Ever wanted to learn the dark craft of being able to pitch your story idea successfully? Stephanie Palmer has made it her life’s mission to help people do just that. Stephanie Palmer is a former MGM Pictures executive and best-selling author of the book “Good in a Room: How To Sell Yourself (And Your Ideas) And Win Over Any Audience”
Stephanie Palmer was the Director of Creative Affairs for MGM where she supervised the acquisition, development, and production of feature films. During my time at MGM, she was named by The Hollywood Reporter as one of the “Top 35 Executives Under 35.” Prior to MGM, she worked at Jerry Bruckheimer Films.
She has heard thousands of pitches. She knows how to and how not to pitch your screenplay or story idea. She worked on films like Legally Blonde, Armageddon, Con Air and was even on an intern on Titanic, there’s a very inserting story there.
Learn how to pitch your screenplay like a pro with Stephanie Palmer.
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Alex Ferrari 0:00
Stephanie, thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate it. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got in the business? Sure.
Stephanie Palmer 3:47
I started as an unpaid intern on the movie Titanic when I was a senior in college. And then I moved from that job to being an assistant at Jerry Bruckheimer films. And I worked on movies like Armageddon and enemy of the state and Conair. And I worked. I was assistant to the president. So we were involved in all aspects of development and production. And then I moved to MGM as an assistant, and then got promoted to the story editor where I was in charge of supervising the staff of readers, and making sure that all the scripts that came into the studio were properly handled. And then after that, I got promoted to being the director of creative affairs, where my job was basically to help determine which projects we wanted to purchase, develop and produce. So I read lots and lots of screenplays and heard lots and lots of pitches.
Alex Ferrari 4:39
Okay, now, with no, you just drop that little bit like you were an intern on Titanic, so I'm not going to let that go. Please tell me a little bit about that experience.
Stephanie Palmer 4:53
Well, I can tell you that my first job on that was to drive I've boxes that I was not open over the Mexican border. Because I look like a nice, innocent girl from Iowa, which I am. And I think the production staff thought, well, she's not going to get stopped by border patrol. In retrospect, I never should have done that. And I would not do that again. But as I was a college student and desperate like, wow, I don't know anything. I'm going to be on this giant movie, how exciting. I'll do whatever they asked me. That was my first job.
Alex Ferrari 5:29
Wow. So you were a meal? Basically?
Stephanie Palmer 5:33
Pretty much. Yeah, I don't I truly don't know what was in the boxes. But it was very clear. I wasn't know.
Alex Ferrari 5:39
If is there, you don't know what, I have no
Stephanie Palmer 5:41
idea. Yeah, no.
Alex Ferrari 5:45
And I had a few friends of mine who worked on on Titanic too. And I, you know, I've heard the legendary stories of Mr. Cameron. And, and you know how he was back then? I'm assuming you can concur.
Stephanie Palmer 5:58
Yes. I mean, the funny thing was, is I, one of my jobs was also to be in the production office and just be basically like a runner or anything that they needed. And so I did my best to just disappear when I'd be there unless there was something that was needed. And it was pretty amazing to get to sponge in that information and see how decisions were made. See who opinion was listened to and who was ignored. Just to be sort of in that pressure cooker of so many decisions happening? I mean, there was so much at stake. At that time. No one thought they were making a huge, financially successful movie, everyone thought that it was going to be the most expensive movie ever made. You know, the bombs.
Alex Ferrari 6:41
Right. Right, right. Yeah, I've heard I've heard. I mean, we've all studied and know that story quite well. But yeah, it's so interesting to hear. It's so interesting to hear from from somebody who was actually inside the belly of the beast. And so I so young, like you just starting off, not like you were a seasoned pro in the belly of the beast, you are a innocent little lamb.
Stephanie Palmer 7:01
Yes, I was totally innocent. Don't misunderstand me that anyone was consulting my opinion on certain things? I mean, maybe what kind of cups we should have, you know, in the coffee machine or something? Was I physically there? And did I get to witness, you know, get to be on the giant set, where on the water where one side looks like the Titanic. And the other side is a giant construction site with the big, you know, industrial cranes and elevators, and all of the extra speaking Spanish and they're beautiful, you know, Titanic gear, playing cards and drinking soda and whatever is very exciting.
Alex Ferrari 7:42
So I mean, so you go right from Titanic, then I guess you go to another small company like Jerry Bruckheimer, which is, you become an assistant there. Can you tell me what you learned while being at that company, which is obviously in its in its heyday. And he's still very big, obviously, today. But there was a moment in time for about 20 years or more, that Jerry was making some of the biggest movies going out in Hollywood. So how was it? How was it? What did you learn from that experience?
