This is the transcript for SYS Podcast Episode 013: Screenwriter Alan Katz Talks About Pitching.
Ashley: Welcome to the Sell Your Screenplay podcast. I’m Ashley Scott
Meyers, screenwriter and blogger over at sellyourscreenplay.com.
In this episode’s main segment I’m going to be talking to
screenwriter and producer Alan Katz about his experience
pitching both television shows and feature films.
If you find this episode valuable please help me out by giving me a
review in iTunes, or if you’re watching this on YouTube please
give it a like or leave a comment. I want to improve this
podcast so some honest, constructive feedback is very much
appreciated. Please also share these podcast episodes with
anyone you think could get some value out of them.
There were a bunch of nice comments over at YouTube after the last
episode so I’d like to thank all of those folks. Thank you
Ginger Shine, Robert Sandage, Lady Ma Roz, Holly Dell, Marcello
Guion, Shawn Speak, Constance Nun, Ralph Shorter, Adam Strange,
Captain Squirt of KSAW and anonymousweru. Thank you all for
leaving very kind comments.
A couple of quick notes. Any websites or links that I mention in the
podcast can be found on my blog in the show notes. For instance,
I’ll link to Alan’s IMDb page so you can see his credentials.
I’ll also publish a transcript with each episode in case you’d
rather read the show or look at something later on. You can find
all the podcast show notes at
www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/podcasts. Also, if you want my
free guide How to Sell Your Screenplay in Five Weeks, you can
pick that up by going to sellingyourscreenplay.com/guide. It’s
You just put in your email address, and I’ll send you a new lesson
once per week for five weeks along with a bunch of bonus
lessons. I teach the whole process of how to sell your
screenplay in that guide. How to write a professional log line
and query letter, how to find agents, managers, and producers
who are looking for material. It really is everything you need
to know to sell your screenplay. Again, just go to
A quick few words about what I’m working on. I’m always working on
new stuff so that sort of goes without saying. I’ve got a fairly
limited-location horror thriller script that is coming along
nicely. It’s a very simple story and has been pretty easy to
write. I should have it done in the next month or so. A film I
wrote last year called Ninja Apocalypse is nearing completion.
The trailer was released this past week.
I’ll link to it in the show notes. It was a pretty low-budget film,
shot for well less than $1 million, but the production company
has a lot of experience with special effects so they’re spending
a lot of time and effort really giving it some cool effects. If
you like martial arts films have a look at it. I think it’s
going to be a really fun film. Also, as I mentioned on the
previous episode of the podcast, I did a blast for a dark
romantic comedy that I finished last month.
So I’ve been busy sending out those scripts. Very few companies these
days are requiring a signed release form so that’s kind of
interesting. It seems like years ago there were a lot more
release forms that companies were requiring. I actually think
this is a good thing because release forms are a bit of a pain
to fill out with each submission.
As I mentioned last time too, I put the link to the script on the
blacklist site in the query letter. I ended up having five
companies download it through that. So, that’s kind of
interesting. It’s just kind of an experiment. None of these
companies have come back to rate the script yet though so we’ll
see if that happens. I’m honestly not even sure how or if they
can rate so, again, this is all just kind of an experiment.
I’m trying to get Frank and Leonard to come on the podcast for an
interview so hopefully I can ask him these sorts of questions.
We’ve just been playing email tag back and forth. We’re just
trying to lock down a time, but it sounds like he’s willing to
come on. I’m going to pepper him with questions about how to use
the blacklist site.
If you have any questions for him just email them to me because I’m
happy to ask whatever questions you guys have. So now, let’s get
into the main segment which is an interview with producer and
writer Alan Katz. I had Alan on the podcast several months ago
in episode six. So check that out if you get a chance. Alan
actually will read scripts for people and give script
evaluations. So check out sellingyourscreenplay.com/consultants
for more information on that. Okay, here is the interview.
Ashley: Welcome Alan to the Selling Your Screenplay podcast. I really
appreciate you coming back on the show.
Alan: Always a pleasure to talk to you Ashley.
Ashley: So you’re going to be teaching an online class through Selling
Your Screenplay Select on how to pitch, so I thought a good lead
up to that class might be just talking about some of the war
stories that you have while you’ve been pitching over the years.
Alan: You know, it’s funny. The first project that I ever pitched…
When I first came to town, I had written a script, a little sci-
fi comedy. This is a lot of years ago. Through that I hooked up
with a guy named Gil Adler who ultimately became my partner for
a lot of years. But the first thing that Gil had read was this
script and he liked it. He said, “Well, what else do you got?” I
said, “Well, I’ve got this idea called French Kiss, which is
about a young guy who needs money, and he agrees to marry this
French girl who needs a green card.”
