Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Art of Being Pushy

PK: Have you ever come across any odd ways that people have gotten their scripts out there? I once read an article by a film critic who interviewed Al Pacino, and at the end, Pacino said: "So whaddya got for me?" The journo was a bit confused, and Pacino explained that it was common practice for journos to hand, not just him, but almost every other movie star a script after an interview. Where do you draw the line between professionalism, desperation and pushiness?

Approaching someone famous, or someone of influence, is always tricky, especially if it’s to pitch yourself or your latest script. You don’t want to piss them off and you don’t want to appear desperate or pushy. And if you’re struck dumb with nerves or shyness, then summoning up the courage to approach the star or director can be so overwhelming that anything you do say ends up as stuttering gibberish.

In his book, Hollywood Animal, Joe Ezsterhas shares an anecdote about a film critic who tried to blackmail the director Alan J Pakula into reading and developing his script, otherwise he would pan his latest film. Ezsterhas also mentions that critics offering actors/directors their scripts is a common occurrence.

And who would blame them? It’s an ideal opportunity, after all. You’re face-to-face with a leading Hollywood star/director, why wouldn’t you try to take advantage? But it’s got to be done right, right? You don’t want to be an obvious slimeball like the Pakula critic, do you? No, I would imagine if you were polite and contrite, and possibly even a bit charming (or made a good pitch!), then the person would happily agree to read your script (they may be brushing you off but if the script gets good coverage from their readers/assistants, who knows?!).

As a newbie writer, you’ve got to hustle and network as much as possible. You never know where an introduction might lead, and it is valuable ‘face time’ rather than disposable ‘email time’ that makes the ultimate impression. For the most part, industry folk are open to people coming up and saying ‘hello’. They know what it’s like (they were starting out once, too), and they don’t want to appear like a jerk. While in Cannes to promote ‘How To Lose Friends and Alienate People’, Toby Young admitted that he reacted irritably when someone came up to ask Simon Pegg if he would read their script. Simon Pegg was a bit more open, and told the person to send it to his agent, leaving Toby Young feeling like a jerk who had let fame get to his head.

Andrew Collins recently approached Ben Kingsley at a screening of his latest film. Andrew wasn’t pitching anything or trying to persuade Sir Ben to read a script, he just wanted to say ‘hello’, and he managed to have a polite, if brief, chat. That’s the way it’s done. Honest and polite, and not taking up more time than you or the star/director/producer needs.

At the Screenwriters’ Festival, I very much admired Tim Clague’s method of spreading himself around the room. He boldly approached anyone and everyone with his business card, briefly explaining who he was and to visit his website. Tim did this with an easy charm and affable good humour. My absolute favourite was when he interrupted Julian Fellowes, who was chatting to someone at a table. To paraphrase the mighty Claguester: “Hi. Tim Clague. Bafta nominated writer. Check out the website. New ideas, new structures.” I was across the room, watching Julian Fellowes’ reaction. He smiled, took Tim’s card and exclaimed: “We’ll go there!” which has become a new favourite catchphrase.

In Blake Snyder’s “Save The Cat” (I’m full of references today), he talks about unique ways of marketing yourself and your script so that you have a better chance of standing out from the crowd. He admits that some of these are a bit gimmicky (he once packaged a script about ‘nuclear’ superheroes into a faux-radioactive unit) but some of them have worked, and anything that helps to mark you out as ‘one to watch’ has got to be worth a shot.

But it’s tricky. You’ve got to weigh up the moment and decide if you should make your move, or just let it slide. After a while, you’ll see other people approaching stars/influential people. You’ll cringe, not out of embarrassment but because you’ll recognise that you’ve done the exact same thing at least once in your networking endeavours. You’ll notice the nervous edge, the willingness to appear friendly or ingratiating, when basically the newbie is hoping that the person they’re hustling will advance their career in some way. But this is okay. It’s par for the course, it has to be done. It should be done. But don’t cross the line. Always be polite and always thank them for their time.

