You mentioned that you went in to pitch for How To Eat Fried Worms and that it was the first script you were paid to write. Well, say a screenwriter has written a number of scripts and they want to pitch their ideas to a studio. How does one go about that? You can’t just waltz into Dreamworks and start spouting off lines right? So, what does one do? Set up a meeting? Could it be THAT simple? Calling and setting up a meeting?
It always starts with a meeting, and generally these are set up by an agent or manager. In the case of FRIED WORMS, it was set up by my friend Jim Whitaker, who was working as a junior executive at Imagine, the company run by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. He had read my very first script, and thought I might be the right person to adapt this little kid’s book the company had just optioned. So it was my friendship with him that got me in the room. But it was my take on the story that got me the job.
I’ve written in other places about the mechanics of a pitch, but generally it works like this. Pretend you just saw a great movie, and you wanted to convince your skeptical best friend why he should see it. What would you say? That’s a pitch.
Now usually, before you even go into a pitch meeting, some of the groundwork has been laid. For instance, before I pitched BIG FISH, the executives at Sony read the book, so they had some idea what the project was about. Even in the case of a completely original idea, it’s good if the recipient has been told what kind of movie you’re pitching — a thriller, a comedy, a futuristic prison romance, whatever. For something like TARZAN, which I’m writing now, we had a few phone calls to discuss the overall tone and approach before we even set the meeting.
And almost always, the people hearing the pitch want to read your writing ahead of time, so they know you really can write. In the case of FRIED WORMS, I was at a real disadvantage in this regard. The only writing samples I could show were my first script (a tragic-comic romance) and the novelization of NATURAL BORN KILLERS. The other writers pitching for the job were true comedy writers, many of them working on THE SIMPSONS. Ultimately, I got the job. Even though the movie still hasn’t been made, I’m tremendously grateful for the opportunity.