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First Person

Talk About a Fevered Pitch

September 07, 2002|EMILY POLSBY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Note: Aspiring screenwriter Emily Polsby attended the Fade In magazine pitch festival last month in West Hollywood. Here's what happened:

*

"It's the story of my life, and our Lord Jesus Christ told me DreamWorks was going to produce it," the fiftysomething woman in line ahead of me said, her reflective American flag cap blinding me as she leaned forward into my face. "Do you have a relationship with God?"

We were waiting with 250 other people outside a hotel ballroom filled with TV and movie professionals. We had each paid $345 for the opportunity to pitch our script ideas for three minutes to the people inside: agents, managers, producers and a handful of sought-after development executives from studios.

Rumors were rampant that past years' participants had sold scripts on the spot for between $300,000 and $700,000, so the ambience was what you would get if you sent out a notice that everyone who liked money should show up at a certain hotel, just in case they had a winning lottery ticket.

"I like God," I ventured after some thought. At this point, I hoped he really, really liked me too. I had spent more than two years and five drafts on my romantic comedy about an aging basketball player. I found myself coveting this woman's divine pipeline to Steven Spielberg's studio.

As the line snaked slowly forward, a pockmarked man with a shirt buttoned up to his chin and a pocket full of pens emerged from the ballroom, triumphant.

"They loved my script!" he crowed to the rest of us.

"What's it about?" I asked, glaring.

"Oh, this kid whose mother is just a pair of eyeballs and there are lots of explosions and then the kid blows up and he's just a pair of eyeballs too!"

"Sounds great," I lied.

I surveyed the crowd. Mostly white men between 25 and 40, like Mr. Eyeballs. I turned to the crisply coiffed African American woman in line behind me.

"I wish I were black," I told her sadly. "Everybody here looks the same."

"Don't make me laugh," she admonished me. "I'm lactating. And be glad you're white. So are most of the executives. How easy do you think it's going to be for me to sell my story about a homie who goes back in time to before the Civil War? Not many people are open to the idea that slavery can be funny."

"Stop," I begged her. "You had me at 'I'm lactating.' " Her name was Tanya, and she really was lactating.

My turn came, and I stumbled into the room. It was filled with card tables. At each table sat a big studio executive. The one at my table looked about 25. "So my story is about a basketball player who's trying to get his PhD."

"Wait," said the 25-year-old big shot. "Is this a comedy?"

"Yes," I admitted, "it is."

"Then forget it," he replied. "I hate comedies. No one wants to make a comedy."

I wondered if anyone had told this guy that "Austin Powers in Goldmember" was grossing almost $200 million right that minute, but I smiled and pretended to take notes.

"Comedy bad," I wrote in my notebook.

"Yeah, comedies have no shelf life," he said, launching into a complicated analysis of the video aftermarket.

"So what kind of movies are you interested in making?" I interrupted him as they were sounding the bell that my time was up.

"Movies where they blow something up," he said. "Action."

Back outside, I returned to the end of the line. A leathery-looking man with the watery eyes of a longtime drug user handed me a sheet of paper that said, "69 Reasons Not to Deal Drugs."

"It's my life story," he told me. "I was a drug dealer for 30 years. Then the day I got out of prison, I got thrown from a Greyhound bus and there was blood coming out of my penis."

"I have to find my friend!" I said as I went to search for Tanya.

"I'm thinking I should blow all of my characters up," I told her. "Apparently no one likes comedy."

"Don't let it get you down," she said. "Most of the meetings I've had, I don't even think they're listening to me. After I did my pitch, one guy asked me, 'So, is your character black?' "

A skinny man in a tropical hat turned to us with a wide smile.

"My movie is a story about how the Nazis really won World War II!"

"Is it your life story?" I asked, desperate to keep my own spirits up.

"What did I tell you about making me laugh?" Tanya warned me.

My next meeting was with a midget. Or small person. Or whatever the correct term is. She looked extremely unwell, and if I hadn't been so thrown off by her size, I would have stopped pitching and just asked her if she was OK. As it was, I was like a train with no brakes. "And the basketball player gets in a fight with the coach and...."

The more I jabbered, the sicker she looked. Finally my time was up. I shook her hand and dashed out the door.

"Don't pitch the midget," I whispered to Tanya, who was right outside. "I think she's...." At which point the little person pushed past, her hand over her mouth, on her way, presumably, to throw up.

My last meeting was with a thirtysomething man with adorable floppy black hair and a lovely smile. I ditched the basketball script and pitched a story about an autistic guy who hires a stranger to have his child. When I was done he said, "I like it. Send me the script."

"Really?"

"Really!" I rushed outside to tell Tanya. She high-fived me.

I might not have won the lottery, but I was still a winner. Except now I had to write the script about the autistic guy--which I am still writing.

"You go, girl!" Tanya said. "And the E! channel likes my TV show idea."

The day I got home from the event, mixed in with the e-mails that said, "Epolsby, have you tried intestinal cleansing?" was a message from Tanya. "Meeting you was the best part of the event for me," she wrote.

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