Put yourself in their shoes. If someone’s on their way to dinner or is having a drink with their husband, you don’t want to corner them into an awkward pitch. Pick the right moment and then make your move. Try to come across as relaxed and assured rather than nervous and desperate. Give a brief intro of yourself and explain why you’re saying ‘hello’. If it’s just to say you’re a fan, then say it and get out. If you’ve a project to pitch, mention it, don’t pitch it, unless the person agrees to hearing all about it. “Can I get my agent to send it to you?” “I have a copy right here if you’d prefer.” “I don’t want to take up too much of your time but…” The bottom line is be polite, friendly and courteous.


Lucy said...

Yes that Claguester is like some kind of germ - at that BBQ I had a few weeks' back he'd met everyone he hadn't seen before within about three seconds of getting there! ; D

I've lost count of the number of times I've been shoved scripts on CD or more often than not these days, pitch docs. It's really strange. I can't do anything for anyone, I'm just another writer! Having said that, it is REALLY handy having a website or blog - in the bad ol' days I would be like, "So, you're [insert famous director/writer I admire/ whatever]" and then go bright red, mutter an excuse and go. These days I can say something like, "Fancy doing a Q&A or interview for my blog?" It's a great ice breaker and gives me the excuse I need to hand over my card. Who'da thought it eh - Lucy gets embarrassed. I hide it well...

Anonymous said...

Just thought of another one, Danny. While not being pushy in the meet and greet sense, Stel Pavlou who wrote the 51st State is a great example of someone who saw an opening and used it. If I remember correctly a friend of his told him that Tim Roth read EVERY SCRIPT that came into him that was marked as an independent production. Roth read his script and contacted him, and the rest is wham bam Samuel L. Jackson in a kilt history.
I bet Roth got a lot of scripts after that story did the rounds.
Great post on an important topic. I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that banging out a script and waiting for it to magically do the work for you is the only way to go.

Jason Arnopp said...

I think some of the key factors in Not Going Too Far when meeting a new 'target' are as follows:

1) Keep it all pretty brief. Apply the same methodology you would to writing a good script scene: get straight to the point, get them to agree to read your deliriously wonderful spec script, then get out of there asap.

2) Say something nice/funny/both, at some point in the conversation. Not just all, like, "Would you like to hire me?". And at the end, do indeed thank them for their time with sincerity.

3) Keep an eye on the target's general body language and relaxation levels. Do they resemble a caged animal, dying to get away? If so, let them. Last thing you want to be is the scriptwriter who trapped them in a corner for two hours. I've noticed, at meet-the-producer type events, that some people will jabber on at their target until the target is forced to make their excuses and leave. Not good.

sam morrison said...

I find having no idea who is famous can be helpful. I once helped a young (and nervous) director on a voice record with Frances Barber (who was great) as the director seemed unsure how to tackle proceedings and deferred to me, ostensibly there as script editor/moral support. If I'd realised how well known Frances was I probably would have been nervous.

Ditto the time I shared a tube journey with Spielberg.

Danny Stack said...

You didn't know / hadn't heard of Spielberg? Or were you just playing cool? Spielberg Schmielberg.

Anonymous said...

Sob. Oh why do we have to be pushy on top of everything else?

Is there not a tablet we can take?

sam morrison said...

I did know Spielberg. I didn't really share a tube journey with him. Sorry.

Danny Stack said...

Big A: top tips!

Anon: you could be on to something there. Anyone have a pharmaceutical degree?

Sam: you mean it was like that time I was stuck in a lift with Angelina Jolie? Oh what a day that was.

Lucy said...

Uh oh. Did I hear someone mentioning they were stuck in a lift?????

Jez Freedman said...

simon pegg must be a very nice chap indeed cos a friend of mine recently pitched him a script whilst he was launching the Spaced DVD in New York. Thye chatted for a little bit, told him he couldn't take it personally cos it was unsolicited, but to send it to his agent. So like you say... get good coverage and you never know...

Piers said...

What's wrong just saying you like their work, and what are they working on now? And how's their life?

Then later maybe they'll remember you as that polite person they actually had a real conversation with, instead of another yammering fool who couldn't talk about anything other than themselves.

Tim Clague said...

I look forward to seeing you all the meet up tonight. I'll bring my cards