Stephanie Palmer 8:13
It was fascinating. The best part of my job was that I got to listen in on phone calls. And it was my first experience, realizing that it's a common Hollywood practice where executives would have an assistant and the assistant is listening in, you know, on both sides, so there'd be two people having a conversation, but there's actually four people listening in that that's standard practice. But it was fascinating to me that I got to really listen into all the negotiations and all the pitches and any, you know, rolling calls and placing calls for my boss, and just really getting to see how deals happen at that really high level. Because obviously, I mean, at that time, but still is definitely the case. People want to be in business with Jerry because he gets movies and TV shows made at a very high level at a very high level. People want to work with them.
Alex Ferrari 9:06
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, I remember the first time I was on a call with an executive. And that happened to me, like the assistant just like usual. Hey, Tom, did you get that and just what, what the hell just happened was the entire time
Stephanie Palmer 9:20
in the charade. It's so silly. That's a charade that people pretend that the person isn't listening in but they both know that they are and it's so silly, but yes, it is.
Alex Ferrari 9:31
No now while you were at a Jerry Bruckheimer company, did you hear any pitches that actually that we that turned into a movie that we might know or a TV show that might know?
Stephanie Palmer 9:41
I'm sure. Remember the Titans was pitched while I was there. Coyote Ugly was pitched while I was there. Oh, is it called down and under? I'm thinking there was a Scott Rosenberg kangaroo project. i Oh, yeah. From my head, whatever that one was,
Alex Ferrari 9:59
that was picture We're gonna get Jerry McDonald was in that right? Yeah, that one.
Stephanie Palmer 10:03
A lot of TV division was basically just starting at that time. So I mean, they just kind of exploded out of the gates. So a lot of TV shows were pitched during that time, and they just have a huge development slate. So there was, there were all was multiple projects that, you know, from deep development, development, pre production, in production and post production, basically all happening at the same time.
Alex Ferrari 10:32
So you, I mean, you see exactly what's gonna say, at an early part in your career, you had access to basically the upper echelon of Hollywood, essentially, whether you being an intern or an assistant, you were you were playing with the boys not maybe at their level yet, but at least you would there you were a fly on the wall, and that must have been
Stephanie Palmer 10:51
entirely. So it was, it was an incredible experience.
Alex Ferrari 10:56
Now, I'm the match a question, you heard 1000s of pitches, I'm sure 1000s and 1000s of pitches over the years. Why do some pitches connect and others don't? Is there a secret sauce or some sort?
Stephanie Palmer 11:09
I think that there are some things that people do well, when pitching that anyone can implement. And it doesn't matter the kind of project that you have, I mean, some pitches, some projects are naturally more easily pitched. You know, a lot of comedies are generally easier to pitch, or movies that are simpler in plot than character driven pieces, or multiple storylines that are, you know, interwoven project like it a lot harder to give a verbal pitch for. But for any project, one of my simple the simplest piece of advice, but that so many people neglect to do is to lead with genre. So if you're going to give a verbal pitch, it's that genre that gives context to the listener. And without that crucial piece of information, it's easy for the person who's hearing the pitch to make incorrect assumptions about their story and get confused. So for example, writer tells me that he's got a story that involves the CIA, I could assume it's a thriller, like Three Days of the Condor, when it's really a drama, like the good shepherd or a comedy like to meet the parents. So simply saying, My project is a romantic comedy, or my project is an action thriller, is the first ever my first tip, it's so simple, it's so it's something that anyone can do. But it's shocking how rare that is.
Alex Ferrari 12:42
Really, people just aren't going into their story. And that tell you the context of their story, because you can forget it. So thriller, and spy
Stephanie Palmer 12:49
is a spy, there's a spy, they start talking all about the spy and then the spy cert. So you either think it's a drama, or a thriller or a comedy, but then whatever you think the character starts acting in a really ridiculous way. You're like, what are they talking about? Why are these people dying? I thought it was a comedy, or vice versa. And so just simply describing the genre at the beginning is key.
