It’d been a disastrous pitch meeting at Paramount. The director, Señor Brit, had somehow decided the most important element of the presentation was for him to blather endlessly about how he would realize the story onto film. That might’ve been impressive had the studio actually known what the story was.

Whoops.

In lieu of confronting Señor Brit about his pitch-meeting faux pas in the VIP parking lot, I chose to beat traffic and cool my jets on the drive back to the Valley.

“Maybe it’s because he’s in director jail,” explained my agent after he’d heard my expletive-choked account of the meeting.

“(Señor Brit) is in director jail?” I asked, wondering why I hadn’t received the all-important memo.

“Far as I know,” said my agent. “Developed stuff and shot a bunch of pilots of late but he hasn’t made a movie since (his last picture) flamed out on the launch pad.”

Exactly what is Director Jail, you ask? Allow me to briefly digress. Director Jail is the metaphoric hoosegow where veteran helmers are sometimes relegated after they’ve delivered a big-budget/low-return box office disaster. How long the director spends in moviemaker outer-Mongolia is sometimes a matter of time, luck, the quality of his or her agent, and/or the ability to grovel at the feet of studio honchos looking for an experienced director to take the reins of some shit-sandwich sequel.

“So it’s not just Paramount where (Señor Brit) might have reason to be nervous?” I queried. “It’s possibly everywhere.”

“Pretty much,” confirmed my agent. “Sounds like he’s a classic case of a guy trying too hard.”

That much I could understand. We’ve all been caught pressing it in meetings. Overselling. Trying with all our pitchman’s might to haul our product over the finish line. Lord knows I’d been there. Somewhere, somehow, my anger toward Señor Brit melted into emotions more akin to empathy than fantasies of outright director-cide.

The next morning, I put in a call to the producer, Big Daddy.

“Yeah, I talked to him,” said Big Daddy. “He thinks the pitch went great.”

“Swell,” I grumbled, trying to hang on to my newly found compassion. “I expect you straightened him out.”

“I was thinking,” began Big Daddy. His qualifier already sounded ominous. “My job is pretty much done. I brought the two of you together. I think writer and director oughta put their heads together and work out how the next pitch should go.”

“Nuh uh,” I said. “Don’t do that to me. He’s your friend. You put him on the project. You should be the one to explain to him how we should present ourselves in the room.”

“You’re right. He’s my friend. That’s why I’d appreciate it if you’d figure out how to do this and leave me out.”

“Wow. That’s brave.”

“You’re the writer. The pitch is pretty much on you. Best you explain to (Señor Brit) how you expect things to go from here on.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d been asked to do the dirty work for a producer. It was a classic case of passing of the buck. I didn’t, though, have to accept. I could’ve simply refused. The words that came to me were dry and simple:

You’re the producer. You handle this or find yourself another writer.

What exactly compelled me to roll over and take up the mantle of responsibility is still a mystery. I chalk it up to this: some people are better at dealing with verbal conflict than others. Those who aren’t make it a habit to hide behind the skirts of those with more fight. I used to begrudge people with weaker hearts. No longer, though. Time and maturity have shown me otherwise. Some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of working with have struggled with face to face complications.

No time like the present, I thought. So I rang up Señor Brit.

“I thought yesterday went swimmingly well,” the director said.

“Totally disagree,” I said flatly. “I think it was a disaster.”

“Did we get a pass already?”

“No. But we will.”

“You’re certain of this?”

“I’d love to be wrong. But I’m not. While you were going on with your side of things, the execs were looking at their watches and eyeballing me, wondering when the hell they were going to hear the story.”

“But I was telling the story,” argued Señor Brit.

I went on to explain things simply to the veteran director in my most patient, fifth grade teacher impersonation.

“The purpose of the pitch is to get the buyer to say yes. They’re making a deal to develop a screenplay. A screenplay which they’re ostensibly going to pay me to write. Not you. So it goes that they’d prefer to hear the story told by the writer. Not the director.”

“… Uh huh.”

“Lemme put it this way. I’m a writer. Which means I’d prefer to be left alone to write. And I hate pitching. Hate it. But sometimes it’s my job to sell the story. If I could have you pitch it and then have the studio pay me to write it, all the better for Doug. But that’s not the way this business works.”

“I get it. That makes sense,” said the director. “But then why the hell am I in the meeting?”

Good question, I said to myself.

“You’re there because you’re attached. Just like (Big Daddy). The assumption is that you’re gonna direct the shit out of the script I write.”

There was a pause at the other end of the telephone. I could practically hear the crickets in the woods outside his canyon hacienda.

“Okay, fine,” said Señor Brit. “I’m on board with however you want to sell it. How do you want the next meeting to go?”

“Pretty simple,” I said. “Let (Big Daddy) set the table. I’ll follow with the story part of the pitch. Then when I’m finished, you move in for the big close.”

“So (Big Daddy) first. Then you. Then me?”

“That’s how I see it working best.”

What followed were more crickets. I wondered if Señor Brit was actually struggling with the idea of going last. As if being preceded by the writer didn’t quite represent his perceived order of the universe.

“How about we do it this way?” he asked. “First (Big Daddy) sets the table. I follow with a few words about why I think they should make this kind of film. The father/daughter of it. Just some tone stuff. Then I hand off to you. You tell the story. Then I close.”

“A few words?” I asked. “How few?”

“I dunno. Two minutes tops?”