Gil hooked us up with another producer who had access to a lot of
people with money. We went out to a lot of places. We pitched
it. A pitch really becomes… It’s got to become a performance
piece. It’s theater. It’s funny. I’ve worked with so many
writers that have said, “One of the best writers I ever worked
with was awful at pitching.”
He was such a smart, gregarious guy until he got into a room to
pitch. Then he became the most ungregarious, least interesting
person on the planet. It was a very successful writer, but
pitching was not his thing. It unnerved him completely. With
pitching, you’ve got to find your inner salesman. Pitching is
selling. From the start to the finish, you’ve got to… Then of
course I didn’t know this when I started. It took me a long time
You’ve got to have a couple of different pieces of you sales too. You
want to be able to figure out a way to have your log line.
That’s your ad slogan. You’ve got to start out with that.
There’s a way that you structure your pitch so that you kind of
segue into the story. You find a way to tell something off to
the side and then segue in. This is all part of the theater.
As part of one of the… When I was pitching this thing called French
Kiss a lot of years ago, this other producer Richard hooked us
up with a bunch of guys down in Orange County who were part of
an investment club. They were interested in getting into the
movies. So Richard arranged for a pitch for these, I think it
was seven guys and their wives.
We were going to do the pitch on a Friday evening at the King’s Head
Tavern in Santa Monica. They’ve arranged for this table. It
wasn’t in a private room. It was a large table in one of the
rooms. There were these seven guys and their wives. So there 14,
including Gil and Richard 15, 16. There were basically 20 people
around this table in the restaurant.
We did the wining and dining, and then the time came for the pitch.
So I start to tell the story. I’m working the table pretty good.
As the pitch goes on I begin to become aware that it’s gotten
incredibly quiet in this room in the restaurant. Everyone at
every table has started to listen to the pitch. Literally, I
have an audience of about 60 people listening to the pitch.
It was a little bit unnerving, now you’re halfway through. You can’t
stop. This was one of the moments when it’s good to have the
pitch memorized. It is a piece of theater. I was grateful that I
had it memorized because otherwise I would have completely lost
it. It was just so unnerving. I played to the room. I came to
the ending. The whole room applauded, which was very gratifying.
Ashley: That’s great.
Alan: This investment group seemed enthusiastic. It was the end of
the day. They didn’t invest in it for whatever reason. Maybe
they really didn’t want to get into the film business. You can’t
blame them. It’s a crazy business to put money into. Ironically
the investor that Richard ultimately found for us was a guy
based in New Jersey who owned a lot of scrap yards. He was in
the hauling business. I think he was a second cousin to Tony
Soprano. He was in the hauling business, and he had junkyards.
His one caveat to paying for a script to be written was that the
ending had to take place in a scrap yard. Which, of course, I
fought valiantly against because how could I compromise my
vision? Who am I kidding? Of course, whatever the guy wants.
Check this. I don’t care. I’ll write it in his house. I don’t
Ashley: I hear you. Aside from getting pitches like that, like the one
you just said where your producer kind of got you hooked up with
these people, potential investors, how do you get most of your
pitches over the course of your career?
Alan: I’ve always had representation. I was at the William Morris
Agency for a long time. For the last 15 years I’ve had an
independent agent who I’ve just… This guy Nick was always
incredibly good. He had relationships and certain pieces of
material. He would send it certain places. For the most part,
Nick’s reading of where we should go was always pretty good. It
This is a place where representation really is almost essential to
get you into the right rooms. You don’t necessarily know which
are going to be the right rooms. In essence, that’s why you’ve
got to provide the person who’s going to be setting up the
meetings with the one or two pieces of information you need to
interest them. Just a taste of what this thing is.
I just took a feature pitch around about a year ago for a project
that I’m trying to do independently. A thing called the Scarlet
Crusader. The long line that I gave my agent to set up the pitch
was… Here’s what you tell them. Tell them just this and
nothing more. It’s a comedy about a woman who becomes a super
hero, but only doing this three or four days a month when she’s
having her period. That’s all you say. They will get whether
they want to do this or not based on that little bit of
Ashley: Half the people are offended and half the people wanted to hear
Alan: That’s always going to be the case.
Ashley: Yeah, you’re right.