Alex Ferrari 13:13
Okay, now, are there beats in a pitch? Like, is there a pace that you should follow? Is there some sort of code like, you know, obviously, there's a structure for screenplays? Is there a structure to a
Stephanie Palmer 13:23
pitch? There can be? It's, it's not one size fits all? Because obviously, projects are so different. I'm looking for a pitch to be memorable and repeatable. Because it's extremely rare that the first time you pitch a project, someone says, Yes, I want to buy it. The way that projects are purchased is that you pitch it to one person, maybe you pitch it to a producer, and the producer says, Oh, I'm really interested. Okay, now, let me take it to a financier. Let me take it to a studio and they re pitch it. And then the studio executive, you know, Junior studio executive says, Okay, let me pitch it to my boss, who's the president of the studio. It's like, you need to have something that's repeatable, and memorable so that if someone's hearing it for the first time, they can say, Okay, I got it. I'm going to go re pitch this to someone else on my team or someone up the chain.
Alex Ferrari 14:10
What you just explained, sounds just torturous. All the bureaucracy that goes on to like, I gotta go this guy than this guy. This guy. This. You might have to be pitched this thing 1015 times before?
Stephanie Palmer 14:23
If you're 110 50. I mean, 100. Yeah.
Alex Ferrari 14:27
Yeah, you're right, because you're constantly pitching to the actors you're taking pitching to different. Yeah, I guess you're right.
Stephanie Palmer 14:32
Any actor, you know, you should be in it. Here's why other executives, financiers, that's a huge process, the marketing department. I mean, all the way and at the end, a lot of times, if it's a really good pitch, it's that same pitch that's frequently used in the trailer to pitch the movie to a potential audience.
Alex Ferrari 14:52
So pitching is basically a skill set that most people don't have, and it's probably one of the most crucial In filmmaking in general,
Stephanie Palmer 15:02
I think it's the second most crucial, I think, one you have to be able to write if you're a writer, you have to be able to write without that. There's nothing. But if you have that skill, and that talent, the next most important, as far as having a successful career, is being able to pitch effectively. know people who are good in a room, like if there's two people who have an equal equally, beautifully written script, the person who pitches it more effectively, their movie is going to get made, they're going to get hired.
Alex Ferrari 15:32
It's all about marketing. And this is just another form of marketing, marketing, the idea of it's your you're basically marketing the idea. Exactly. That's what a pitch is. So, how long how long do you have as a general statement, to grab someone with a pitch? Do you have 30 seconds? Do you have a minute? Or before they just start tuning out? Like how long do you really have to grab somebody? Or is it just varies per person, I guess.
Stephanie Palmer 15:58
Um, I know that I don't have a specific number. I feel like it's under 90 seconds. I mean, it's amazing how long 90 seconds can be like, for example, I'm going to be leading the pitch conference at the American Film Market this Saturday, and just this week have been reviewing, so anyone who wants to pitch from the stage submits a video. And to me, and then I review them with this other panel, and we decide who's going to pitch from the stage and the those pitches are limited to two minutes. But it is amazing how long two minutes is. I mean, it is hard to pay attention for a two minute pitch.
Alex Ferrari 16:40
Yeah, I can. Yeah, I can. Absolutely. That's sad in many, many of many film festival watching the short film sometimes and you just features and use like, Oh, my God, just stop. Yes, exactly. We this is the longest 20 minutes, longest five minutes of my life,
Stephanie Palmer 16:57
right? And you you want it? Yes, you want it to be great. But two minutes can be very, very long. So the goal for an effective pitch is really to pitch it as simply and as short as you can make it that still conveys the idea clearly.
Alex Ferrari 17:16
Now, what's the what most turns you off about a pitch?
Stephanie Palmer 17:23
I mean, if there's nothing that makes you care about any of the characters or want to find out what's going to happen. I mean, I think the surprising thing about a lot of pitches is just how when you that that people are so close to their project, they love it, they know it so well, that they have lost perspective on what someone who's hearing it for the first time needs to know to be able to understand. I mean, a lot of pitches are totally incomprehensible. They're all over the place. You really can't say I have no someone will finish pitching to me like I have no idea what you're talking about who is the main character? What is the setting? What happens in the story? What happens in the beginning, middle and an end? There are a lot of no idea
Alex Ferrari 18:08
is because because writers they just they just know the story so well that they assume certain things that they're pitching, and forget those little details. Totally understandable.
Stephanie Palmer 18:19
Yeah, completely. It's totally understandable. Because you're so close to the characters, you're so close into all the details. But you forget, you know the characters so well. But the audience or the person listening is hearing that for the very first time.
Alex Ferrari 18:33
Right, exactly. Now, this is something I know a lot of people don't do. And I'd love for to get some insight from you what they should do. What kind of research should a writer or filmmaker do on a company or an executive before they pitched the story?
