Pitching has always been a rough way to make a living as a writer in Hollywood.
The process itself is miserable. I know guys who enjoy it, but in my opinion, a writer writes. Pitching is more akin to performance, a separate skill set, and some of the best writers I know have never really been any good at explaining something before they write it, and no matter how many times they have to do it, they never seem to get better at it.
My managers hooked my writing partner and I up with a great pitcher named Todd Komarnicki almost a decade ago, and Todd coached the two of us on the fine art of the pitch. It was a major milestone for us, the moment we went from writers who couldn’t pitch to save their lives to writers who occasionally manage to put together a pitch that makes a compelling enough case that someone takes pity on us and pays us just so we’ll get out of their office.
In the last few years, though, it’s been nigh impossible to sell a pitch unless you had a ton of elements already attached, like a director or a cast or some underlying material that potential buyers could put their hands on. The pure pitch-only pitch was a dying breed, and I’ve been frustrated by what felt like an industry-wide contraction as a result, as I’m sure many writers have.
Not Simon Kinberg and Aline Brosh McKenna, though. Not after this week.
The two writers have been working with Bryan Burk and JJ Abrams to develop an original pitch, and when they took it out under the Bad Robot banner this week, Paramount snapped it up for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million.
Right now, all details of plot or genre are being kept absolutely secret, which is fine. What I’m more interested in is what this means to the business overall. I don’t believe we’re ever going to see the glory days of the early ’90s again, when spec money and pitch money was being thrown at writers by the bucketful, but I do hope this signifies that studios are willing to invest in writers again on some level. Sure, Kinberg and McKenna have great track records (he’s the writer behind “Mr & Mrs Smith” while she wrote “The Devil Wears Prada”), but more than that, they walked into the room with an idea that was strong enough to get Paramount to pony up an obscene amount of money to make sure no one else in town got a look at it. It’s a confident move, and lately, confidence seems to be in short supply in this town. The fact that this much money was paid for something that’s not based on a comic book or other underlying material is also really healthy.
Whatever the film turns out to be, I’m glad the deal fell together like this. If the film turns out to be a big hit, then maybe more studios will start to trust that a great idea could be a great movie they could sell, and maybe we’ll see a healthier market for writers, which can only lead to a better selection of films out there for the audience.
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