“Two minutes max. We’re talking about people with very short attention spans.”

“I’m with you. You’re there to tell the story. Not me. I get it.”

So there it was. A plan was finally in place. All we had to do was chill for forty-eight hours, meet in Century City, then ride the elevator fourteen floors up to the Walden Media offices and sell the damned thing.

But damned it was. No sooner did Señor Brit open his mouth than he began repeating the same “watch me direct” rap from the Paramount meeting. I tried to politely interject. Jump into the fray. Wrestle the story-telling from the inept British boob. But the jailed director demanded the floor and continued his endless spiel of colors and smash cuts and rap music cues.

And when the tall, feline exec eye-balled me with her am-I-ever-going-to-hear-a-story glare, I could no longer hide my disdain.

Some twenty minutes later, when Señor Brit finally ceded the floor to me, I chose to keep my comments brief.

“Nope. I think you said it all. That’s our pitch. Really appreciate your time.”

So there I was. Standing at the elevators, hoping to get a solitary ride down to the lobby when I heard Señor Brit’s voice behind me.

“Overall, I think that went well,” says Señor Brit. “Not exactly how we planned it but… So what do you think, Doug?”

That’s when the fantasy came to me in a near electrical flash. The one where I pivoted and proceeded to shove Señor Brit out the fourteenth floor window and watch him tumble to his cinematic death—saving countless other writers the mental anguish he was certain to inflict had I not acted with such extreme and precise prejudice.

“We’ll see,” was pretty much all I could muster in response.

We said our farewells in the parking garage. And as I drove home, I waited for my mobile to ring.

“That was a disaster,” said Big Daddy over the phone. “I thought you’d worked out a pitch plan with him.”

“I did. He didn’t stick to it. So I’m done.”

“With the movie?”

“It’s not a movie yet. Not even a pitch. At least not something I can sell with him attached.”

“You can’t step off. Not just like that.”

“I just did.”

“Lemme talk to him.”

“And say what? It’s the writer or you. And I choose the writer?”

“You know I can’t do that. He’s my friend.”

“Exactly.”

“But I thought you loved the property?”

“I do. But I can’t fathom a development process with that guy. Seriously. I’m out.”

“I’m not accepting your answer. It’s too soon. Go home. Cool down. We’ll talk next week.”

So that’s what I did. I returned to my home and family and eventually cooled on my silly murder fantasy. But my resolve to withdraw from the movie never abated. I was done.

I don’t know if they ever found another writer to continue the dance. And like so many other false starts and failed movie alliances, I’ve pretty much relegated my tête-a-tête with Señor Brit to my bad memory storage shed.

Yet what always lingers after nearly every one of my aborted collaborations is a story I wanted to write but was never given the opportunity. A few have come back to me. Most, though, remain as ghosts. Lost loves never to be consummated.

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • Tim O’Connell

    Oh the agony. I’m surprised Big Daddy didn’t get up and clamp his hand over Senor Brit’s mouth in the second meeting. What part of two minutes MAX was so hard to understand? 🙁

    Would a “blabber-mouth directors speak after me in pitch’s” clause be out of line in future contract negotiations?

    -Tim

    • Problem is there’s not contract or deal before the pitch is sold.

  • James Hornsby

    Maybe I’m overstepping it here, but maybe it was ego that put him in the position of pontificating away the project? A well planned phone call, a trip to the head, or maybe a reassurance of strategy before might have saved the project?

    Maybe not a twit, sounds like a man oblivious of his situation.

    Thanks for the story.

    • Can’t say if anything would’ve saved it with Senor Brit and myself attached. Just wasn’t meant to be.

  • Em_Boogie

    GOLD Doug, GOLD! This business never ceases to surprise me. Just when you think you’ve heard it all.

    • Just when you think you’ve heard it all? Just tune in next week. More hair curling to come.

  • Glenn McGee

    You brought back nightmares with a boss I had who was a partner with an architectural firm. I’d cultivate a prospective client, produce a thick proposal, and structure/rehearse the big presentation among 3-4 presenters only to sit there like you and watch him blather, turning his 2 minutes into 20. It was routinely so bad the other partners threatened to put a shock collar on him to keep him from gobbling up other peoples presentation time. We opted to have someone sit close enough to kick him in the ankle, that worked… sometimes. You know your dead before you leave the room, a sinking feeling indeed.

    • That’s IT! A shock collar! Why didn’t I think of that? I owe you, Glenn.

  • It’s a Crickets of Doom screenplay.

    One writer caught between a hellish director and a well meaning agent with minions that torment them all… Who gets the girl? 😉

    Hope you have as much fun writing these blogs as we do reading them.

    • Let’s just say writing ’em is sometimes better than it was living them.

  • Jay Zabriskie

    Great sad story Doug. I think we’d all like to help you push Senor Brit out of the window. It’s as if you never had the conversation with him after the Paramount debacle.

    I think a shock collar is a great idea.

  • Fascinating what people will do in the face of fear. Some people talk too much and fill dead air to avoid their fear. Some people clam up in a panic. I can remember a pitch in my former profession as an urban designer where I found myself in that later camp and stopped well short of my full pitch. Choke.

    I was interested to see you comment that you hate pitching. I hope you’ll tell us more about that someday too.

    Thanks for the great reads as always.

    • Thanks, Jenna. And I will one day write more about *blech* pitching.