Rap Coalition

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

THE ART OF THE DEAL

Reprinted from: http://www.thealistmagzine.blogspot.com (my favorite blog about Hollywood and everything urban on that coast). This is for those of you with the acting bug:
In Hollywood it's all about the deal. But how are deals made? How do you meet the right people? We asked a few insiders to give us the inner workings of doing the deal--from film and TV to mobile entertainment.

Get Connected: "I’m not going to say it’s totally about connections, but they help. You meet the right people by being in the right circuits…but more importantly you have to know what you want first. An assassin can’t be a good assassin without a target," says rapper/actor/filmmaker Sticky Fingaz (Kirk Jones) who has been bringing up Hollywood lately making Hip-Hop flavored deals (see http://thealistmagzine.blogspot.com/2007/04/64.html). "Then you go after it by any means necessary. You have to be dedicated. You can’t let roadblocks stop you, just go around them to make yourself stronger. But, if you have an incredible project, be sure to send it to my company Major Independents so I can take a look!"

But networking doesn't always lead to deals. Says a former Hollywood agent, "A bunch of schmoozing is necessary. [But] at the end of the day, people go where the heat is. If you have heat, everyone wants to be your best friend."

But being in the right place can help. Comediennes Frances Callier and Angela Shelton (aka Frangela), who are co-creators, co-writers, producers and stars of a pilot coming to Fox this fall tentatively titled "Frances and Angela," say being in L.A. is a major plus. "It's an industry town. So most of the time when you go out you end up running into people you know who are in the industry and talking to them--which we're not sure is schmoozing, but it happens a lot. At the end of the day, people want to work with people they like, so, being outgoing and showing up to people's parties and performances is very important we think."

But where are the good spots to see and be seen? "We love the Ivy..You are almost guaranteed to see famous people there, but as far as deal making/networking, I've never seen anyone walk over to a table and start talking business," says Shelton and Callier. "People usually respect people's lunch/dinner time privacy. In our experience we do more networking at shows, our own shows obviously, and other people's, here in L.A., and it's always good to mention to people who you know that they know, make the world smaller. Like, when you know that a friend of yours just met with someone and then you run into them somewhere, let them know you know that person...In terms of places? We think networking works anywhere you can hear yourself and other people without screaming, and the key element to striking up a conversation with someone is have something to tell them about-- a project or something that you're doing."

And, of course, it's important to stay in the loop. "More than 80% of my business is from referrals. I do attend some industry events and also network online, but I don't consider myself a schmoozer by any means!," says Jamila White, "The E-Commerce Diva" (http://www.ecommercediva.com/. "One of the best ways I've found to get in front of higher ups is to do high-quality, innovative work. It gets noticed. Stay in touch with people you've pitched before, even if it didn't work out at first. Sometimes a 'no' one year is a 'yes' the next year, so follow up is key. Persistence pays off."

How to Pitch: So what makes a good pitch? "The way I like to pitch is doing complete projects," says Sticky. "It’s just now on my third movie that I’m starting with the traditional script form versus shooting the entire movie myself then selling. Most people start with a script and pitch it...Nothing works better than a finished product because whenever a studio or distributor is involved, showing them what you’ve done is best. I always use stars in my films because that makes it easier to sell."

Add Callier and Shelton (http://frangela.com/), who are regulars on VH1's Best Week Ever and CNN's "Showbiz Tonight": "Things that help us in a pitch are: being high energy, being extremely confident in ourselves and our abilities, being fun and funny (we think that a lot of meetings are more about people walking away liking you and having a good feeling about you than the actual substance of the idea--because the idea can be worked on but if they don't want to work with you it won't matter what the idea even is), and being as specific as possible or as clear as possible--have a clear log line and be able to describe your idea clearly and fully/with specifics."

