MME Co-Founder Tells How Anyone Can Get A Pitch Meeting in Hollywood
By Kukhautusha Croom
Since this past January, I’ve had numerous pitch meetings at major networks and production companies, including HGTV, ITV, WE tv, T Group Productions and BET, to name a few. Over the last 10 to 15 years, I’ve had hundreds of pitch meetings at film studios (Paramount, Universal, FOX), additional TV networks (ABC, NBC, FX, USA), and even met with a Silicon Valley giant (Google). I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “How did she get all these pitch meetings?” The answer may surprise you, but I did it all on my own and without ever having an agent.
I pitched a feature film project to DreamWorks. I didn’t have a script, but I had an idea that I strongly believed in and a few people, whose opinion I trusted, told me that I had something special, so I made a cold call to DreamWorks and finessed my way into a conversation with a creative executive there. At first, he was reluctant to talk to me, but then I made him laugh a couple of times and he agreed to a pitch meeting. Once I secured the meeting, I started practicing my pitch every day. I made a voice recording, I videotaped myself, I pitched to myself in the mirror, I pitched to my family and friends, and once I had pitched the story ad nauseam, I was ready for my close-up. The big day finally arrived and I met with the creative executive who was extremely nice, but did little to calm my nerves. I couldn’t tell whether or not the executive liked my story because he had an inviting, but expressionless face and every now and then, he would nod politely, but kept quiet for the most part. After I finished my pitch, he thanked me for coming by and his assistant ushered me out of his office. I felt that I had done a good job of conveying all of the points of my story, but I was still a little disappointed. I wanted the outcome to be like the commercials for the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes winners: balloons, confetti, cheering, and a giant check with my name typed across the front.
A few weeks had passed since my DreamWorks pitch and I had all but given up, but then the phone rang. I answered and a familiar voice on the other end of the call said “Is this Kukhautusha?” I answered with a slow, curious “Yes?” Then, the next thing I heard was, “We love your story and we want to buy it.” My lisp returned, but I played it cool and thanked him politely. Once I hung up the phone, I started screaming at the top of my lungs. Three weeks later, I received the biggest check that I had ever received. It was a whirlwind. There were so many meetings and DreamWorks had even begun to cast the film with A-list talent. It was all surreal and I just knew that my ship had come in. Well, it ended up being less of an ocean liner and more like a canoe. Somehow, the film fell apart and there were issues with casting and finding a director and the next thing I know, the project had gone into what is called “turnaround” or in the vernacular “sit on down”. My film was never made, but it set in motion the beginning of my career as a professional writer and producer. More importantly, the experience taught me to believe in myself; and that no matter what, there is always a “yes” waiting in the wings to counter every “no” you might receive. I also learned to rely on and tap into that small still voice that resides within each of us. It’s the energy that fuels creativity and self-confidence, which helped to propel me forward and allowed me to reach my goals; and it can do the same for you.
The reason that I wanted to share my DreamWorks story with you is to dispel the myth that you need an agent or some type of representation in order to secure a pitch meeting. It’s also important to note that this was one of the first pitch meetings (with a major studio) that had progressed that far. Today, I still do not have an agent and the hundreds of pitch meetings that I’ve been able to obtain over the years were all garnered without the help of any type of representation. How? I became an expert on the art of acquiring and developing pitches because I mastered “The Art of Storytelling” and elevated the experience by confidently communicating, convincing and persuading the listener that my story was commercially viable, marketable and on trend.
You may have an idea, but it’s not a “story” unless it has a beginning, middle and end. And it’s paramount that you are able to convey the heart and soul of your idea in both written and spoken form; it’s not as easy as it sounds. For me, I have always loved a great story, whether it’s someone else’s or one of my own. In kindergarten and elementary school, the sentence constructs were: “See Jane run.”; “Watch Bill play.”; or “Help Mom bake.” I was always the curious type and my mind constantly trailed off to my own version of the story. Why was Jane always running? Was she afraid of her parents? Did she need help from another adult? I would actually write elaborate tall tales and fabricate to my teachers that they were based on “books” that actually existed and that I had actually read. Well, I was “actually” lying and creating my own adventures in storytelling. When the teacher would ask to see these “books”, I would always tell her that they were “checked out”. The unbelievable part of my completely fabricated, yet believable stories is that I received “A’s” on each and every one of them. It’s not something I recommend, but what I’m trying to emphasize is that YOU must believe in what you write and be able to convincingly convey that passion on paper as well as verbally. In this instance, I had a positive outcome, but there were times when my ideas were flatly rejected. The sobering reality is that a big part of pitching will be spent licking the wounds of rejection. But, it’s important to remember that achieving any remarkable vision means not confusing rejection with failure; it’s not the same. Sometimes your blockbuster dream or indie passion project may not be what an executive sees as marketable, trending, monetarily realistic or just plain good. You have to adapt the mindset that when you receive a “rejection”, you should immediately categorize it as a “redirection” instead. That way, you can apply the “constructive” aspects of your experience and hopefully, make your story idea even stronger for the next round of pitch meetings. Once you’ve mastered the art of storytelling, the next phase is taking that story and writing a script that captures all of the best elements in dialogue form. I took this concept to heart when I made the audacious decision to write a spec script for HBO’s iconic hit series The Sopranos at the height of its popularity.
My spec script for The Sopranos was based on an original storyline that I created, but seemed logical for that particular season. I loved every aspect of The Sopranos: the characters, casting, storylines, and of course, the writing and acting. I knew that writing a spec script based on one of America’s most beloved show was a big risk, but it was one that I was willing to take. I had a friend who works at HBO and he agreed to give my spec script to one of the main producers on The Sopranos. I was well aware that 99.9% of all TV shows don’t accept story ideas or script submissions from outside writers, but I guess I just wanted to know where I stood as a writer. Was I able to handle writing a script in the voice, likeness and gravitas that the characters of that beloved drama certainly conveyed each and every week? My script was passed along and three weeks later a producer from The Sopranos called. HBO had read my script. Not only did The Sopranos rep read it; she loved it and wished I had been one of their staff writers because she would have definitely chosen to go with the storyline that I had suggested. She even quoted specific plot points and lines from my script and I can’t even tell you how happy (and proud) that made me feel. Of course, she gave me the obligatory speech of not being able to actually utilize my script because they didn’t and couldn’t accept “unsolicited” material. I responded that I totally understood and that I was just happy to have received the call. When I hung up the phone, I cried and for the very first time, I felt validated as a writer; like I had just been promoted from the minors to the majors. That day, I became a professional writer—with bragging rights to boot!
This is how I found my voice as a writer along with the confidence to continue pursuing my dream of working in Hollywood. It was my foot in the proverbial door and I learned, crafted and refined the art of pitching, storytelling and writing interesting screenplays that come alive to the reader. But DreamWorks and HBO are only the beginning of my story, and I hope you find inspiration in my experiences so that you will keep pursuing your own dream—no matter how many “redirections” you receive along the way.