Living History: Finding the Right Pitch

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The single biggest problem that writers face is getting people to read their work. Most people think that we worry about critics or what people think of our writing and we do, but criticism at least shows us that someone read our work and oftentimes you need to read something well if you’re going to be able to interpret it in a unique way. Thus, criticism isn’t bad. I would say the opposite in fact. Criticism is good. Most writers put a great deal of thought into their characters, stories and ideas.

It’s a great feeling when someone wants to talk to you about your work because that means at least it was readable. If what you did wasn’t any good they probably wouldn’t finish it. If something isn’t interesting I don’t keep reading it, I certainly don’t write about things I don’t finish, and I wouldn’t know where to begin criticizing something that was so bad that I didn’t even want to finish it nor would I want to make the effort to write about it. This isn’t some Gordon Gecko answer. I’m not saying that all criticism is good, but a lot of it can be when viewed against the alternatives.

I think for every writer in media the toughest thing to do is to get someone to invest their time and read your work. It’s not a matter of getting your material in the right hands it’s a matter of convincing the right people that your idea is the right idea for them right now. I don’t pretend that executives or anyone in the decision-making process for that matter read my work. In all likelihood they have not. My job is thus two-fold: one, I want to get them interested or better: invested in reading my work and two, I want to make them feel like they’re missing out because they haven’t read my work. Living History is the single greatest hour long scripted comedy series that’s been put to paper. I stand by that statement around 90%.

Getting your work into the hands of people that can do something with it is one thing. Actually getting them to do something is quite another. When I wrote my first script I had a very targeted audience because I was making a short film and because I was making it locally. When I found the man that I wanted to direct it I didn’t give him the script.

“Scripts are for actors,” I said. “Let me show you my notes.” He hesitated for a while but after I spent a fair amount of time stalking him it was either read my notes or go down to the local cop shop and fill out a restraining order and anyone who’s gone through that process can tell you it’s a lengthy one and probably not worth going through if your problem is easily fixable so finally he agreed to look at my notes. At this point he admitted he was, at the ver least, a little curious as to what all the fuss was about. He asked me if I could send my notes to him and my reply was that it would be better if I just delivered them in person. He insisted that I mail them to him (likely because he had grown so tired of seeing and talking to me) and he even agreed to pay the shipping charges. “That’s going to be a lot,” I told him.

“It’s a short film,” he answered. “How long could it be?”

“Oh, it’s not the length that’s going to cost you,” I said. He was absolutely livid when he got them.

“These things are hand written,” he shouted at me over the phone.

“Of course they are,” I said. “Have you ever tried to write on a computer? I mean there’s only so much ink in my pen.” Now at this point he could have (and probably should have) thrown my notes across the room, but if he did that I had a pretty good chance seeing as how there were eight notebooks that at least one of them would open up either while in flight or upon landing and that was my only goal: to get him to read my notes. I didn’t specify how many of my notes I wanted him to read. He took the first notebook and read the first page after I talked him down from burning them out of spite.

“You wrote a short film about Richard Speck?” He asked. “What is this a documentary?”

“No,” I answered. “It’s a concept film.” I could tell from the silence on the other line that he was wrestling with a number of thoughts.

“What kind of maniacal concept are we dealing with here?” He asked.

“I guess you’d have to keep reading,” I suggested and he did. He liked the idea but insisted that I was far too difficult to work with, a point I understood completely, so iasked if there was anyone who he thought could do it justice. Yes, justice, Richard Speck, the pun was not lost on him. He thought for a minute and then responded with the answer I had been hoping for: no one but him could put my vision on the screen. Once he began thinking of my writing visually he simply couldn’t imagine anyone else recreating it the way he could and of course he was right. This isn’t to say that he did the best job, but he did give it his own unique vision which no one else could have given it.

My freshman year in college I learned a valuable life lesson while attending as many parties as was possible for me. If you want someone to talk to you ask their opinion. I wasn’t great at picking up women, but once I figured this out it was like finding a magic button. When I’m pitching a concept like Living History I like to start out with general questions like: do you think you’d get along with George Washington? Do you think Ben Franklin could build a time machine? What kind of novel do you think Thomas Jefferson would enjoy? When I’m pitching a concept like Living History I like to start out with general questions like: do you think you’d get along with George Washington? Do you think Ben Franklin could build a time machine? What kind of novel do you think Thomas Jefferson would enjoy today? These questions seem to most people like they’re coming out of the blue, yet I have them personally invested in the answer.

When I tell people I’m writing a TV series about the founding fathers they will usually make the jump to the next line of thought that I want them to consider: how would the founders act in today’s world? That’s a question that a lot of people ask. When I tell the person that I have an answer a lot of times they’ll want to know what it is. Now, they’re asking me for my opinion. Whether they’ve realized it on a conscious level or not I’ve just turned the tables. I started by asking them for their opinion and now they’re asking me for mine. When I tell them that they’ll have to wait for the series they aren’t too happy with me but chances are that they’ll think about it again and all I need is for that person to ask my question to the right person and then the wheels are set in motion.

What I’ve learned from this back and forth with people is that people are more likely to read something if they’re personally invested in it and are interested in some aspect of it. My goal with Living History is to get everyone to ask their friends and family whether they’d get along with George Washington, whether Ben Franklin could have built a time machine or what kind of novel would Thomas Jefferson enjoy today? These are the questions that Living History answers.

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