The Pitch

The pitch is an evil, necessary part of most creative endeavors for which one gets paid. You mock up the overall concept of your work, whether it's a book, a dance number, or a photo installation, adding structure and detail until it's fleshed out only enough to seem viable, then you lay it all out for the powers that be to consider its merit and value.

This is a weird process. It requires total belief in your capacity (and superiority) to bring an idea to people and to do it well, though you have never done it before, and probably aren't even ready to do it yet. You say, " it will be amazing." You profess your undying love for the material you have to work with, be it raw clay you'd like to transform into a rhinoceros for the Zoo entrance, or a period novel you're ready to turn into a network screenplay. You let your client know that your passion and time are aligned and you only have need for a green light and a small deposit to start making your magic. You have to make it seem real, though the "it" does not yet exist, and probably won't if this meeting is unsuccessful.

Linear, type-A people, in my experience, are typically the ones at the helm in the pitch room. They want to be dazzled, transported. They want to feel something new, but not so new that it's uncomfortable. And because they are analysts and planners, they're also looking at numbers, cost-benefit analysis and budget during the conversation-- irritations that we, the creators, cannot possibly be bothered with while we're busy making jazz hands to sell the idea. Reading the body language of your client is key (and I have been part of pitch meetings over the phone, which I think are SO hard to pull off for this reason) because if you need to back off, seeing a hand raised to the neck to suggest hesitation, or eye contact wandering off to indicate your point isn't landing where it should, you can make subtle adjustments and get things back on track. If you succeed at dazzling, seeming organized and capable, confidently and succinctly (those linear types don't like to waste time any more than money), you are in the enviable position of getting paid to create. The holy grail.

I had a client for whom I created lavish annual events. Since they were corporate, he wanted success, fun times, and on-track budgets (oh, MBA. Of course you do.) but was completely open on theme. One year, I was heavy into Bjork's Vespertine, particularly the song "Unison" which is gorgeously longing, hopeful and lush and empty all at once. It was winter, and I thought the idea of a glowing interior of an igloo, while the cold snowy world blew on outside was an amazing event concept.

 

So I did dinner inside a tight white tent, the interior in hot pinks and oranges, icy branches in tall glass vases of snow flanking the entrance and snowflakes projected on the walls, while warm Brazilian trio blared inside and piping hot donuts and coffee and cocktails and sea bass were served on glittery platters. The guests were seated amid lush bouquets of tight white florals and snowy spray. It was awesome. The cocktail hour soundtrack was heavy on foreign sexy pop (Brazilian Girls, Bebel Gilberto), but spiked with history for those paying attention (Sarah Vaughan, Edith Piaf) to encourage the idea that heat was building. By the time the band hit the stage, the dessert was being served and everyone was hammered and thrilled. 

The thing is, I never pitched the party. At least, not in that way. Had I started with, "I want to take this really icy Bjork song and turn it into an event," he'd have asked me to leave the building. I didn't tell him that I want to figure out a way to communicate safety and warmth, a way to take this beautiful piece of music and turn it into an experience. I told him I'd do great food with live music and would love to add a few creative winter details if the budget allowed. The musicians, the caterers, the floral supply house, the lighting people - they all knew exactly what was going on. Like speaks to like.

Once, I lost my head and accidentally spilled the beans that the elegant cocktail hour with a strict black/white decor and live concert violinist, followed by formal meal in an open-air tent was not just that. The entire event was actually modeled on months of research on A Midsummer Night's Dream. I read and re-read it. I watched every theatrical interpretation I could get my hands on, then visited flower conservatories, museums, anything that evoked the spirit of the story. The cocktail hour in the structured garden punctuated with black and white represented the land of the players and their knowable world. When we invited the guests to move into the dining tent, which represented the world of the fairies, lute music and the sound of running water played softly from the exterior walls and wind chimes were audible in the distance. The seating mimicked that of the fairy queen's table with its gilded vases, sugared grapes commingling with herbs and loose peonies in goblets. Red wine lulled them into delirium, or at least a sumptuous feast. Painted actors posing as sculpture began to move and, like Puck himself, pushed the boundaries of reality for the guests.

It was the pinnacle of my creative event planning career. The guests marveled at their outdoor summer cocktails, and later the gorgeous dining tent with its rippling silk walls, held aloft by ivy-covered posts, from which, as the sun set, soft twinkly lights became a nighttime canopy, and a summer moon glowed, spotlit and hanging in a nearby redwood tree.

Two days before the event, my "pitch" got into the hands of a linear thinker, and he freaked out and nearly canceled the event and moved it to a Marriott.

Amy Cray