain and James Baker and the battle of these two men, and then I brought in Katherine Harris and made it as cinematic a telling as possible. 

And then when I was done, at the end of the pitch, I showed them a two-minute video clip of the actual Florida recount to give them, you know, images of what it was really like down there to just immerse them in the story as much as possible.  And I knew—because I was pitching HBO who, you know, only hires very experienced writers and I had never sold anything—that this was going to have to be one hell of a presentation if I was going to get them to hire me to do this movie. 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd

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