Small stories told incredibly well can be every bit as powerful as the sweeping, complicated tales of history. To be honest, I’m naturally drawn to the latter but telling those epic tales as a writer is not a place to begin. It’s a goal.
This spring, I’m attending my first screenwriting pitch event. I had a long conversation with my writing mentor and dear friend, John Bucher. I was considering writing an against-all-odds story rooted in the untold story of New York City’s most notorious and unlikely gangster.
Because it’s a period piece, I was worried that this would cause producers to count me out before I even finished my log line. In this kind of pitch situation, I’ve got to stack the odds in my favor in every way—a great story, strong writing, short shooting period, and a small budget without any complicated production or editing tactics needed. Period films by their nature are expensive and expansive because you have to recreate that world that the characters inhabit. Is a bold period piece for this pitch competition really the risk to take? Though I love the story, I doubted whether this was the time and place to take that shot. To check this hunch, I turned to John.
John said something to me that was an absolute lightbulb moment that I’ll be retelling for years to come: producers often look for a way to say no. Your job as a writer is to make that “no” very difficult for them to deliver. As The Godfather has taught me well, “Make them an offer they can’t refuse.” A killer small story that fits squarely into a genre that sells shows that as a writer you know the market. You understand it in your bones, and that shows that not only can you write but you also know how to make something. And that last bit, the ability to make something beyond words on a page is the secret sauce. If a film can be made on a sliver of a budget, that lets a producer take a risk on a new voice. If it costs them next to nothing to make, it gives them the chance to take a chance. And as a new voice, I’m a chance that I want them to take.
So, it’s back to the drawing board for me on this project but you know what? I feel great about it. I feel lighter. I feel like I’m starting with a blank page that can be anything my imagination can conjure. I don’t know what my genre or subject will be, but I do know the story will be small, relatable, set in the present day, and center around a strong female lead who’s underestimated. She’ll likely be in New York because it’s the city where I live, and the one that I know and love. And the rest? It’s all TBD. Stay tuned…