Chit Chat

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

The great thing about the entertainment industry – well, one of the great things. It's a fantastic industry in almost every way – is at some point, no matter who you are or how much power you have, eventually you're going to have to sit in someone's office – probably someone you despise – and pitch.

This is true for every studio head or network topper. You get fired. You get a production deal. You end up in somebody's office trying to sell some business. I know a guy who has been back and forth on that see-saw so many times, he once started pitching a movie to a guy who had come into his office to pitch a movie. I guess he was temporarily confused. I mean, they were both sitting on a sofa in an office. Both holding square bottles of Fiji water like little plastic teddy bears. I can understand that.

But the key to pitching, and pitching well, isn't really about the substance of the project you're selling. Pitches are won or lost based on the first five to ten minutes of awkward, meandering, fake-jokey conversation called, the chit-chat.

You walk into someone's office and you're there to sell – but the entertainment industry is run sort of like the late Chinese Imperial court – all misdirection and elliptical phrasing. You never just barge in and say, Have I got a show for you! Because that reminds everyone that this is basically a sales business and that image doesn't quite match the leather sofa and Fiji water surroundings. It insults everyone – you, because it turns you into one of those guys you see with the Bluetooth thingy in your ear, and it insults them because it reminds them that eventually, in an all-flesh-is-grass sort of way, in not so much time, they'll be on the other side of the pitch. So you smother up all of that anxiety and rage and desperation, you cover up the AmEx bill car lease jumbo mortgage sub-woofer pounding in your head and you dive into the friendly, soothing chit chat. We're just two pals, gabbing away on the sofa. I just dropped in to say, hey. No agenda. Thought I'd stick my head in the door and be a neighbor. No biggie.

Chit chat only sounds casual. Hey, how are you doing? Weird traffic patterns, huh? Did you guys know each other in college? Or sometimes it's random, fangless gossip – fangless because you never really know who is friends with whom – something like, Tom? He's working on a show in the UK, for the BBC! Yeah, cool, cool. Doing really well. Yeah. Yeah, I know, it's crazy, the studio security. I like Chipotle. They have this, like, burrito? Mmmmm hmmm. Right, right. Totally! Obsessed with Top Chef. Can't believe it. Thank God for TiVo, huh. Right. Right. Yeah. Good deal. Too funny. Okay. Okay….

And then the awkward pause. And then the pitch, for which the table has been set properly. This is not a sales call. This is a social call. I am not pitching. We are chatting, about real estate and private school silent auctions and Top Chef. I am not about to pitch, essentially, blended family or workplace or something meets The Office. It's just that at some point, after the awkward pause has become unbearable, I'll lean forward and…start to pitch.

So my advice to those of you going out on pitches, and that's ultimately all of you – is to spend a little time in the parking lot or in the little ante office thinking about your chit chat. Because it has to last at least 10 minutes to be effective. It can't be hey-that-traffic and then suddenly "What if the girl you have a crush on turns out to be...your new stepsister? That's the arena we're playing with here...."

I made the mistake once of arriving to a meeting with no chit chat at all. So we sat there, glumly, for a few moments until the guy I was pitching finally kicked it off with a "have you guys noticed all these spiders around? These big spiders?" And we ended up talking about spiders for almost 20 minutes, at which point everyone was too creeped out to want to listen to an idea about an idealistic couple who open a Starbucks.

So, take it from me: brush up your chit chat. It matters.

That's it for this week. Next week, we be slandered. Or is it defamed? For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long