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.
Alex Ferrari 0:51
Today guys, we have Stephanie Palmer on the show. She wrote an amazing book called good in her room, how to sell yourself and your ideas and win over any audience. She is a very, very cool lady. She's has a heck of a bunch of cool stories we talked about being an intern on the set of Titanic, which she was also a drug mule, or a mule, not a drug mule, but a mule of some sort. We'll go into that story later. She's also worked on amazing films like Legally Blonde one of my favorite Armageddon, Con Air and also work for Jerry Bruckheimer pictures where she got a lot of experience as well as being a director of creative affairs at MGM, where she listened to 1000s of pitches over the course of her career where she then decided that this was a space of, of the of the film industry that needed real help, because people really had no idea how to pitch themselves, how to pitch their stories, how to pitch their screenplays, how a director could pitch their their vision for a film, all of those things. So she put it all together in a book, and has now made it her lifelong mission to help people not only filmmakers, but people to help show them how to sell and pitch their ideas. Now one thing that went little bit wrong technically on this episode is I was barely able to get Stephanie on the phone. She's very, very busy. And I was only able to get her over the phone. So the audio quality is going to be a little bit less than you're used to, but still very acceptable. But the information on the show is remarkable. So sit back and enjoy my conversation with Stephanie Palmer.
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?
Stephanie Palmer 2:36
Sure. 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 3:29
Okay, now, with now, you just dropped that little bit like you were an intern on Titanic, so I'm not gonna let that go. Please tell me a little bit about that experience.
Stephanie Palmer 3:44
Well, I can tell you that my first job on that was to drive boxes that I was not to 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 4:19
Wow, so you were meal basically?
Stephanie Palmer 4:22
Pretty much Yeah, I don't I truly don't know what was in the boxes. But it was very clear I was there you don't know what the No, I have no idea. Yeah, no.
Alex Ferrari 4:34
And I had a few friends of mine who worked on on Titanic too, and I and 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 4:48
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, to see who whose 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. Right.
Alex Ferrari 5:31
Right, right. Yeah, I've heard I've heard. I mean, we've all studied and know that story quite well. But yes, it's so interesting to hear. It's so interesting to hear from from somebody who was actually inside the belly of the beast. So Young like you just starting off like you were a seasoned pro in the belly of the beast, you were a innocent little lamb.
Stephanie Palmer 5:50
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. But 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.
Alex Ferrari 6:32
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. And 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 to serve more than 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 7:04
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'll be two people having a conversation, but there's actually for 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 7:55
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, you know, hey, Tom, did you get that and just then I'm like, What the hell just happened was tying
Stephanie Palmer 8:10
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
Alex Ferrari 8:20
It is. Now while you were at a Jerry Bruckheimer his company, did you hear any pitches that actually that we that turned into a movie that we might know or have a TV show that might know?
Stephanie Palmer 8:30
I'm sure. Remember the Titans was pitched while I was there. Coyote Ugly was pitched while I was there. Is it called down on under I'm thinking there was a Scott Rosenberg kangaroo project. From my head, whatever that one was,
Alex Ferrari 8:49
that was pitch Jerry was Jerry McDonald was in that right?
Stephanie Palmer 8:53
Yeah, that one. 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 were there were always 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 9:22
So you know, I mean, you have exactly as I 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 invalidly.
Stephanie Palmer 9:41
So it was, it was an incredible experience.
Alex Ferrari 9:46
Now, let me ask you 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 9:59
I think 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, 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, the 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 Meet the Parents. So simply saying My project is a romantic comedy, or my project is an action thriller, is the first, my first tip, it's so simple, it's those it's something that anyone can do. But it's shocking how rare that is.
Alex Ferrari 11:32
Really, people just going into their story, and that tell you the context of their story, because they forget it. So
Stephanie Palmer 11:38
thriller, and spy is a spy, there's a spy, they start talking all about the spy, and then the spy start. 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 12:02
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 pitch?
Stephanie Palmer 12:13
There can be if 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 13:00
What you just explained, sounds just torturous. All the bureaucracy that goes on to like, I gotta be this guy than this guy. And this guy, and this, you might have to be pitched this thing 1015 times
Stephanie Palmer 13:12
before if you're 110 50. I mean, 100. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 13:17
yeah, you're right, because you're constantly pitching to the actors you're taking pitching to different. Yeah, I guess you're right. Any actor
Stephanie Palmer 13:22
you know, you should be in it. Here's why other executives financier's, that's a huge process, the marketing department. I mean, all the way and, 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 13:43
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 13:52
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. 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 14:20
It's all about marketing. And this is just another form of marketing, marketing. The idea of is you're basically marketing the idea, exactly. pitches. 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 14:48
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 those pitches are limited to two minutes. But it is amazing how long two minutes is. I mean, it is so hard to pay attention for a two minute pitch.