Pace yourself, say Shelton and Collier. "We've also found it better to end the meeting ourselves and early, no matter how fun you are people usually don't want to be in a meeting longer than 45 minutes maximum, so we try to feel out the energy in the room and leave before it starts dipping." Addsa former Hollywood agent, "Prevailing wisdom is that you should be able to pitch a movie in one sentence and the listener will get it. Often, the writer has to be able to sell the exec on the idea and the belief that the writer can deliver. That's why execs will hire a writers that have been produced. No one gets fired from hiring a writer from 'Cheers.'"

Make sure to think about the viewer, says filmmaker Rel Dowdell (www.reldowdell.com/). "Appeal. Does the concept sound like it has a wide appeal? Can it have appeal outside of the designated target area?," he explains. Callier and Shelton agree: "Clarity and excitement and being able to create a visual picture in people's minds about the project, so that they can 'see' what it would be like and who it would appeal to without you having to tell them or convince them of it. "

"For the web sites related to television or film programming, the most successful sites are the ones that extend the original experience for the use--additional content or interactivity--instead of simply regurgitating the plot synopsis and listing cast and crew," says White.

Why Do Pitches Fail: "Most pitches fail because they don't address the core needs of the person or organization being pitched. Too many folks start talking or pitching before they have taken the time to listen and identify needs," says Sticky. But says former Hollywood agent, getting a greenlight can depend on a number of factors. "It can depend on what studio execs are looking for, if the execs can visualize the pitch easily, what the execs ate for lunch and if any talent is attached," says the ex-agent. "The right representation can mean that you can get your project in front of the right people."

It's all in the way you pitch, says Dowdell. "Some pitches fail because they may not sound interesting to the producer," he notes. "You may have a great idea for a film, but if you as the writer or director can't make it sound compelling to the one who can green light it, a financier or a producer, your concept of vision may unfortunately never come to fruition."

Practice makes perfect, say Callier and Shelton. "Things that have hurt us in meetings: not being prepared enough with specifics about the pitch, not doing enough research on the people/company you're meeting with and their current and past projects, finding out if you know people in common, getting off topic for too long, staying in the meeting too long, being too desperate sounding (asking for the opportunity instead of making it clear that you're offering them an opportunity--without being an arrogant dork about it of course). "

Step by Step: "You just have to be patient and be ready for anything. It took Train Ride over seven years to finally come out. Sony ended up distributing it. It's been one of their most successful African-American films ever," says Dowdell, who has two projects coming up--one for television, and one for the big screen. "You must have a good lawyer representing you. That's the first thing you need. Make sure the lawyer is a reputable entertainment lawyer. It's very important to get someone who specializes in that kind of law. Many filmmakers make the mistake of getting a regular lawyer to rep them in entertainment deals. There are many loopholes that a good entertainment lawyer must know about in order to get you as the talent the best possible deal."

Each deal is different. "Our deal for our own sitcom was not a typical deal we've been told," say Frances and Angela. "We performed a development showcase for industry and then we got a development deal and talent hold from that show from Fox network--we have been told that usually people get deals through studios first and then pitch to network, so ours was sort of backwards. Other than that, it's our understanding that every deal is different, it depends on if you're a writer or an actor or both or a producer, or a non-writing producer, etc. "

When & If To Play the Race, Sex Card: It depends on what you're pitching and to whom you're pitching. "For the most part, execs look at the African-American market as a specific market and they only have a few of those slots to fill on their schedule or film slate," notes the ex-agent. "It's infrequent to see a Black person write a script for a mostly or all-White cast or a woman write for a male lead." Dowdell says to play up the project's marketability. "Well, one thing I can tell you is that the case especially now with African-American films is that Hollywood is seeing that they are very marketable," he notes. "African-American films are usually made for relatively low cost, but turn a profit often. I think the main thing at this point is just to make sure that we as African-Americans are not abusing our position by making stereotypical fare which all-too often graces the screen, both the movie screen and the television screen."

Bottom line: Be who you are and play up your strengths. "We have never tried to hide that we were African-American women through make-up or fake names or something," say Shelton and Callier. "We don't pitch projects, generally, that we think only appeal to one kind of audience, we think that our sensibilities are broader than that, but we're not sure what the people we are pitching to walk away with in terms of these issues. "

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