Stephanie Palmer 18:50
Great question. This is so key. So key to having a successful pitch. It is figuring out basically, any individual company studio production company is looking to replicate their past success. So if they have had a movie or TV show that has done really well, the more that your project can be, if it's in a similar genre, that's great. If it has a similar main character or Millea, or budget range, even anything that's similar to what they have done in the past that has done well. It's just going to increase the odds that your project will sell. It doesn't mean that they're looking to make the identical movie again, although, frankly, sometimes people are it's more like it's more like it's more like, hey, they really figured out how to market this indie thriller Are they really figured out how to market this mainstream high school comedy and so they know what that audience is looking for. They know the channels To get this out there, they know what it takes. And so they already are looking for okay, we figured it out with this one now, where some Where's another project that we can, you know, release next year at the same time for the same audience that's going to deliver the same experience that this previous success did.
Alex Ferrari 20:19
will be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show. So, a lot of times people just go ahead. No, there's a lot of times a lot of people will, you know, some people I'm imagining would have, at some point in time had pitched horror movies to Disney.
Stephanie Palmer 20:42
Oh, absolutely. Definitely. Definitely.
Alex Ferrari 20:46
And that's just lack of research.
Stephanie Palmer 20:48
Yeah. And so it's figuring out, what has, what has this company done in the past? What do they currently have in development? Anything that you can find out about the specific people that you're meeting, one of the questions that I like to ask in a meeting, is, what's something that you're excited about this year, or something, you know, a sort of open ended question that gives the executive or the producer that you're meeting, a chance to brag about something that they're working on, you know, like, oh, we just made this big deal with this project, I'm really excited about it. But it also gives you insight into what's working well, for that person. So if there's a way for your project to have similar themes, or similar budget, or similar timeframe, or any of the aspects, you know, you can tell what's important to the person by asking them to brag about themselves, basically,
Alex Ferrari 21:42
that is a beautiful tip. It is really, really beautiful tip, because that is anytime you can have somebody that you're trying to pitch, feel good about themselves and talk about,
Stephanie Palmer 21:55
they're just gonna like you, you know, you're like you because you're making them feel good about themselves.
Alex Ferrari 22:02
It's communication one on one, but it's something that a lot of people don't do. So, can you talk a little bit about the business side of being a writer? Sure, a lot of writers just like I just want to write, I just want to this, you know, I just want to tell my story. I don't want to get into the Hollywood business side of stuff. I'm like, well, then you're never ever going to make it as a writer or as a filmmaker. So can you talk a little bit from your perspective of writers? Because I know you work a lot with writers, what they should do, how to they structure their career, what how should they come out to the town? What kind of projects should it things like that? Sure. But
Stephanie Palmer 22:39
I'm happy to talk anything business, I'm having any talk money, any anything you want to talk about. I'm happy to talk about it. For me, for writers, the biggest mistake that I see many writers who want to break in do is that they have a number, they know that they need to have more than one project, or a lot of people know that. So which is the case, you definitely need to have, at minimum two to three really polished projects before you start marketing yourself and really try to break in. It's it's not a business where you're one, it's going to be a one hit wonder, like people always say to me, Oh, I'm willing to be a one hit wonder, I want to be a one hit wonder. But that that really isn't possible. It's too competitive, it's too competitive. And people need to know, agents are only interested in working with people who are going to have enough longevity and enough projects to be able to sell multiple projects. Because the first projects rarely sell for very much, the agent makes very little money at the beginning. So they want to know, oh, I'm going to be this with this person and representing them over a period of years and the number of deals to make it financially worth me investing in this person. So there really isn't the way to do it as a one hit wonder, in general. But as I was saying before, the the biggest mistake that I see a lot of people make is that they write a bunch of different projects in different genres. And also different mediums like they might have a TV show, they might have a reality show. They also have a indie thriller, and they have a studio comedy, and they believe or they think, Okay, this is really going to show that I have a lot of range and I can write a bunch of different things. But unfortunately, how that is perceived is more like the jack of all trades, master of none. And that executive the decision makers who are hiring writers want to hire specialists, like they want to hire the person who knows everything that there is to know about comic book movies for their comic book movie, or they want to hire the person who has watched every horror movie knows the ins and outs of everything that's coming out in the future has been done in the past, what are the classics and make sure that their horror movie really delivers for that? You know, the horror fanatic audience they don't want someone who they're not looking to hire someone to write a bunch of different projects, it's really the way to break through is to be a specialist in one area. So I recommend that people develop multiple projects in a similar genre, they don't have to all be identical, but at least closely related so that they can show that they have a specialty. Then when they break in, and they've, they've shown that they have the facility and expertise in one area. At that point, it is so much easier to branch out and do something else. But you can't try and break in with a wide variety of genres and mediums. Like it's different than the goal. It's a different business. It's a different career path to become a TV writer than it is to become a film screenwriter.
