‘Don’t Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One’

Some adventures on the Hollywood pitching trade:

Mel Brooks’Silent Movie’ is a case of life imitating art. If you recall, my character, a reformed alcoholic movie director named Mel Funn, goes to the studio chief, played by Sid Caesar, and suggests making a silent picture in 1976. He tears out his hair at the idea but Funn says, ‘What if we get big stars?’ ‘Like who?’ And then Funn says Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Liza Minnelli and the studio chief says if you can get ‘em, we’ll make the movie.

“Well, that’s what happened when I went to Alan Ladd with the idea. Even the incidents we show of signing the stars mirrored what actually happened.”

Richard Blackburn, writer, “Eating Raoul": “My agent sent me to see a well-known producer, and when I walked in he said, ‘Who are you?’ I gave him my credits and he replied, ‘Oh, you’re here for the weird project.’


“He wound up pitching me. The first thing he said was, ‘What I’m going to tell you is admittedly insane.’ He then very rapidly described the story--an upper-middle-class boy whose father’s off someplace is befriended by a street-smart character, let’s say Richard Pryor, who saves the kid from something terrible and teaches him a few tricks.

“At that point he stopped and said, ‘I haven’t said anything insane yet but I’m about to--the Richard Pryor character is a dog. No Benji--an obscene street dog.’

“I replied, ‘This is a talking-dog script?’ ‘It either hits you or it does not,’ he responded.

“To clarify matters I asked, ‘So, he can’t pick up objects because he has paws?’ ‘We are on the same wavelength,’ he confirmed, and asked to see some examples of my work. I said I’d send over all my talking-dog scripts in the morning and went back to my agent and told him what happened. He apologized endlessly, because he knew about this idea from years earlier but assumed the producer had long ago given it up.”


Producer Robert Solo (remake of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the upcoming “Colors”): “When I was a studio executive, I sat in on a pitch meeting with a agent who had a couple of scripts by clients.

“It turned out he had 11 scripts--all great, according to him--and there was no way to stop him. He was a great salesman but he was peddling rugs. There was no way anyone was going to wade through 11 scripts--none got made or optioned there but I’m sure he was able to place some at least based on his zeal.

“Talking from the vantage point of a producer, it’s very sobering to go into pitch meeting with young production executives--they simply don’t know literature and I wind up censoring myself so not to embarrass them. I’ve literally heard someone say, ‘Do we have coverage on Shakespeare?’ ”