Scribbler’s Saga #14 – Player Pitch

Posted: February 1, 2017 in Uncategorized

© 2017 G.N. Jacobs

“So, here it is, Mr. Mill, Gone With the Wind meets Of Human Bondage…in space,” says the unnamed screenwriter. 

This somewhat fictionalized scene from The Player highlights the average writer’s love-hate with what has come to be called the Player Pitch. We really don’t want to give said pitch, rather wanting to launch into the Real Pitch – “It’s about a girl who sells advertising space for radio…” But, we do have to live with the short form pitch, because it’s how we get permission to give the Real Pitch from people who believe their time more valuable than ours. There is, of course, at least one Real Pitch you never want coming out of anyone’s mouth – 2.0 Battlestar Galactica, Player Pitch “Exodus in Space,” Real Pitch…I can’t say it without blowing gray matter through your ears!

The inevitability of certain things eventually gets us to where we find things to like about things that define douche. We come to decide that the Player Pitch can actually be fun…I recommend smoke a bowl and go with it as a mental strategy.

My preferred version of the Player Pitch construction is a three part affair, “X meets Y filtered through the lens of Z.” The reason for this for me, the filtered through the lens part has a way of having a more creative way to tell someone “it’s a space movie” than Gone With the Wind meets Of Human Bondage…in space.

In this example that I basically pulled out my fart hole, (I have yet to either read, see or look Of Human Bondage up on Wikipedia) “in space” doesn’t tell you very much. As space movies go there are a wide range of choices. Filtered through the lens of Star Wars says long settled galaxy, civilization decaying from within and an almost magical faith that space wizards use to change the world. Filtered through the lens of Star Trek says the wide-eyed joy of the nonviolent ways to drop over the edge of the map just to see what lives there. Filtered through the lens of 2001 says a long arduous journey that reminds us that we bring our worst aspects with us as we explore. In space, becomes trite and not descriptive when you have other choices.

It follows that a writer better know all three elements of his or her pitch construction going into the room. See the movie. Read the book. We have library cards; use them or lose them.

And we are instructed in Save the Cat to only choose hits for our X, Y and Z. Since I think Blake Snyder represents good ideas about structure taken to the ridiculous (cookie cutter) extreme, may I suggest picking the three elements that best describes your story, even if one of the elements died in the marketplace?

I’ve seen Gone With the Wind, a story about resilience in the face of losing everything both personally and culturally due to sweeping changes to one’s world (what’s left when you boil away the rose-colored glasses about slavery). We’ll see what Of Human Bondage does for this hypothetical pitch when I actually dive in and read. Now, let’s go back to the Z element? Star Wars? Star Trek? 2001? Avatar? Does it have to be “in space?” How about underwater? Abyss?

I jest in this vein because we need to steal our fun where we can. That’s my point here, a speaking convention that The Player largely exposed as the height of Hollywood douchery can be fun. Yes, fun.

Picture, if you will, a post-apocalyptic wanderer armed with an ancient rapier looted from a museum… Oh, sorry, I’m lapsing into my recently derived Real Pitch for Homer the Barbarian: The Honey Queen and the Taxman’s Wife. So a story about a taciturn dude, the frisky witch hot for the dude and the Evil Witch/Queen Bee in the faraway castle? “Conan the Barbarian meets Wizard of Oz filtered through the lens of…”

Conan the Barbarian is obvious. A guy on the road with a sword with an almost monosyllabic vocabulary who finds high adventure. I have yet to decide if Homer will “steal a crown of his own to wear upon a troubled brow.”

Wizard of Oz speaks to the road quest story where the protagonist forms a team to defeat the witch in the dark castle. Certainly, the Honey Queen ain’t checking out because Dorothy splashes her with water. And despite my musical ambitions, we aren’t Off to See the Wizard.

Despite the assertion of this article that maybe my fellow writers should see the Player Pitch as a source of fun, I can’t claim to have started from the pitch. Desperate to maintain myself as a novelist keeping up with the comic book arms race in a key writing group, I’ve started and stopped several comic book projects. I freak out over the high bar of entry to comics if you don’t draw (the only thing ruder than please work for free among these people is I voted for insert name of orange President here). I stop and go back to the novels.

I hit on the idea of doing a photo manipulation book. Somehow, I hit on a barbarian I could play myself. Conan becomes obvious.

But, once I saw how boring the antagonist would be once he realized he had no reason to chase the Tax Wife, I added the Honey Queen. Evil queen in the castle. She casts a spell on the visible villain to keep him in the game. Wizard of Oz.

And now, we come to my Z element. It’s a post-apocalyptic story. In order to have the bad guy catch up to Homer and Hilary when everybody rides bicycles, I put the pissed off husband on a…motorcycle. Can you guess my full Player Pitch?

“Conan the Barbarian meets Wizard of Oz filtered through the lens of…Easy Rider,” sayeth the amused author. Of course, I could dive in deeper here. Have the guy on the road hog get loaded in a New Orleans cemetery and whine about his mother? Well, maybe the book will merely present the lyrics to Don’t Bogart that Joint, play it safe for now.

Basically like everybody else, I developed the pitch after starting to write. But in theory, have fun with the pitch then start writing.

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