Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TALA Master Class - Day 7

Day 7
Gail Berman former Broadway producer, president of Fox TV and Paramount Pictures just started a new Film, TV and Multimedia company called BermanBraun and she’s talking with us today.

Gail: "Here's the best advice I have to give you…” After 5 years producing Broadway shows, starting with “Joseph…” in 1982 at (the age of 24), she was burnt out. Out of the blue, she was offered a position at Comedy Central. Her response, "Well I don't know. I'm a Broadway producer. What will my title be? What will my office be they say I'll have to share one. Who will these people be they say from MTV."

Bill her husband said at the time, "Why don't you try it and leave your posters at home?”

Then Gail continued: “You're not your history. You're only what your next thing is. Not even what your last thing was. It's a humility that's required to find your creativity every time. That humility is an important phase of moving forward.”

Well, with the amount of humility I've accumulated over the last 5 years, JESUS am I ready to move forward. She continued:

"We were sitting in a restaurant just before we started our new company and we role played. Starting the company means pitching to people who used to work for US." But they moved ahead anyway.

Back to Gail's rise to success. She finds a cool script: “Buffy”. Thinks it’ll make a great TV show, but is told it’s gonna be a feature. Is told "Forget it." Then the feature flops and the writer Joss Wheedon wants to redeem himself and the property because he felt the director broke a great script. She takes it out and Fox passes, as does everyone else. There’s a new network, the WB, and they buy it. She had one note for pilot. Reverse last and second to last scene. (Sadly, she didn’t show the before and after. I’d be interested to see what they were.)

It becomes a hit. It’s the star of the WB and they both benefit. She moves on to Regency, then president of Fox and then Paramount pics. Paramount didn’t work out, so she started her own company. She'll tell us more about that in a later session.


Next session. They just keep packin'em in.

Gail Berman, Bill Masters (Seinfeld writer), and Eyal Halfon (Israeli-Oscar winning screenwriter) do a panel on pitching:

Gail: "I’m a producer pitching to a buyer and also the reverse. You have to sell it in the first 3 minutes. The pitch may be longer, but if they don’t want it in the first 3 minutes, it’s not gonna happen. How do you become a salesman and boil it down to 3 minutes? In order to get the money to make the project, you have to make the sale. If you’re a writer who can’t pitch (there are some who just aren’t good at it), find someone to work with…a producer who can act as the salesman too."

Bill: "Sometimes I pitch with the star of the show. And sometimes the best thing you can do is shut up. The comedian who’d be the star of a show I was pitching one time, didn’t talk about the show for 15 minutes. He just kibbutzed. He didn’t give them the story. [And our time was up.] I had to have a talk with him before our next meeting, but before that happened, we got a call that we’d sold the show – even though we never told them the story."

Eyal Halfon: “I don’t like pitching. I belong to a time you could make films without pitching. Don’t be too well prepared. I don’t think you should be too prepared for anything when making a film, because then you’re blocking yourself to something that might happen while you’re doing it. That’s very true with documentaries.”

Gail: ”That’s an artist speaking. I agree with that to a certain extent. I find that in film, but less in the commercial filmmaking world with budgets starting at $25 million dollars. For me if I think this guy doesn’t know where this is going, it’s not good. On the other hand, Brian Fuller who made Wonderfalls [yeah!] and Pushing Daisies when he came in to pitch Wonderfalls...” she couldn't figure out what he was pitching, but she knew there was something great in it. [Sadly, this very cool show only lasted 6 episodes in the States due to poor ratings, but go watch it on Netflix - d.r.]

Eyal Halfon: “Let me clarify. Be prepared, but don’t make a presentation like an actor. Pretend you don’t know, so you can improvise. The buyers want a place to enter. [If it's too polish they'll say] 'Thanks, we’ll come see it.' They want to get involved. They want to be partners.”

Gail: “I like to hear it a line or two about what this thing is and then you can repeat it a number of times over, “I want to know what room I’m in, what I’m hearing, etc.” Here’s what I’m pitching to you...That’s the way I’ve enjoyed the process.”

Last bits of advice:
Bill: “Never leave the piece of paper behind. The execs will try to pitch it to each other and they won’t do it as well. And make them feel a part of it. You want comments – even if you have to say “no” as you let them know where you’re going. Let them take you to where you were going anyway.”

Eyal: “Why is he doing it [this project]? How’s he related?”

Gail: “Your passion. Finding your way in to express that, but not an elongated discussion of your passions. I like interactivity – a conversation. It should naturally become a dialogue. Everyone leaves thinking this was a great interaction. So even if you don’t sell today, you’re a good pitcher, you’ve engaged the room and you’re welcome to come back again.”

Bill: “It also depends how much the people you’re pitching to want you to succeed. Don’t pitch someone at 4:30 in the afternoon.”

Then we broke in to small groups and practiced pitching. I did my Bernstein in Palestein pitch. People seemed very interested, but it was a dialogue not a “pitch”. We’ll see how it goes when I pitch the whole group with an audience watching on Wed at 9am.
Then we had a session on "In Treatment" with Sarah Treem a writer/producer on the HBO version, Keren Margalit (writer Israeli v.) and Hagai Levi (Creator of both).
It was interesting seeing examples of the differences between the shows as they adjusted for the different audiences.

In the evening we had a lovely dinner at the Old Port and get a presentation from the Seasame Street Workshop people. It was wonderful. The pictures say it all.

And thank God for Jim Henson, Frank Oz and everyone at SSW. They're laying the foundation of a better world. Thanks.

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