Alex Ferrari 25:48
Oh, absolutely. It's come to different worlds what TV writers are, guess I would imagine what TV you work a lot more like, Do you have a steady paycheck? If you're if you're on a show, as opposed to a screenwriter, maybe one year you get paid maybe the other year?
Stephanie Palmer 26:05
From model, yeah, it's a different model. But also the TV writing is generally done in the office like it is an office job where you go to the office and you work with a team of people, whereas screenwriters generally work by themselves at home or, you know, maybe they have an office space, but they're working solely on their own, and on a project that has a long timeframe, whereas TV is tight deadlines, working on a team in an office extremely intensely.
Alex Ferrari 26:33
Right, exactly, exactly. That's a good point. Because I think a lot of filmmakers and writers in general make that mistake, like I'm gonna, as a filmmaker, you're like, I'm gonna make a comedy and I'm gonna make a horror movie, then I'm gonna make an action movie and you send it out. And people are like, well, what are you like you? You can't do that just yet.
Stephanie Palmer 26:51
In Yeah, and that agents don't know how to sell people who have a bunch of different projects. So it makes them less interested. And something that a lot of people say to me also is like, well, but I don't want to be pigeonholed. And I don't want that. But I say, why wouldn't you want to be pigeonholed? That means that you are known for doing something really, really well. And likely you are paid extremely well, like the people who are known for doing something very specific, like whether it's the Michael Bay, or it's David Mamet or any Guillermo del Toro Anyone, anyone who you can who has an identifiable niche or brands you're like, Yeah, but people keep coming back to that person. They keep offering the movies, they keep offering them more and more money to do movies in that genre. It doesn't mean that you always have to say yes to those things. But wouldn't you still much rather be in that position where you're turning down work because you have this great reputation in a particular area? Then having no one want to work with you and not having any jobs? Because you're worried about being pigeonholed?
Alex Ferrari 27:59
Right I'm so looking forward to the Quentin Tarantino comedy slabs coming.
Stephanie Palmer 28:07
I will be doing that as well.
Alex Ferrari 28:10
I think I think people could argue that a lot of his movies are a little bit.
Stephanie Palmer 28:15
Alex Ferrari 28:17
He's a he's a he's a wonderful comedic writer. But I want like a Naked Gun naked go quintard Geno's, Naked Gun that I would, I would you know, turn to his airplane, you know, that's what I'm looking for.
Stephanie Palmer 28:33
Someone will make a short of that and put it on YouTube. I'm sure.
Alex Ferrari 28:37
I'm sure I may be a perfect example. You said Michael Bay, like, I mean, Michael Bay is Michael Bay. And he is he's, he's great. At what he does, he makes amazing pretty pictures. If you like him as a filmmaker, you don't like him as a filmmaker. At least he is known for doing that. You can't argue that his images are just stunning. Like, what? They are on the screen. They're stunning. And there's nobody and honestly there is nobody else in the business who does what he does. Like they call it Bay ham. It's an actual term for it. You know, it's like and you know, when anytime you get like a Tarantino ism, you know, when you get to that level of specialty, and you know, Woody Allen that it really was the Allen ask Robert Oh, yes,
Unknown Speaker 29:21
Alex Ferrari 29:21
You know, then you have arrived at a certain level in your career where like, that's a niche. That's that's the specific thing they do. And now, you know, I mean, look at Spielberg for God's sakes to start off, and a horror movie basically, that's a horror thriller with JAWS. And that blew him up. He did a couple before that, but but duel was similar and then that he kind of branched off into other things, but it took him time to get out of that. And then we will talk about 1941 because he doesn't want to talk about 1940. So let me ask you, what inspired you to create good in a room and give back to writers and filmmakers?
