Pitcher This

April 1st, 2014 by Max Allan Collins

Longtime followers of these updates may recall that I’ve been involved for around two decades with an organization called the Iowa Motion Picture Association. I’m in fact a three-time past president. The existence of this group makes my friends on either coast chortle with demeaning delight. Nonetheless, a lot of top professionals in the field belong to this organization.

IMPA Awards 2014

Our annual meeting and awards presentation was this weekend past. Usually it’s held in Des Moines, but this time we met in Burlington, which is about sixty miles from me. The event was held at the newly refurbished and very cool Capitol Theater.

Last week the president of the organization got in touch with me about participating in a “speed pitching” session. The keynote speaker, Barry Morrow – Academy Award-winning screenwriter of RAIN MAN – would be hearing five minute pitches followed by five minutes of critique and interaction. My knee-jerk reaction was to say, “No thanks,” because after all – I know everything!

Then in a cooler, more rational mood, I agreed to participate. The IMPA folks were grateful, because I would be an established pro showing the younger aspiring types how it’s done. But that was not how I viewed it.

You see, for several months I have been struggling – under the guidance of a big-time talent/production management outfit – to put together a pitch for Nate Heller on TV. And it’s been a rugged road. I am used to selling one story – almost every book I’ve sold over this long career has been via a proposal – but trying to describe a TV series, based on the entire Heller canon? Mind-boggling.

Just lately my most recent take on the pitch has been more warmly received. So – not being a complete idiot – I realized having the opportunity to pitch it to a pro like Barry Morrow was a favor the IMPA was doing me, not the opposite.

Barry Morrow

It went very well. If I were a better writer, I could describe how generous, smart, kind and incisive Barry’s help was. But ironically his general remarks at the end of the pitch session – and some brief conversation before and after – were what showed me the way for improving my pitch. At least I think so.

Briefly, Barry emphasized being a storyteller when you pitch. To come in the door telling a story – “You should have seen the truck I was stuck behind! Its wheel was going to fall off. I’m lucky to be alive!” That kind of thing. But I also realized that instead of telling who Heller was in my pitch, I needed to open with a story sequence that demonstrated who he was.

Hollywood has a way of making a book writer’s brain seize up. I had completely forgotten the most basic rule of narrative – show don’t tell.

I have already rewritten the pitch, and having delivered the earlier version out loud, I have confidence where before I was a mass of misgivings.

MAC Best Unproduced Screenplay

At the awards presentation Saturday night, I won for Best Unproduced Screenplay, for a MIKE HAMMER pilot script I wrote so that my producing partner Ken Levin and I would have one in our pocket, should the movie that keeps threatening to happen not do so.

Next week we’ll have at least one giveaway of advance copies to readers willing to commit to an Amazon review. See you then!


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