IDEA SALESMAN PITCHES FOR HITS
Idea man Bob Kosberg is the Goose Gossage of Hollywood. He’s a pitcher with a quick delivery and a blazing fastball. When he takes the mound in studio and network TV offices, he throws his best stuff and, within 15 minutes, he’s gone.
“Most executives welcome me,” Kosberg said. “They hear so many pitches in a day, but with me, they know I’m going to come in with five ideas and be gone in 15 minutes. If they don’t like any of them, I’ll be back next month with five more.”
Kosberg, a 1972 graduate of UCLA’s film school, has pitched hundreds of ideas in the last 10 years, and though not one of them resulted in a film or TV movie before this year, he said he has sold options on more than 50, and he’s optioned some of those several times each.
“I’ve sold one idea four or five times,” he said. “I heard that the author of ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’ sold that script 16 times before it got made.”
Kosberg, who occasionally lectures USC and UCLA film students on the art of pitching, said he had been preparing to be a story salesman all his life. He just didn’t know it.
“When I saw movies (as a kid), the most fun for me was coming out and telling somebody else about it,” he said. “I would get very excited . . . I seem to have some weird expertise in taking a movie and boiling it down. It’s like “Name That Tune.” 'I can name that tune in three notes.’ Well, I can describe that movie in three lines.”
He pitched one idea with an ad line and a title: “What two words strike fear into every American’s heart? Jury Duty.”
He says “Jury Duty” is in development at Warner Bros.
Another project, “Seduced,” was sold as a “teen-age version of ‘The Apartment.’ ” “Closed Circuit,” also in development, was pitched as “Rear Window Meets 1984.” And “Lust Boat,” based on an article he read about high school programs held on cruise ships, was pitched to studio executives as “Animal House on the Ocean.”
Kosberg gets a lot of his ideas from newspapers. In fact, the former script reader (for ICM and stars Ann-Margret and Dyan Cannon) was working in New York as a production assistant on a movie when he read an article about a gymnast who was graduated from college and returned to high school.
Kosberg found the gymnast in Kansas and bought his story for $500. He quickly titled it “Back Flip” and planned to write the script himself. Then came true inspiration.
“I was in New York when I heard that John Dunne and Joan Didion had sold ‘Panic in Needle Park’ by pitching it as ‘Romeo and Juliet on Drugs,’ ” he said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ ”
Sure enough, Kosberg returned to Los Angeles and succeeded with his first major-league pitch. He had sold his first one-liner.
“I walked out of there saying to myself, ‘Boy, this is a great way to make a living. They pay people to do this?’ ”
“Back Flip” has not been made into a movie yet, but Kosberg said it’s still on the option circuit, solid as a good annuity, earning more money.
Another early project--"The Woo Woo Boy,” based on the real experiences of a 14-year-old who was dubbed “the world’s greatest lover” during World War II--also is still alive.
Kosberg, whose academic focus was screenwriting at UCLA, has written seven scripts but hasn’t sold any of those. He considers himself a writer/producer and said he eventually wants to run his own production company.
For the moment, he is a salaried pitcher for two different companies. He comes up with feature film ideas for Interscope Communications and TV ideas for Larry Thompson Productions. He said he spends most of his time in his Century City office jotting down ideas on story forms, then deciding which medium is the best target.
This is a pivotal point in Kosberg’s career. Suddenly, after 10 years, three projects that he originally pitched are in “go” status. They are:
“Date Night.” Dan Aykroyd is executive producer on this teen comedy recently shot in Chicago for Columbia Pictures. Kosberg pitched it as “the rituals of Saturday night dating in America.” He will receive a producer credit, he said, but probably not a story credit. (“The Writers Guild won’t always give you a story credit if it’s just a one-liner.”)
“The Other Lover.” Larry Thompson produced this TV movie which stars Lindsay Wagner and is scheduled to be aired Sept. 24 on CBS. Kosberg pitched it as a reversal of the shop-worn “other woman” theme. Instead of a single woman waiting by the phone for a call from her married lover, it’s a single man.
“Commando.” Joel Silver produced this action-adventure starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kosberg said it wasn’t his idea. He just pitched it to Silver on behalf of the script’s authors. (“I recognize a good idea when I hear it, too.”)
In all, Kosberg said he has more than 15 features or TV movies in development, and dozens of ideas for sale.
His favorite unsold one-liner: “They’re young, they’re in love and they’re on their honeymoon. Destination: Earth.”
Kosberg said he imagines having seen his ideas as movies before pitching them, but he sticks with high-concept, heavily plotted stories because character films like “Diner” and “The Big Chill” don’t pitch well.
“What are you going to say? A bunch of friends get together and talk?”
But there aren’t many movies he can’t describe with one provocative line. Kosberg was put on the spot and asked how he might have pitched these movies:
“Amadeus.” “I would have played a 15-second cassette of Mozart’s best composition and said, ‘It’s a murder mystery; who would want to kill a man who makes this kind of music?’ ”
“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” “Imagine Jack Nicholson hiding out in an asylum pretending to be as crazy as those around him and finding out it’s even more dangerous to be crazy than sane.”
“The Graduate.” “How do you tell the girl you’re in love with that you’ve been sleeping with her mother?”
Finally, Kosberg can even describe his career with a one-liner.
“I tell grown-ups bedtime stories.”
BOSS’ BONUS: Remember the flap over the use (non-use) of Bruce Springsteen’s music in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Mask” earlier this year?
Consider Israeli director Yaki Yosha’s experience with the Boss. Yosha’s $250,000 “Dead End Street,” a dramatic tragedy opening at Laemmle’s Monica theater next Wednesday, has three Springsteen songs on the score and they didn’t cost Yosha a cent.
The songs are “Point Blank,” “Hungry Heart” and “The Jungle Land.”
Yosha says he and Springsteen have a mutual friend--violinist Suki Lahaz, who once worked for Springsteen’s back-up group--and she approached the rock star about using his music.
“When she read the script, she said he had written a song for it without even knowing it,” Yosha said, referring to Springsteen’s previously recorded “Point Blank.” “She told him about it and asked if we could use it. He said, ‘OK.’ ”
“Dead End Street” is based on the true story of a 17-year-old girl who committed suicide two hours before a documentary on prostitution was to air on Israeli state TV. The girl was interviewed as a street prostitute in the documentary, Yosha said, but had started an acting career in the meantime and had pleaded with the film’s producers not to air it.