Alan: We walked into a couple of rooms where they liked it. They got
it. At the end of the day, they didn’t want to do it. Because
there’s fear of, “Oh, but a super hero. That’s a whole
franchise. You have to set it up a certain way. You’ve got to
build the franchise first.” Okay. All right. So you’re missing
the point. Okay. Never mind.
There was one room we walked into, and they knew what the premise
was. They knew what it was about because they set up the pitch
based on that log line that my agent had given them. This young
filmmaker and I, we walked into the room and we sat down. We
began to pitch it. There were five executives. I think they were
looking forward to hearing this pitch.
We had all of their undivided creative attention. Within about 45
seconds I think one or two of them suddenly realized… Maybe
they didn’t realize what this was about. Maybe they hadn’t heard
what the premise was. You could feel suddenly that they were
incredibly offended that we were pitching a movie about women
having their periods.
Ashley: I assume you would never pitch something like this without
having a partner who’s a woman.
Alan: That was when I first approached… The original idea was my
wife’s. I thought it was a brilliant idea. I thought, “Oh, but I
cannot possibly do this. I have to find a female partner.” I
happened to know a terrific young comedy writer, a young
filmmaker who I thought was perfect. So I approach her, and I
said, “Here’s an idea. Are you interested in doing this with
me?” Sometimes there are pieces of material you must partner on
because you’re not qualified.
Alan: To a degree, if I had written this without her, there are a lot
of things I would never have thought about because I don’t have
a period. Certain experiences, you’ve got to recognize where you
need to partner and what you will gain from the partner. But
also, to have pitched it and not have had a female partner would
have been death. It would have been ludicrous.
Ashley: Over the course of you career, what percentage of your
professional career do you think came out of a pitch?
Alan: Let’s see. Well, okay. I’ve been very lucky. The TV shows I
did… When I went in, and I got to some Tales from the Crypt.
Then when I went in and I got hired to do the Outer Limits, for
instance, that was not pitch where I came in and I said, “Here’s
an idea for a show.” These were things where they knew who I
was, and I walked in the door… You’re still pitching. There
you’re just pitching yourself. You’re pitching your sensibility
and how you can have a marriage of a kind–your sensibility and
There are still elements of pitching. You still have to walk into the
room, and be very clear about what you’re selling. That really
is the nature. It’s a different kind of a pitch, but make no
mistake, it’s still a pitch. I have set up a number of TV
series. I set up a series at Fox, which again, was based on
walking into a room with a very well-organized pitch. That one
we actually… That was a project called Fear Itself.
We walked in, and we sold that pretty much in the room. I think we
knew as we walked out that we probably had sold it. But again,
that was an organized pitch. The premise was really clear. It is
so vital that… You want them to have a very clear sense of
what it is. When you do the pitch you don’t want to overkill it.
You don’t want to… You kind of want to give them enough that
they get it, but that they have questions. The questioning
period that you want them to have is kind of the place where
they begin to sell it to themselves. That’s kind of what you
want. That’s when you know you’ve done it correctly.
Ashley: Do you think that pitching is more prevalent in television or
Alan: Television for sure. The world of features is very much in
Ashley: For instance, the people that are like the show runners of
television, almost all those shows probably came out of a pitch,
Alan: In the case of show runners in TV it kind of goes. It depends.
Someone will come in with an idea, and a network will want to do
it. But they’re going to want to get a known quantity to be the
show runner, who will be the person responsible for overseeing
the franchise and making sure that the franchise is delivered
the way that everyone envisions it. That’s a position more and
more of the highest trust. That the show runner is the key for
the flame that is the franchise.
Ashley: So back to what you’re saying about features being in flux.
Alan: More and more it’s getting harder and harder to sell a feature
pitch. Not to say it doesn’t happen. It does happen. It’s just
gotten very hard because there’s less and less money. They just
don’t trust that process. Just to be realistic, the development
process probably kills more projects than it creates.
Ashley: I see.
Alan: But that’s not to say that it’s not worthwhile to do it. At the
end of the day, the best approach is to write the damn script.
You’ll sell it for more money, but it’s your script. But to be
realistic sometimes you just don’t to spend the six months, if
you’re lucky, nine months, a year to get to that place where you
feel like it’s ready to take to the marketplace.
Sometimes you think, “I’ve got this great idea. Let me just test the
waters with it.” Sometimes there’s value in pitching just to get
a sense for, “Does the marketplace like the idea? Will the
marketplace be open to the idea?” That’s very valid, and a
valuable way to take your idea on the road and use those rooms
to work out some of your story and your characters and how it
all is going to play.