Alex Ferrari 15:29
Yeah, absolutely. That's sad many, many, many film festivals watching the short films sometimes and you just features and use like, Oh, my God, just stop. With this is the longest 20 minutes longest five minutes of my life,
Stephanie Palmer 15:47
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 16:05
Now, what's the what most turns you off about a pitch?
Stephanie Palmer 16:12
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 the 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 as someone will finish pitching, I'll be 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 in No idea.
Alex Ferrari 16:58
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.
Stephanie Palmer 17:08
And it's totally understandable. 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 17:24
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 17:40
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, okay, they really figured out how to market this indie thriller, or 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 what this one now where some worth 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 19:08
So a lot of times people just go ahead. No, that's a lot of times a lot of people will, you know, some people I'm imagining would have at some point in time have pitched horror movies to Disney.
Stephanie Palmer 19:20
Oh, absolutely. Definitely. Definitely. And that's just lack of research. 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 an insight into what's working well, for that person.
Alex Ferrari 20:05
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.
Stephanie Palmer 20:15
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 20:32
that is a beautiful tip. It's a 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 20:45
they're just gonna like you, you know, you're getting them like you because you're making them feel good about themselves.
Alex Ferrari 20:52
It's it's, 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, 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 as a writer or the 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 house should they come out to the town? What kind of projects should it things like that.
Stephanie Palmer 21:30
I'm happy to talk anything business, I'm happy to 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 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 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 a 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 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 it's different. 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 24:37
Oh absolutely. It's two different worlds what TV writers are, guess I would imagine that well TV you work a lot more like you You have a steady paycheck. If you're if you're on a show as opposed to screenwriter. Maybe one year you get paid maybe the other year a
Stephanie Palmer 24:54
different model. Yeah, it's a different model, but also the TV writing is generally done in the US. First, 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 25:23
Right, exactly, exactly. Yeah, that's a good point. Because I think a lot of filmmakers and writers in general make that mistake, like I'm going to, as a filmmaker, you're like, I'm going to make a comedy. And I'm going to make a horror movie that I'm going to 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 25:40
It's not 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 found 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 its 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 so 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 26:48
Right I'm still looking forward to the Quentin Tarantino comedy slap.
Stephanie Palmer 26:57
I will be doing that as well.
Alex Ferrari 27:00
I think I think people could argue that a lot of his movies are a little bit
Stephanie Palmer 27:05
Alex Ferrari 27:06
He's is he is a he's a wonderful comedic writer. But I want like a Naked Gun naked go. kwinter Geno's, Naked Gun that I would I would you know, Tarantino's airplane, you know, that's what I'm looking for.
Stephanie Palmer 27:23
Someone will make a short of that and put it on YouTube, I'm sure.
Alex Ferrari 27:27
I'm sure I'm gonna be a perfect example. You said Michael Bay, like, I mean, Michael Bay is Michael Bay. And he is he's, he's great. As well at what he does, he makes amazing pretty pictures if you like, and as a filmmaker, you don't like him as a filmmaker. At least he is known for doing that. You can argue that his images are just stunning. Like what he they are on the screen. They're stunning. And there's nobody there. 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 it. You know, when anytime you get like a Terran Tino is, you know, when you get to that level of specialty. And you know, Woody Allen that it will it will the Allen asked Robert? Yes, yes. 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, we start off in a horror movie, basically a thriller with Jaws, and I blew him up. He did a couple before that, but, but duel was similar. And then 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? Well, I
Stephanie Palmer 28:49
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 loved the development process. But the life of being a studio executive is very stressful. And there really are breaks. I mean, it's a 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, work 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 could 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 a room It's now been almost 10 years, which is hard to believe. And I
Alex Ferrari 30:05
You're 21, aren't you?
Stephanie Palmer 30:07
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 it continued to expand my consulting business and now have created some online courses. Just because I wanted I knew that one, I can't 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 console's in 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. And for a lot of people. I know living in Los Angeles isn't possible, 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 31:28
Very cool. Very cool. Not 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 talk a little bit about that experience, which is ironic, but yet very entertaining.
