I be a good righter.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Worst. Pitcher. Ever!

So, you know, I thought I'd let you know straight off that I'm a horrid pitcherer. I hate it. I get a thin line of sweat on my upper lip as well as my brow-line. I get that horrible head-bobble. I ramble. I find tangents... It's just awful. And the worst part? I've only had a couple of professional pitches. Most of my pitching is done in a classroom, in a safe setting. And yet? It totally freaks me out. To the point that I'm considering bringing a flask and/or Xanax the next time I pitch.

Here's the thing, and maybe it's obvious to everyone else in the entire world (I'm guessing there are armless children in third world countries who are throwing their stumps up in despair!*), I've learned something about pitching! You have to know what you're pitching and you have to stay firm in your vision (please do not take this as an excuse to argue vehemently that Jason Vorhees or Mike Myers would be a great lead character).

Let me back up: I take the same class every year (it's a great class and a great teacher). The first time I took it, I freaked out about pitching (first time ever), and I googled pitching. I came up with Ted & Terry's effective way of pitching: bring in visual aids. So, I did. In a UCLA extension class. I am quite embarrassed at my n00bosity. I was pitching a Without A Trace, and I'd cleverly written out a timeline on about seven sheets of large posterboard. Each new posterboard I showed the class had a new item on the timeline for the missing person. As far as pitches go, it wasn't too bad. And the script garnered me some major attention, so great result!

The next year, the same teacher was teaching a Pilot class. So, I pitched mine. Thing was, I had this really cool idea. I vaguely knew the characters. I sort of knew the story. I kind of knew what I wanted to say with this pilot. Thing is, when you pitch something like a whole new world (think Buffy), there are going to be key words that are going to immediately conjure up specific images. Like, if you talk about alternate universes, your audience's mind isn't going to go immediately to Buffy, you'll probably first think about something like Star Trek -- or something from the SciFi channel, when you are really hoping to make it an ABC at 9 show.

Basically, my pilot crashed and burned. Not through any fault of the folks in the class. It was because I didn't know what I was pitching. I just had this cool idea. So throughout the class, I let myself mold the idea into a decent (but ultimately not my idea) script. And it's been sitting in a folder on my computer ever since.

I took another class from this teacher, and I had the same problems. Cool high concept idea, poor execution because I pitched "what if" but didn't know a lot further than that.

So, about a year and a half ago, I came up with an idea. I immediately realized that this was my desk drawer pilot. The one, should I ever "make it" that I'd pull out. But I don't think it could ever be a sample (it resides in my computer, no one, save the class, has read it). I decided to write it on my own, not in a class. Because I wanted it to remain my idea and not morph. Never once taking account of my inability to say "no, that's not my idea" to a room full of strong personalities. So, every day, I'd write a couple of notes to myself. How I was seeing the world I was creating. How I was seeing the characters I was creating. How they interacted. And most importantly, I knew what I was trying to say with this pilot. The notes weren't cohesive to anyone else, but made sense to me. Slowly it turned into a treatment. Over a six month period. By this time, it had solidified into something inside my head. It wasn't a "what if." It was a "it is."

So, Summer rolled around again, and the class was available for the taking, and I'd come to a standstill in my pilot. I thought about not taking it the class, and trying to figure out the pilot on my own or in my writers' group. But then they kicked me out of the band in a most shitty way. So, I took the class. I pitched a couple of ideas, including this one. Everyone else loved my teen ideas. No one liked this. But, my bones were telling me that this was the script I should write in this class. And I did.

Now, here's the thing. I got a lot of really great notes in this class. But I was, for the first time, able to say, "no, that's not really what I'm going for." Because I'd spent the past six months creating the world. I knew it inside and out. And if a suggestion wasn't going to work, I knew it. On the other hand, when a suggestion was going to work (and there were a lot of great ones) I knew it would. Ultimately, my pilot still lives on my computer. But, that's where I planned for it to live. I wrote it for me (which was freeing in itself). I still need to do a final rewrite on it. But, it's definitely my favorite pilot, because this is the first time I've created something that's mine, and it's because I knew what I was pitching.

So, it's Summer again. And I'm in the same class. I still love it. But, I've gone backwards. Only because I didn't know that the reason the other pilot worked so well was because I'd known so much about the world prior to pitching. This time, it I have another "what if" situation. Which is fine. I knew some things about the world. But no one in the class was getting. Even though they were things that I loved and felt strongly about. So I wasted a week not being firm and trying to please everyone else. I've gone back to my original idea because otherwise I'm going to go down a road I've been down before and didn't much like.

The great thing about being in a classroom setting rather than a real world one? There's no pressure to write the others' notes. It's a great learning experience for me, too. Because I'm sure I'll encounter some one who sees Star Trek when I mention alternate worlds, and I need to learn how to bring them away from that. I need to learn to not leave holes for other folks to fill in.

I think I'm learning more about my process in this class than I ever have. And what I need to work on in my writing. What do you need to work on in yours?

* No armless children were harmed by me saying that.