A FILMMAKER’S LIFE
Chapter (Who knows)
THE BIG PITCH
The best part about pitching a reality television series to the Arts and Entertainment Channel was hounding people about it ahead of time – forcing them to listen to my practice pitch.
I pitched at home, in the office, during lunch, over the telephone, and to Clabber at his studio, once he became duly impressed by the fact I was one of only five people pitching. Clabber heard this and stopped in his tracks.
“Wait. How did YOU get to pitch to A&E with only four other people?”
“I don’t know! I entered a contest. They invited me! You’ve got to help me. I’m terrible at pitching.”
We entered the big 25-seat screening room where Clabber premieres most of his films. I set up my Mac computer and recited my pitch.
Clabber listened closely but did not laugh at my jokes. He did not seem impressed.
“You don’t act like you’re excited about this project. You don’t act as though you’re committed.”
Nerves were taking over my body.
Clabbers stood up and demonstrated how I should deliver the lines. He wanted me to make eye contact with people in the audience.
“Make sure you memorize your speech!” Clabber remonstrated. “It’s only two minutes long. Your video is good. And don’t dance!”
At lunch over the next few days, I sat with people, uninvited, and grabbed friends as they entered Immaculate Consumption. “Hey, you! Sit down and listen to my pitch.”
People listened, wide-eyed. They liked the concept of my show: female truck drivers overcome obstacles and keep on trucking. Nobody laughed at my jokes, but they all said they would watch the show if it appeared on television.
Marco helped me the most. He timed my pitch every night several times for about a week before the event. He fake-laughed at my built-in jokes.
In Washington, D.C., I stayed at a hotel called the Windsor Inn that was probably the dumpiest hotel I’ve ever slept in. My room was underground. The so-called “window” looked out into an adjoining hallway. The doorknob and window handles were broken. The television didn’t work.
As I sat at Starbucks the day before my presentation, my nephew sent me a photo to cheer me up. He said it was an illustration of what I should do at the pitch. A dog was sitting at the microphone saying, “Listen up, bitches.” This helped a lot because it made me laugh.
Noon the day of the pitch. We were scheduled to meet at New York University, Washington D.C. campus at 1 p.m. I was sitting at Zoup chain restaurant with my computer, watching the Suits order lunch. I had my presentation ready. My pants were too short, and my socks showed.
When I arrived at the venue, I was the second pitcher to arrive. Soon all five of us were there, sitting around and twitching. Three pitchers were women, two were men. Of the ideas I heard at this point, the one that caught my attention was about the female designers who worked for Tiffany. They did all the work and got none of the credit. The 26-year-old who was pitching that idea had an 18-month-old baby at home. She had flown a long way. She looked fagged out.
Betsy, one of the organizers, came over to announce the order in which we would pitch. I was to go last. Of course! My nerves were already on fire. That meant an extra hour of sitting around and stewing.
We filed down to the auditorium to check out our video presentations.
“How does my video look?” I asked Josh, the organizer.
“YOU don’t have a video,” he snarked.
“Yes, I do! I have a 2-minute promo that I sent in last week. It’s an important part of my presentation.”
“It’s not here. Do you have a copy with you?’
I rushed to my notebook and retrieved a jump drive. Luckily it uploaded quickly.
Things were ready to go, but I thought I would pass out from fear.
Meanwhile, the auditorium was filling up. We pitchers were instructed to sit in certain places. I was glad to be on the aisle, and that I had memorized the route to the bathroom. During the other people’s presentations, I kept having to pee. Twice I got up and headed to the restroom.
I scrutinized my ridiculously short pants in the restroom mirror.
None of the other presentations grabbed me. The 26-year-old with her great idea about Tiffany’s fell down, psychologically, during her pitch. We only had five minutes each, but she stopped talking at one point. She was almost completely unable to communicate her excellent concept.
This pitching game seemed ridiculous. Great ideas were being wasted because of stage fright.
What the hell. I walked to the podium.
“Hello, I’m Laura Valtorta,” I began. “Attorney turned filmmaker.”
I skipped any further introduction and dove into my basic premise. “My project is “Queen of the Road,” a reality television series about commercial truck drivers.”
My first joke was “These drivers lead exciting, dangerous, and difficult lives, and that’s just trying to find a place to park!” The audience (starved for entertainment) roared with laughter.
This positive reaction relaxed me. I smiled into the camera and made my way a few minutes later to the second joke. “Donna the driver warns me she’s very conservative, but her wife, Carol, is much more liberal.” Big laughter.
I played up the last few seconds of my talk with gesturing and gesticulation. They loved my video. My unfashionable pants did not matter. Several audience members came up to speak to me afterwards.
The bad part was, I did not win!
The winner was Ann Marie Dinardo, with her show called “Hostage Heroes.” This will be a narrative re-creation of people taken hostage who talk down the shooter. Ho hum.
After the winner was announced, one of the panel members came out to give us detailed critiques. He grabbed the arms of me and the winner. “It was between these two,” he said. “They knew what their shows would be, from beginning to end.”
For some reason, the panelists did not find my truck drivers compelling characters. Jeesh! If Milica, Donna, Olivia, Jae, and Adabelle are not entertaining women – I don’t know who can be. And fuck “Ice Road Truckers.“ The documentary I make will be one hundred percent different.
Delivering the pitch was fun, and the cocktail party that evening was a blast. I met Morgan Spurlock and a bunch of D.C. film people.
I recommend pitch fests to any screenwriter or filmmaker.