Stephanie Palmer 31:46
Well, so I was interviewed on NPR, the business, which is awesome show that's still going on, it's still on the air, or 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 him 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
Alex Ferrari 33:25
off guard. You were caught off guard. And then thank God your books around now to help people like
Stephanie Palmer 33:33
I can go back and read my own book The next time to make sure that I prepared. Exactly.
Alex Ferrari 33:41
So I'm at it when you were at MGM, you were basically the gatekeeper, right, the first level of getting movies made, right. Yep. So are there Can you tell me any funny stories of a pitch that you were just like, what is this?
Stephanie Palmer 33:58
Well, there were certainly people who would come in costume. There was one gentleman who came in wearing only a diaper and holding a large samurai sword. That standard out.
Alex Ferrari 34:10
I love that. I love that movie. By the way, that's my favorite for samurai sword movie.
Stephanie Palmer 34:19
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, um, they didn't kiss but it was extremely uncomfortable. There also was someone of 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.
Alex Ferrari 34:57
Brilliant Yeah. room the second edition.
Stephanie Palmer 35:04
It would be called Bad in a room. Yeah, bad in a room? Yes, it's
Alex Ferrari 35:08
a sequel bad in a room. Wow. So I'm assuming that people that come in and costume, that's not a good sign, or is that have you have you guys gotten the job?
Stephanie Palmer 35:18
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 never talked 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 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 36:20
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 send proof of concept? Is it done talking? Is it animatics, what
Stephanie Palmer 36:38
all of the above is 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 37:39
So I, 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 posts 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 film that tried 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 in Avengers? I'm like, you need to stop right there. You can't afford craft services or the coffee budget Avengers. Okay? Let it go. You need to do something that's within the realm of doing what you can do very, very well, as a beautiful mind 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 the house by myself beautifully
Stephanie Palmer 38:35
said, totally support that. Yes. Second.
Alex Ferrari 38:40
So, um, are there any final advice you would give on delivering an amazing pitch?
Stephanie Palmer 38:48
Um, let's see. I will say that. Um, 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 39:44
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. kangaroo jack?
Stephanie Palmer 40:02
kangaroo jack by the movie you thought of it? Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 40:04
I know. Obviously, like people combined, it's like the matrix meats, you know, you know, unnecessary roughness? I don't know, right? Yeah, those people do that good. Is that that? Is that good or bad?
Stephanie Palmer 40:21
I'm anti. This means that phenomenon, a lot of people promoted. 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 likely? 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? 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 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 like kangaroo jack, or whatever it is. And so that's, that's not so do have an answer for what your project is most like particularly regarding the tone. But don't lead with this means that
Alex Ferrari 41:58
and if you do have that title, or that movie in your in your back pocket, try not to choose a movie that's bombed. Oh, really? It's really like
Stephanie Palmer 42:13
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 and my boss looks across the table at me. And he was like, never say that movie again. Like, okay,
Alex Ferrari 42:34
because they might
Stephanie Palmer 42:34
have like, 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 or investor financier. That's the they're looking for
Alex Ferrari 42:53
that simple tip. Because I've had people pitch me things, and they're like, it's kinda 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 under appreciated. I'm just saying. Okay, so so my last two questions are the most hard hitting and tough so prepare yourself. I'm ready. 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 43:27
Oh my gosh, these are hard hitting for me because I really terrible at 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 at one of my favorites et at the moment Father of the Bride I know it's no you know, wow we 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 bazillion 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 it does.
Alex Ferrari 44:33
Right. And I think we could both agree that Pulp Fiction would have been better with a kangaroo and obviously I'm just saying I'm just say Jerry, Jerry miss out. I'm just saying.
Stephanie Palmer 44:49
Alex Ferrari 44:51
So where where can people find you?
Stephanie Palmer 44:55
I am easily finable on the web. My website is good in a room calm, 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 should and shouldn't do. So good in the room COMM And I'm also on Twitter at good in the room and have a Facebook page, also called Getting a rim.
Alex Ferrari 45:20
Stephanie Palmer 45:21
Thank you. It's consistent, if nothing else,
Alex Ferrari 45:26
Exactly. Stephanie Thank you so much for for being on the show. I really do appreciate it.
Stephanie Palmer 45:32
It is my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Alex Ferrari 45:35
I don't know about you guys. But I'm going to be working on my pitches going forward 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 have 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 screenplay 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 way shape or form so I've 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 indiefilmhustle.com/049 and please guys, don't forget to head over to filmmaking podcast calm and leave us an honest review of the show. It really helps us out a lot. Thanks again for all the support guys. We really appreciate it. Hope you got a lot out of this one. Keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. And I'll talk to you guys soon.
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