Pitching Away on Videotape

This scene is played out hundreds of times every day in Hollywood.

A couple of hopeful producers and a writer sit down on overstuffed furniture in a production executive's office, shmooze a bit about the horrors of Los Angeles freeway traffic, then--having moistened their tonsils on sips of designer water--launch into a pitch for a movie.

"Well, we're here today to talk to you about a project we're very excited about. It's called. . . ."

Most of these meetings last about 30 minutes, at the end of which time the production executive dismisses the pitchers with an "It's not for us" or a "Let us get back to you," while a new set of pitchers finishes warming up outside in the hallway bullpen.

Since these scenes are all the same (only the stories change, and sometimes they don't change much), it was only a matter of time before someone thought to put the pitch on videotape and let a messenger service fight the traffic.

"Getting meetings set up takes a lot of time," said producer David Permut, whose first video pitch--for a film called "The Favor"--was just put into development at Paramount Pictures.

"You're on the phone with writers, agents, secretaries. Schedules are getting shuffled around, then you're sitting in your car half the time. I thought, it sure would be a lot easier if someone could put (the pitch) on videotape and let studio executives watch it when it's convenient."

Permut and his "Video Pitch" associate, Bob Kosberg, taped their pitch for "The Favor"--a story suggested to Kosberg by actress-writer Karen Hopkins--late last year and had it sent by messenger to seven top Hollywood studio and agency executives. This week, they completed a development deal with Paramount.

The pitch, which takes about 12 minutes, was done partly as a spoof of pitch sessions, Kosberg said. The original idea was to mock the ritual of serving Perrier, Evian and other chichi water with a sort of poor man's "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

"We had all kinds of great ideas, but they didn't work," Kosberg said. "Our ambitions surpassed our abilities. We weren't funny."

The tape is a clinker, by almost any standard. It is basically a "talking heads" home video, with Kosberg, writer John Bunzel and Permut seated on a couch in Permut's Beverly Hills office.

Kosberg introduces the setup of "The Favor"--it's about a wealthy man whose life is turned inside-out when a sleazy former college chum shows up to collect a favor--then the highly animated Bunzel goes into a scene-by-scene description of a story that is harder to follow than a haiku novel.

At the end, Kosberg eyes the camera and says "The Favor" bears similarities to "Trading Places," "The Sting" and "Pygmalion." Permut then suggests such male lead pairings as Robert Redford and Danny DeVito, Kevin Kostner and Jim Belushi or Tom Hanks and Jon Lovitz.

It closes with its one truly funny moment: A matronly switchboard operator named Betty asks viewers to call the number flashing on the screen for more information.

Permut said the video pitch cost about $2,000, but if its production values resembled those from an Elks club seminar, it did its job.

"About half of the people we sent it to called the next day," Kosberg said. "Some called just to tell us how bad our acting was. But there were a couple who expressed genuine interest."

Permut said he ran into one of the production bosses at a party the day the tapes went out.

"He said, 'I love it, I love it,' " Permut recalled. "I said, 'Do you want to develop it?' He said, 'No, I'm talking about "Video Pitch." I want to start the company with you.' "

The most serious response to "The Favor," Kosberg said, came from Paramount production executive Teddy Zee, who called to invite the threesome to the studio for a face-to-face session--in effect, canceling the benefit of the video pitch itself.

"He wasn't sure the story was right, but he loved the concept," Kosberg said. "We got together and exchanged some ideas. We made some changes in the story and we made the deal."

Did the video pitch really sink the hook at Paramount?

"The video was no different from a phone call, considering the source," said Paramount production president Gary Lucchesi. "If it had come from an unknown source, it would have been a clever way to introduce oneself to Hollywood. But Bob and David are people we know. It's not like you don't take their calls."

Permut, in particular, is coming off a hot year. Two of his projects--"Dragnet" and "Blind Date"--were box-office successes. Kosberg had a producer credit on another hit, "Predator."

Kosberg said he isn't planning to go into video pitching full time, but Permut, who has registered the name "Video Pitch," is clearly giving it some thought.

"Right now, I'm working on three sequels," Permut said. " 'Dragnet 2,' 'Blind Date 2,' and 'Video Pitch 2.' "

From those of us who support anything that reduces traffic, good luck.

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