How To Successfully Pitch to a Hollywood Gatekeeper: Advice from a Fellow Stage 32 Writer

Originally posted to Stage 32’s Motivational Monday blog on July 1, 2019.

Jason Mirch

Happy Monday, Stage 32 Creatives! We’re not only kicking off a new week, we’re kicking off a new month! Welcome to July! I hope you are all taking creative momentum into the heart of summer. Now is the time to write something, pitch something, get outside and shoot something! Your creative destiny is in your hands, so do the work and make it count! And in that spirit, I want to introduce the author of our Monday Motivation story.  I have just recently had the pleasure of meeting Stage 32 member Paul Nandzik, but already I can tell he is a person who does the hard work.

Does the story end in a produced project? Unfortunately not. Is this a success story? Absolutely! As you will see from Paul’s story, even through the twists and turns of his experience, he kept a positive attitude and an entrepreneurial spirit. Those are two things one must have in order to succeed in this industry.

We have some fantastic pitch sessions coming up in the month of July and beyond. When pitching, it would be wise to take Paul’s advice to heart. 

Back in 2017 I pitched a reality TV project to the VP of Development of a prominent and well-established production company specializing in reality programming. Spoiler alert: the show didn’t get picked up, but not everyone gets the benefit of a serious conversation with a VP of Development, so it was a learning experience if nothing else – an experience I’d like to share with all of you aspiring screenwriters and/or producers. Especially if you’re at a point where you’re willing to put in the extra effort to get your work distributed globally and be able to take a paycheck to the bank.

Keeping in mind that I’d done extensive research and planning for about two months prior to even signing up for a Stage 32 pitch session (woo!), I hooked the VP in the first sentence, which was the project’s logline.

My conversation with the VP of Development continued for six months, during which time I provided her with everything she asked for (and more) on or ahead of schedule. Because VPs are busy professionals who are intensely sought after as powerful gatekeepers within the industry. So – rule of thumb here – if you can make their job easier and especially if you can make THEM look good to THEIR bosses – then that might be a smart strategic consideration.

How To Successfully Pitch to a Hollywood Gatekeeper Advice from a Fellow Stage 32 Writer
Paul worked directly with Brian Graden Media to develop his reality series.

There were several ups and downs throughout, and a lot of very hard work. Well, very diligent work, anyway. But ultimately the VP, concerned that the show would be financially riskier than the company felt comfortable with, gave the project a pass.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

The VP actually liked the concept and one of the two proposed hosts so much that she actually pitched US on an alternate show concept. My team and I were all on board with it. Our proposed host, however, ended up not having the exact background necessary to pull off the new concept, unfortunately, so even the alternate pitch fell through in the end.

How To Successfully Pitch to a Hollywood Gatekeeper Advice from a Fellow Stage 32 Writer
Paul learned a lot from his pitch and development experience.

So that’s WHAT happened. The more important component of the story is WHY it all happened.

  1. I did my research on budgeting, scheduling, target demographics, the production company I was pitching to, my own partners/teammates, etc. I agonized over creating a stellar one-sheet (including logline, syndication viability, headshots and bios of the host and co-host we had in mind, and a private link to an early mock-up of the opening credit roll with theme music along with brief bios of our key crewmembers, and our locations wish-list since each episode was formatted to feature a different location to be explored). A little bit of proactive diligence can and will go a long way toward securing success for a project since most of us will only ever get ONE shot at pitching to any given producer, financier, studio executive, or other gatekeeper. This includes knowing – even if only in broad strokes – what goes into each phase of a project (development, pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution) and knowing what gatekeepers are looking for and what their responsibilities are so that you can appeal to their interests. That is, you want your project to be as beneficial for them as it is for you.
  2. Filmmaking is a collaborative process within an industry of relationships. What this means is that reputation – and trust – is everything. So make sure that you and your team are all on the same page and that everyone who should have a voice (e.g., anyone working Above-The-Line) does have a voice. And always act professionally – even if things don’t go your way. You never know who’s connected to who, and sometimes all it takes is one phone call or one e-mail to someone’s old buddy to help you get your foot in the door…or to get the door slammed in your face.
  3. Practice your pitch – most especially your logline, which must be both succinct and compelling. A good logline is an art all its own. Pitch people who you trust, and if their eyes start to glaze over or they start checking their cellphone or make other indications that they’re not engaged, make a mental note of it and work on improving your pitch. The more prepared you are with a solid one-sheet, a video proof-of-concept (e.g., trailer, credit roll, pilot), the more confidence you’ll instill in the gatekeepers who will ultimately decide whether or not your project has what it takes to – let’s face it – make whoever’s footing the bill enough money to make the effort worth their while.
  4. Follow instructions…and suggestions (because suggestions are almost always instructions in disguise). This might sound like the most basic of the basics, but I really cannot overstate its importance enough. And if you can get even just this one suggestion down pat – believe it or not – you’ll actually be ahead of most of your competition. Just trust me on that.

If it hasn’t become clear at this point, there’s a lot that factors into transitioning from passionate hobbyist to paid professional, and even paid professionals still have to go through all of this with various gatekeepers within the industry. So hopefully you find what I’ve shared above to be useful in guiding you along a very important part of the process.

Now that’s all well and good, but who the $#!+ am I?

My name is Paul Nandzik and I’m a SAG-AFTRA stunt performer who also writes, produces, and directs my own projects through my film production company. I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs and worked with a lot of odd people throughout my life, from working as a journalist to a janitor, to earning a degree in English to later flunking out of medical school (which actually landed me my first job in journalism, believe it or not, just to illustrate that there’s no such thing as really failing if you’ve got the right outlook and chutzpah), and later becoming a film instructor for high school students.

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