Ashley: Let’s talk about some of the logistics. When you go into one of
these pitches for, let’s say a TV show or a feature film, who is
in on that pitch? They’re studio executives? Are they producers?
Who is like the people that you’re pitching to typically?
Alan: Now it depends. If you’re doing a feature, it depends on where
you’re going to sell the feature. There are a lot of different
ways that you can play that. You can go directly to the end
buyer, but that, I think, you’ve got to wait until the very end
of the process because you go there. A great way to start the
pitching process is, rather than go to the end buyer, first try
to hook up with a piece of talent.
Whether it’s a director or a star producer or an actor. Now, one of
the advantages to going to those places first is that you get to
do your pitch. If they turn up their noses at it, you haven’t
spent anything except the time. Because if they say no, who
cares? They’re not the money.
Ashley: I see. So you’re literally saying for this first step you would
advise people to go and actually pitch to an actor, pitch to a
producer, pitch to a director?
Alan: Right. Pitch to their companies. Pitch to their people. That
way, one, you get to practice. Two, if they like it then you
have a partner who might be able to push this thing through.
More importantly, if they say no, you haven’t lost anything.
There’s a finite number of buyers. Once you’ve gone through
those buyers with your pitch, for the most part you’re done.
Really for the most part you can’t walk back into those rooms. You’ve
got to be really, really careful about spending those at the end
of the day. You’re better off looking for a partner and using
that process of looking for a partner to make your pitch better
and better and better. Because sometimes good executives, even
if they’re not going to buy it, they’ll say, “Here’s what I
like, and here’s what I don’t like.”
Hear them. Listen to them. Heed their advice. It might not…
[inaudible 20:54] you throw it out, but sometimes you’ll get
amazing advice that you just didn’t think about. You’re
basically taking advantage of the whole brain trust. Why not do
that? You’re basically… You’re getting free, sometimes really
Ashley: Yeah. Sure. So it seems like sort of the gist that I get from
screenwriters over the last years is that the development money
has really shrunk so when you go in and do a pitch, you’re not
getting as good of deals. There’s not like these two drafts and
a polish type deals. What can someone reasonably expect these
days when they go in and pitch?
Alan: It’s gotten really tight. These days they’ll give you a draft.
They’re not going to pay a whole lot of money for it. You
basically are surrendering all ownership in it.
Ashley: I see. And that will involve like a treatment first? One or two
versions of a treatment and then a first draft?
Alan: Yeah. Right. If that.
Ashley: I see.
Alan: It used to be you could get all kinds of steps in the process
with all kinds of different monies at the different stages. This
is true in TV too. There are lots of cut off points. The cut-off
point only means they might still think that there’s merit in
the idea. The only thing that’s being cut off is the writer. The
first thing before you get paid that you’re going to have to
sign in order to get paid is you’re going to have to sign a
certificate of authorship, which basically means that you are no
longer the owner of your material. They are.
It mitigates a little bit against the pitch because you really
haven’t developed the idea very much. You developed the story.
It’s not until you really start writing the script that you
really get a sense of what you have and where it can go and what
it can be. Just be aware that you have the potential to sell
your idea short. For someone else to then get to run with it and
get the bigger money and to get the glory.
It doesn’t always happen, but you’ve got to walk into this
understanding the cold, hard realities of it. That said, there
are people who walk in, and they nail a pitch and they’re off
and running. Again, it depends. For most of us working stiffs,
we’ve got to work everything out. You’ve got to walk into the
room with everything.
When I was doing Tales from the Crypt my partner and I were brought
into a meeting with a guy named Phillip Noyce, who was a
director. He was the executive producer of a horror series that
he was doing with Wes Craven. They had shot a pilot called
Nightmare Cafe. They had terrible problem because the show was a
mash-up of ideas.
There was some interesting stuff, but it was a confused mess. They
were hoping we could make some suggestions as to how to fix it.
We were told the story of how it got this way. It really all
came down to the pitch. It’s come to be a somewhat famous story
about how sometimes things can get sold in a room. Brandon
Tartikoff had been the head of NBC. Brandon had called Wes
Craven. This was during the Nightmare on Elm days.
He said, “I’d love for you to do a show for us. Come in and pitch
something to us.” So they were going to have lunch. The morning
that Wes Craven is going to go have lunch with Brandon
Tartikoff, he’s sitting at breakfast with his wife and his kid.
He says, “I’ve got to meet with Brandon today. I have no idea
what to tell him or to pitch him.”