Stephanie Palmer 29:58
Well, I had been an executive for a number of years. And I felt I had gotten to work on all these different projects. And I really liked the production process. And I love the development process. But the life of being a studio executive is very stressful. And there really aren't breaks. I mean, it's, it's a job where you have to be on call 24 hours a day, and I just sort of saw my future and thinking, How much longer do I want this to be my day to day existence, and I knew that the end was coming. It wasn't something where I said, Okay, now I want to move up and be, you know, worked my way up to being a studio president or CEO, something like that. That was it just came to a point where that wasn't the lifestyle that I wanted to have. And so I was thinking, well, how can I take this experience that I've had, and take the best part of my job, which is working with writers? That's the part that I love? And would do all the time, anytime? How can I make that what I do on a day to day basis. And so I thought about it for a while and took some business classes and decided that I would start a consulting firm. So when I left MGM I started getting the room has now been almost 10 years, which is hard to believe. And I started working in 21, aren't you? Yes, I am. Absolutely. I I'm aging backwards. I so I started working one on one, just coaching writers who were pitching projects. And out of that I was interviewed on some TV shows and got a book deal. And so I wrote my book, also called good in the room. And that was published by Random House and then continued to expand my consulting business and now have created some online courses. Just because I wanted I knew that we'll want to consult with everybody that wants to just because I'm one person and you know, it's not a scalable business to work one on one you can only I can only meet with so many people in a day. And then that I also wanted to make the information that I share in consults and helping people pitch more effectively and sell their scripts that I wanted that to be available to people wherever they were in the US, especially if they didn't live in Los Angeles, since for a lot of people. I know living in Los Angeles is impossible, but they still want to get their work considered. And so I've created an online course that is called How to be a professional writer. And it is a series of videos and ebooks that people can work through to really see how projects are sold, what they need to do to get their work considered.
Alex Ferrari 32:38
Very cool. Very cool. Matt, can you tell me a little bit about because I saw, I saw online a video of yours that you were talking about your experience pitching good in a room to the publishers and talk a little bit about that experience, which is ironic, but yet very entertaining.
Stephanie Palmer 32:56
Well, so I was interviewed on NPR as a business, which is awesome show that's still going on. It's still on the air. We're on the radio. And after I was on the business, I got a phone call from an agent, actually one of the biggest book agents in the world, even though I didn't know him. And he said, You know, I think that what you have is worthy of being a book, I think you should write it, why don't you write a book proposal and then come to New York, and I think I can help you sell it. I was like, this never happens. But amazing. Great. Okay, I'll do it. And so I ran out and got every book about how to write a book proposal and put together my proposal and went to New York, was all excited and got into the first meeting with publisher and they were asking me, you know, like, sat down on the couch in the meeting. And there's the executives, and they're like, you know, so tell me about your book. And I just totally froze, because I had not ever been in the position of being the writer actually pitching. I was always the person on the other side of the desk asking the questions of the writer. And so even though I obviously my book is called good in a room in that first meeting, I absolutely wasn't, it was mortifying. And then I went back to my hotel room and got my act together and was like, Oh, my gosh, that's horrible. And thankfully, I had other meetings that week where I, you know, focused on, I got my materials together, and I then was able to deliver a good meeting. But it was kind of a shocking role reversal that you would think I would have known ahead of time but it all happened so fast that I just, I was caught off guard.
Alex Ferrari 34:35
You were caught off guard and then thank God your books around now to help people like you.
Stephanie Palmer 34:43
I can't go back and read my own book The next time to make sure that I prepared. Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 34:51
So, um, and then when you were at MGM, you were basically the gatekeeper, right, the first level of getting movies made right, yeah. So are there can you Tell me any funny stories of a pitch that you were just like, What is this?
Stephanie Palmer 35:08
Well, there were certainly people who would come in costume. There was one gentleman who came wearing only a diaper and holding a large samurai sword. That standard out.
Alex Ferrari 35:21
I love that movie. I love that movie, by the way, that's for samurai sword movie.
Stephanie Palmer 35:29
There also was a couple brothers sister writing team who were pitching a romantic comedy and they were acting out the main characters until the point that they were leaning in for a kiss. Oh, they didn't kiss but it was extremely uncomfortable. There also was someone this poor gentleman who was so nervous, and I think he'd been drinking. But he left he was so nervous and sweaty that he left a writer shaped sweat stain on my couch. Brilliant.
Alex Ferrari 36:11
Room the second edition.
Stephanie Palmer 36:14
It would be called bad in a room. Yeah, bad in a room. Yes.
Alex Ferrari 36:18
It's a sequel bad in a room. Wow. So I'm assuming that people that come in and costume, that's not a good fun, or is that have you? have you guys gotten the dude,
Stephanie Palmer 36:28
I mean, it's funny. I generally don't like gimmicks like that. I mean, I think because really, you're especially at the studio level, you're going to if you hire this person, it's going to be for, you know, a minimum of about $100,000, you're going to be working with them over a year, it's not like you just buy their project and then say sayonara and never talk to them. Again, you're going to be developing the project with this person. And so you want them to be a professional. So in general, I'm not a fan of gimmicks. But there are times and there certainly are stories of people who have brought in some sort of prop or video reel or something that really tells the story in a unique way. So it's not that I'm so I can't say no visual aids ever. But in general, things that are gimmicky don't really, in my opinion, don't really help the story you want. You want to be able to tell the story in a really compelling way that the executive can see the movie and then say yes, this is a movie I want to see.
