One of the things we learn in seventh grade (besides how to hide that one sock…) is how to move linear algebra formula elements to the other side of the = symbol. The key to doing it most efficiently, if I remember correctly, is to first reduce both sides to their smallest common denominator. Remember? (Did I just make your stomach turn? Algebra! Run away!)
Okay, I’ll quickly get to the moviemaking application. We recently announced a three-year “first look” original programming deal between my production company, BlueRun, and HorseTV, an aggressive TV/Internet-based platform launching this year. (For more info go to the BlueRun Productions site.) In that singular event, I suddenly jumped to the other side of the fence, crossed the proverbial DNZ, leaped the = sign. Now I’m getting hit up to look at other people’s projects, scripts, pitches. Freaky, man. Freaky.
Literally within a few hours of that press release going out, the e-mails started coming, all asking me to consider them or their project. Three said: “I am the only true horse whisperer in America and perfect for a reality horse show.” And most have the urgent smell of: “Look at me! Look at me! No, dammit, look at me right now!”
My first thought was not to be critical, not at all… how many times have I been (and am presently) on the creative side of that equation? No, my flash reaction was, ‘Hey, I have my own projects! But I wonder if they have any money attached, or a name I’d recognize?’ And there, in that blip of a moment, I had become “them!” I was the distributor/producer/executive producer who I’ve been courting for years…. those cads who take my art immediately to a cold and formulaic equation of money and attachments. Shit.
But since that day, I’ve also learned what a “desperate writer” looks like from their point of view. Trust me, it ain’t pretty. After receiving three plaintive e-mails from a writer within one sweep of the little hand, I simply didn’t care to consider her work. (And I was immediately embarrassed by remembered acts of desperation I’ve committed in years past…. remind me to tell you of the time I had Irish sausages imported and sent to an actor whom I thought I needed. Hey, they were his favorite kind! Okay. Not good. Especially when they arrived raw and warm. If you see Aidan Quinn, express my sincere apologies.)
And another submission… Here’s how the writer described his screenplay: “It is a delectable, simmering, smouldering [sic?] witch’s brew cauldron of wacky humor, sex, drugs and violence in the underbelly of the Windy City.” Oh and it calls for a cameo by Obama. But, of course, one question: Any horses?
Anyway, I digress. Being on the “other side” of the = sign is a good place to visit, if not inhabit, for all of us moviemakers. From that perspective you not only see the exasperating time limitations on the number of pitches flying at ya, but the financial elements as well. And it’s not just the money to produce the project being pitched, but the funds to even begin to develop one of them.
Another example: On that same day of the press release, I was contacted by the product developer of a major brand that makes model horses for horse-loving children and teens. They would be very interested, says he, in any TV or film project of ours for which they could make a model horse to sell simultaneously. Wonderful says I. And thus my wheels began turning on what kind of story I have in our BlueRun stables, or that I’ve heard of, that might work for them. Why? Because they would have some development money most likely.
Now, fast forward a week or so, and I get a pitch from an author of a book for teenagers which focuses on a mystical horse. He has also written a screenplay, though he readily confesses to not know how to write one. And no, he didn’t know how to make it a .pdf either. That simple lack of technological agility led me to at first dismiss him—but then I remembered that brand-dude, and switched courses. I thus invited him to mail me the script… which forthwith arrived via $25 overnight delivery. Oh good, I could exhale then. (I am very guilty of that, too, in years past.) The script is 262 friggin pages long! But thankfully there is a summary. (Note here: Though he said the script wasn’t in .pdf, he should have just emailed me the summary and saved himself some money.) Now I have a decision to make: Do I start digging into this pile looking for the pony? (All puns intended.) There might be something there for the brand-guy to sponsor, yeah? That takes a lot of time, and I am swamped with my own projects. I’m still considering it.
What’s the takeaway here?
We need to understand the perspective of the other guy, your target (a.k.a. producer, financier, distributor, actor). The more you understand their limitations and their wants/needs, the better. If a writer e-mails a low-pressure pitch and simultaneously shows me that he has researched me to find out what I am looking for… bravo! Move to the head of the class. So find the lowest common denominator that you share with your target. Relate on both sides of the algebraic equation. And stop popping your seventh grade pimples, for godsakes. That’s really gross.
David Marlett is a writer and director currently producing and directing the feature film, Of Kings & Cowboys. Marlett’s desire to direct and control his own work led him to create BlueRun Productions in 2007. He’s been acting for most of his life, and is also a non-practicing (“recovering”) attorney and CPA, with 20-plus years experience consulting and managing a wide assortment of companies in industries spanning from healthcare to entertainment. The Winter 2009 issue features his first installment of a new print column, Marlett & Me, with this sister blog on MovieMaker.com.