I have a pitch meeting coming up soon, and really looking forward to it. Some of you will have this chance: to go into a room full of people who are decision makers, and try to convince them to gamble a serious chunk of money on you. It isn’t just the money spent on the script, it is the entire production: bad scripts have sunk 100 million plus productions more than once.
When I started in this business, I just wanted to see my work on the big screen, but I also remember feeling that I wanted to be honest and true to myself. Remember having a conversation with my agent Joel Gotler, and saying to him with heartfelt emotion: “I don’t know what will happen to me in Hollywood. But I know one thing: when I leave this town, I’m leaving with my sense of honor intact.”
Joel looked at me, smile with a certain cynical wisdom, and said: “you’ll be the only one.”
I don’t think this is true, but I understand how it was close enough that he was trying to help me understand the cost of operating in this odd realm that joins business and art in a patchwork hobgoblin that can steal souls…but also make artists insanely wealthy.
The first time I ran into this was on one of my earliest pitch meetings. I went in there with about five ideas, and they liked three of them. Everyone was all smiles. And then I said the truth: I was VERY confident in my ability as a writer, but not totally confident in the specifics of script writing. I would need a little assistance making that leap.
Man, the temperature dropped about forty degrees in that room. I had revealed insecurity.
Vulnerability. Suddenly, they were no longer confident in me. Not just my future potential…but my common sense in SAYING something like that. They thanked me, and showed me the door.
So what do you do, when you need to project confidence, but lack experience, or have a nagging sense of incapacity? “Pretender voices”? To get that job, do you have to be dishonest about your insecurity?
I say no. I remember Nichelle Nichols giving me an excellent piece of advice, long ago. “Your fans don’t want to know who you really are,” she said. “They have an image of you. THAT is what they need from you, to present that image. It isn’t dishonest. It is just…incomplete.”
That’s what you do. You find the part of yourself that believes, that has confidence. That remembers a thousand times in the past that you learned, achieved, won, accomplished. Times when you felt the fear and did it anyway.
When I hit the street after that disastrous meeting, I swore I’d never make that mistake again. And the very next meeting, was for The Twilight Zone. We met at a hotel in North Hollywood, and Phil DeGuere, Jim Crocker, and D.C. Fontana were there, along with my hero, Harlan Ellison. He recognized me from a few interactions we’d had, and asked: “what are you doing here, Steve?”
I told him my Agent was De Guerre’s agent, and that’s how it was set up. He nodded, doubtless seeing how scared I was, and said: “Just don’t look back.”
And when I pitched ideas and the producers turned the focus on me, and I heard the snakes starting to hiss in my head, I pointed at the wonderful show we could do together. I wasn’t important. The SHOW was important. They weren’t looking at me. They were looking at the future we could create.
And as long as I kept their attention there…the snakes quieted. I felt confidence. And I got the job.
Don’t look back. Focus on where you are going, not your fear. It isn’t dishonest, or unethical. It is what the producers need to be confident in trusting you with a million dollars of their capital. You OWE them your best. You owe yourself your best.
When running forward, don’t look back. As Satchel Paige once said, something might be gaining on you.