His 15 year-old son says two words. Nightmare Cafe. He says the two
words. That’s it. He says the two words. Wes says, “That’s
great. I love it.” He goes to lunch with Brandon. They have
their lunch. Finally Brandon says, “So what do you got?” And Wes
Craven says, “Nightmare Cafe.” Brandon Tartikoff makes the deal
right then and there. He had no idea what the show was which is
just as well because Wes doesn’t know what the show is.
They made the deal based on those two words. Then of course, Wes had
the unfortunate situation where, “Okay. What’s this show about?”
Of course, they never solved it because this was done as
inorganically as you possibly could.
Ashley: Yeah. Starting with a title.
Alan: Yeah. Right. Yes, people do sell things without working them
out. It can bite you in the ass. Even if you’re Wes Craven.
Ashley: So, back to some of the realities of what you’re saying. Just,
and I know I’m putting you on the spot here a little bit, but
just a ballpark. How many pitches would you say you have to do
to actually land one? Over the course of your career, you think
you did 20 pitches to get one job, or whatever? What’s a
ballpark of how many pitches you do to actually get a job?
Alan: How many pitches. Wow. Every project was a little bit
different. I probably pitched French Kiss 25 times before… I
probably pitched it 20 times before I bumped into Gil. Then we
pitched it a bunch of times. It was probably 30 times. That was
just for that one project. By the same token, when I set up…
There was a project I did at Fox, Fear Itself. We only pitched that
three places. Only three places were interested, were up to
doing a psychological horror thriller kind of a project. There
weren’t a whole lot of buyers. This was a lot of years ago. This
was 10, 12 years ago. Now there are more places to go. But back
then there was a couple of places. Fox was among them because
they were doing the X Files. So we went in, and we sold that in
the room at Fox.
Ashley: So great. Well Alan, this has been very interesting. I do
appreciate it. I think that’s probably a good way to wrap up.
I’m going to give some details about the class, and people can
check that out. Hopefully they can attend.
Alan: I think they’ll enjoy it. I think they’ll learn a ton. Among
the things I think we’ll talk about are, for instance, really
the how-to. Everything from… Never mind just learning. When
you walk in the room there are certain things you can do to
increase your chances of having a better pitch. How you sit.
Where you sit. Really even, it’s the nuts and bolts that make a
big difference as to how you…
That the executives will pay more attention as opposed to less. You
can impact that. There are little tricks of the trade that you
can do. I think we can hope everyone becomes better at pitching,
becomes smarter at pitching. Hopefully, we become more
successful at pitching.
Ashley: Absolutely. Well thank you Alan very much. It’s been a
Alan: Always a pleasure.
Ashley: As mentioned during the interview, Alan will be running an
online class about how to pitch. It’s at 10:00 a.m. on March
22nd. To learn more about that go to
www.sellingyourscreenplay.com/classes. Or if you’re listening to
this after that date, you can hear a replay of the class any
time you’d like by joining SYS Select which is at
In the next episode I’m going to be interviewing screenwriting coach
Lee Jessup. She’s been working in the industry for years and has
a wealth of good information. I think you’ll learn a lot so keep
an eye out for that. It should go live on April 7th. I’m going
to try something a little different in the writing word section
today. As I mentioned many times on the podcast, I’m pretty
aggressive with sending out a lot of query letters.
I had a response recently from a company who wanted to stop sending
them query letters. They said something like, “No. We don’t want
your baseball comedy, or your romantic comedy, or your horror
comedy, or your sci-fi thriller, or your one-location thriller.”
It reminded of the great Dr. Seuss book “Green Eggs and Ham”
where Sam I Am spends the entire book trying to convince his
friend to try the green eggs and ham.
I can’t help but wonder if Dr. Seuss didn’t write this book based on
his own experience as a writer and being rejected a lot. I was
reading it the other day to my four year old daughter, and was
really inspired by it. So I thought it would be fun to end
today’s episode reading a few pages of the classic book.
Could you, would you with a goat? I would not, could not with a goat.
Would you could you on a boat? I could not would not on a boat.
I will not will not with a goat. I will not eat them in the
rain. I will not eat them on a train. Not in the dark. Not in a
tree. Not in a car. You let me be. I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox. I will not eat them in a house. I
will not eat them with a mouse. I do not like them here or
there. I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am. You do
not like them, so you say. Try them, try them and you may. Try
them and you may, I say. Sam, if you will let me be, I will try
them. You will see. Say, I like green eggs and ham. I do. I like
them Sam I Am. That’s our episode. Thanks for listening.