Programs Mon 9.23.2013

GREETINGS FROM THE TRENCHES: How the 2013 Fox Fellow Learned to Perfect His Pitches

After years of a yo-yo-ing scriptwriting career, Yule Caise decided to tap out. He’d written film and TV (Heroes), but his successes were separated by disconcertingly long fallow periods. When financing for a feature project fell through at a very late stage, it cued him to quit.  At the time, he thought, “Now not only have I run out of money, but I have nothing to show for it. I was at end of my rope. I was done.” Yule told his family, friends and his writing group that he was giving up on his writing career.

Less than a week later, Yule got word he’d was one of the ten writers selected from 400 nominees to take part in the prestigious Fox Writers Intensive Fellowship. And just like that, he was back in the game.

The Writers Intensive is the company’s advanced writer’s program designed to nurture experienced writers of diverse backgrounds. The program also aims to create a pipeline of talent for potential staffing on Fox television, feature film and digital entertainment productions.

Yule (who’s an alum of Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab) spent the next five months in the trenches, writing, pitching, honing and meeting with execs in virtually every division of Fox, working under “aggressive deadlines” at a “real-world accelerated pace.” There were constant deadlines, and the Fellows found themselves having to switch from one project to the next. “There was a time when pretty much only one person was able to make the actual deadline,” says Yule. “They spanked us. But that’s what it’s about. It’s about being able to deliver, the pressure of the pitch.“

The culmination of the program is an intense pitching session: each of the Fox Fellows does a big pitch to all the different divisions of Fox. “We spent a good couple weeks honing our ideas and putting together presentations. There were 10 of us in a waiting room and we each get five minutes. We drew lots out of a hat to select the order we’d go in, and there was some jockeying after that, people trying to get a more advantageous position in relation to me.”

The competition was fierce because the stakes are high; the Fellow with the strongest pitch is named the Fox Fellow for the year, and with that mantle comes a development deal. Yule won, and he’s now working on a pilot with FX Networks, in conjunction with Fox Broadcasting Co. and 20th Century Fox Television. He also has an opportunity to pitch a new original script to FX and his referring organization, the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, received a $15,000 grant for its writing program.

He credits the rigor of the program with his success. What does he know now that he didn’t know before about pitching a show? “Everything,” he says. “They forced us to really script out our entire pitch. And that forces you to know your idea so well. They had no qualms about throwing you questions and destroying [your pitch.]  It was supportive, tough love. As it comes closer and closer, they give brutally honest assessments.”

At one point in the middle of the program after a pitch he thought had gone fairly well, Yule says, “I remember being politely told to write out every single word and do not deviate.” It was more like an order than a suggestion. “Next time you come here, make sure you have written out every word,” he was told. His first thought was that it would be constraining. “But in my case it really highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of my pitch. I learned the value of working and writing and rewriting and reworking the pitch. You can’t work on it too much. I’d always thought pitching was just seat-of-the-pants, here’s what I’m thinking.”

The hard work paid off. “I just pitched recently at Imagine and I was paid a very high compliment. I had given them a brief document and they said, ‘Wow you should teach course on how to write a treatment. I was thinking ‘Oh my gosh. I just learned that.’ Because Fox was so assiduous about making you make your idea clear. If it was not clear it did not belong. That was a wonderful thing to learn.”

By Pamela Miller / Website & Grants Manager