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15Mar/110

How to Fail at Pitching Hollywood Executives

"I never realized that there were so many movie magazines or magazines interested in the movies.  It was a sickness.  This great interest in a medium that relentlessly and consistently failed, time after time after time, to produce anything at all.  People became so used to seeing shit on film that they no longer realized it was shit."

--Charles Bukowski, HOLLYWOOD

One reason I wrote HOW TO FAIL was because I was sick of Hollywood.  Sick of unproductive meetings, sick of dealing with non-creatives, sick of getting "notes" (the Hollywood term for "how to make your shit more trite"), and, quite frankly, sick of failing within their system.

I even wrote a whole footchapter spoofing this, "How to Fail to Write Commercial Material," and set a Part II scene at a pitch meeting.  Now, with the success of HOW TO FAIL, Hollywood is interested in a movie adaptation and I'm back taking annoying Hollywood pitch meetings, getting annoying Hollywood notes.

"The book could have done a better job of really selling Stu's metamorphosis."

That's a line from an e-mail I received yesterday from a noted Hollywood muckety-muck who had expressed interest in a potential adaptation.

What he's really saying is the book needs a more standard three-act structure.  Almost all movies are structured in three acts and there's nothing necessarily good nor bad about that.  It's just how it is.  It works.  But, it also limits creativity.  It's why movies so rarely surprise.  We're all so innately savvy with film structure that we know what will happen at point A, point B, and so on.  We know when the hero is going to "meet cute," when he's going to lose his job, get his wife back, almost die, regain the title.  And, let's not touch on his use of the word "selling."   Hollywood claims to hate writing that is too over-the-top, or, in Hollywood parlance "on the nose," but, they'd still love at least a bit of a scene where Stu flat out says, "You know, I thought I knew what I wanted in life, but now I've learned...blah blah blah" as Randy Newman music swells behind him.

"It would probably be a stronger piece if Stu actually spent part of the story achieving success."

Ah, yes!  Perfect!  I should have had some Act 2 scenes where Stu gets hired to be the CEO of a company, has a great corner office, wears perfectly tailored suits, buddy buddies up with some arrogant rich white stiffs, fucks his hot but airheaded secretary, and...realizes he truly isn't happy.  That's exactly how an Adam Sandler comedy would look.  Then he'd rip off his jacket and tie, take a hockey stick and sweep the papers off his desk, go insult the stuffy president of the company, and all the kids in the theater would look up from texting for a second to go, "Oh shit, yo" and applaud.

"You need to raise the stakes for Stu's failures in order to sustain a feature-length film."

What he's asking for is Mike Tyson and a tiger.  You remember that terrible movie "The Hangover," right?  A movie less realistic (and certainly three-dimensional) than fucking "Avatar"?  Hollywood doesn't like to ground comedies in any sort of empathic reality, Hollywood likes to "raise the stakes."

I have a story where the main character wakes up in a pile of garbage with some prodigious morning wood after having passed out there drunk the night before, where he ends up living on the couch of his two wealthy lesbian friends, where he wonders how to acquire the STD that's "right for him," a character who frequently secretly masturbates in his office bathroom, who briefly dates an alcoholic nymphomaniacal school teacher who sleeps on a Murphy bed...and all Hollywood is thinking is:

"Uh...could you maybe give him a pet zebra or something?  Or maybe a wicked case of flatulence during an important meeting?  Or perhaps have him lose a tooth for the length of the movie so every time he speaks a funny whistle comes out of his mouth?"

Could you just raise the fucking stakes?!

"It's hard to experience a satisfying catharsis regarding Stu's transformation."

Considering I get nice e-mails literally every single day from readers experiencing their own catharsis after reading HOW TO FAIL, it's funny a guy who lives in the city that fueled Charlie Sheen and invented reality TV couldn't reach this same catharsis.  I wrote a book meant above all else to be funny, which, oddly enough, this guy agrees it is--"You have a great comedic voice and I loved the parody of self-help..."--he just doesn't like, or, rather, probably thinks he shouldn't like the book's potential as a movie because it isn't paint-by-numbers like all the other movies he makes.  Oh well.  I'll wear that as a badge of honor.

As for me, I just got some major catharsis writing this and, for that, I'm thankful for Hollywood's continued buffoonery and lack of risk-taking.  Now, excuse me while I go play with the farting zebra that lives in my living room, anxiously awaiting more Hollywood people to call this afternoon.

*A free Kindle edition of HOW TO FAIL or THE CHEAT SHEET to whatever uber-movie geek can name the movie in the above still.