Alex Ferrari 37:30
Now, you brought a good point up when you said video reel. Are there times where people come in and use video as a pitch tool. Like they literally just play a DVD of a story either. How would we say proof of concept? Is it done talking? Is it animatics? What
Stephanie Palmer 37:48
all of the above it's visual aids, if they have any sort of animation, or there's some sort of creature or they want to show visual, a sense of, especially if they want to direct certainly that's even more common. But but but people are doing more and more demos to prove the concept that they're pitching. This is also kind of a slippery slope. Because especially at the studio level, people have such high expectations for production value that even though it may be amazing, and it is amazing the things that filmmakers can do you know, from their home computer, it may not live up to what a studio can do, because their budget is just so obscenely high for creating you know, a trailer or proof of concept reel or something. But there definitely have been people who, who can create something that's really compelling and they they need to show it in video for a movie to get made. And that does happen with some frequency certainly.
Alex Ferrari 38:49
So I come I don't know if you knew this, but I come from a post production background. And I've been a VFX supervisor and post supervisor and all sorts everything in post I've done at one point or another. And in any filmmakers many times will you were saying the high level of production value. They a lot of independent films that try to do visual effects, they'll do them and they'll try to be so ambitious with it and I keep telling them like you know, sometimes I get this conversation of like, alright, so I have this shot. Did you see that shot and Avengers? I'm like, You need to stop right there. You can't afford craft services or the coffee budget Avengers. Okay, right, just let it go. You need to do something that's within the realm of doing what you can't do very, very well as a uniform trying to be so ambitious. You know, I would rather be able to hit a nail on a hammer really, really well and try to build a house by myself beautifully
Stephanie Palmer 39:45
said that totally support that. Yes, second.
Alex Ferrari 39:50
So, are there any final advice you would give on delivering an amazing pitch?
Stephanie Palmer 39:59
Let's A I will say that Well, one thing that is super common, that is also easy for people not to do is don't give a positive opinion of your own work. So for example, this is a great story and you're gonna love it. I mean, how many times have you heard that right? Or this is gonna be amazing, right? So just like every parent, including me thinks their child is brilliant. And every dog owner thinks that their pet is adorable. It's expected that you are a fan of your own work. But some other things to say, besides not to say, Besides, you're going to love this or like, don't say this will be number one at the box office. This is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture. This has great international appeal. It's really really funny. It's commercial, any of that sort of stuff. Instead, let the listener form their own opinion.
Alex Ferrari 40:55
That's excellent. Excellent advice. Now, when you when you're talking you brought you brought a question to mind. I've always heard that. A lot of times when you pitching, you should you should try to be like, it's Pulp Fiction meets kangaroo Jack.
Stephanie Palmer 41:12
Kangaroo Jack. Movie, you thought of it? Yeah, I know.
Alex Ferrari 41:19
So like people combined, it's like The Matrix meets, you know, you know, you know, unnecessary roughness? I don't know. Yeah, those people do that good. Is that that is that good or bad?
Stephanie Palmer 41:31
I'm anti, this meets that phenomenon. A lot of people promote it. But those are not the people who are buying projects, it is important for you to have an answer. When someone asks you what project is yours most like? Because that is a very common question. So you do want to have an answer for that. And a lot of times what people are asking is really about tone. Like How broad is the comedy? Or how severe is the violence? Or the you know, how serious is the sex? Is it just light handed? Or are you really seeing, you know, penetration, or whatever it is. They're really asking about tone then. But people often misconstrue this to think that it's about plot or about characters. And so if people lead with this meets that, what often happens is that the person who's listening is going to be going along sort of ticking in their mind. How is this most like Pulp Fiction? How is this like kangaroo Jack, where's the kangaroo? Where's the whatever, instead of thinking instead of listening to the story as an original idea, they're just like listening to it as a, a hack of these two things. And I don't think that's the best way to present a project. And so often the way that people choose this means that I mean, they're totally bizarre and totally off so that you're sitting there listening, you're like, this is a thing like kangaroo Jack, or whatever it is. And so that's, that's not so do have an answer for what your practice is most like particularly regarding the tone but don't lead with this meets that
Alex Ferrari 43:09
and if you do have that title or that movie in your in your back pocket, try not to choose a movie that the bombed.
Stephanie Palmer 43:17
Definitely. Oh, really.
Alex Ferrari 43:21
It's really like I was
Stephanie Palmer 43:23
I mean, in my first studio meeting when I was an executive, and I had found a project that was really like election you remember the Reese Witherspoon? I mean, elections a great movie. So I was like, This is gonna be the next election. My boss looked across the table at me. He was like, never say that movie again. Like, okay, because they might have I was it was a box office bomb. Yeah, it bombed. Right. Even though it's a terrific movie, I think. So yeah. Only keep your references to things that have been financially successful. If you're, if you're talking to anyone who's a potential buyer, investor financier. That's the best. They're looking for.
Alex Ferrari 44:03
That simple tip I can say, because I've had people pitch me things. And they're like, it's kind of like Howard the Duck. I'm like, stop. Why are you why? Why would I want to do that? Right? Yeah. How were the duck is a genius movie. It's very underappreciated. I'm just saying. Okay, so. So my last two questions are the most hard hitting and toss to prepare yourself. I'm what are your top what are your top three favorite films of all time? And what is the most one of the most underrated films that you've seen?
Stephanie Palmer 44:37
Oh my gosh, these are hard hitting for me because I really care about this kind of question because it's constantly changing. And every time another actor I hang up and I'm like, Oh, I didn't get the right answer. I will say EP one of my favorites Ichi at the moment father of the bride i know it's no you know, wow. Ever made, but it's just it's just a classic that's playing around in my house at this moment. And God, I really am totally drawing a blank. I mean, I'll watch Pulp Fiction any day. I mean, there's never enough time to watch that a zillion times and under appreciated. Let's think I'm trying to think of their election. Sure. I mean, I think that's totally under appreciated. I love that movie. And I would watch it again, right now. It's been years since I've seen it. So actually, I wonder if it still holds up. But I bet at this
Alex Ferrari 45:43
right. I've read. And I think we could both agree that Pulp Fiction would have been better with a kangaroo. Obviously.
I'm just saying I've just say Jerry, Jerry miss out. I'm just saying.
Stephanie Palmer 45:58
Alex Ferrari 46:02
So where, where can people find you?
Stephanie Palmer 46:05
I am easily findable on the web. My website is good in a room.com. And I have lots of free resources available for filmmakers, lots of screenplays, people can read and also articles for people to help who are going to be pitching a project to give them advice about what they shouldn't shouldn't do. So good in the room COMM And I'm also on Twitter at good in a room and have a Facebook page, also called good in the room.
Alex Ferrari 46:30
Stephanie Palmer 46:31
Thank you. It's consistent, if nothing else,
Alex Ferrari 46:37
exactly. 70. Thank you so much for for being on the show. I really do appreciate it.
Stephanie Palmer 46:42
It is my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Alex Ferrari 46:45
I don't know about you guys. But I'm going to be working on my pitches going for it after reading her book, Stephanie's book, good in a room, I really realized a lot of the things I was doing wrong in doing my pitches. And pitching is such an important part of filmmaking. As a director, as a screenwriter, as a costume designer, you're always pitching your ideas, you're always selling your ideas in one way, shape, or form. So being as it's basically you're marketing yourself, you're selling yourself, but you're selling your ideas, and how to be able to do that with very short amount of time. And in very tight quarters, sometimes like an elevator to be able to express your ideas will give you definitely a leg up on the competition, if you will, moving forward and getting projects made getting screenplays sold, getting movie gigs, and so on. And I think it's definitely a skill that everybody in the world can use in one way, shape or form. You're always selling your ideas you're always pitching. Even if it's to your wife on where you want to go to dinner that night or what movie you want to watch. It's a pitch. It's a sales pitch of one shape or form. So I really Thanks, Stephanie for being on the show. She was awesome. And definitely check her book out good in a room. I'll leave all of her links, and a link to her book in the show notes which you can get at Indie film hustle.com forward slash BPS 018. And guys, thanks again, for all the support on the show. It's been doing very, very well. I'm getting 1000s of downloads on this on this podcast. So I'm so excited that it's helping as many screenwriters out as possible. So thank you. And if you haven't already, please head over to screenwriting podcast.com And leave us a five star review on iTunes. It really really helps us out a lot with the rankings and helping get this information out to as many screenwriters as humanly possible. Thanks again. And as always, keep on writing no matter what. I'll talk to you soon.
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