What It Takes

What It Takes

This Isn’t About Rita Hayworth

By Callie Oettinger | Published: January 4, 2013

Shawshank Redemption's Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) looks for freedom in a Rita Hayworth poster.

Screenwriter and director Frank Darabont “received solicitations from several actresses about playing the lead” in the film Shawshank Redemption, an adaptation of the Stephen King story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. They read the title of the story and thought it featured Rita Hayworth as the lead.

A publicist’s book package ended up in the hands of Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten—ten years ago. A decade later, I still remember reading the column he wrote about it.

Following the death of Kenneth Lay, Businessweek received a press release that used Lay’s death as a pitching platform.

In Outreach, Part IV: Making New Connections, Finding Lines of Drift I wrote about one of my first cold call pitches, to Dateline, and how I called without knowing what the show was covering—ending with the producer hanging up on me.

Knowing the person you want to reach means knowing about more than the outlet for which they work.

One episode of Dateline gave me a taste of what they were showing at the time, but it took a few episodes to get a handle on it.

Knowing the person, means digging into their work.

One look at Rita Hayworth’s name in a title was enough to catch the attention of actresses interested in appearing in the next Stephen King film, but it took a full reading to understand the lead wasn’t Rita Hayworth—and more reading of King’s books to bring the threads shared within many of his books into the film. Another bit of trivia via IMDB.com:

In the scene after Andy has escaped, the warden wants them to question Red. When they call to open Red’s cell they shout, “Open 237!” This is the same number as the room in The Shining and the amount of change ($2.37) the four boys in Stand by Me collect between them. All three movies were based on Stephen King stories.

Same with Weingarten. One read of Weingarten’s columns will give you a slice of his work, but it isn’t the entire pie. Just a slice. If you’d eaten the pie, you’d have predicted the column that came out of that pitch package.

Knowing the person means knowing what’s appropriate—in this case, though, it isn’t just for the person you are contacting, but across the board.

I often joke that I keep going until I get a yes or a restraining order when it comes to obtaining the goal at which I’m aiming—and going after what is wanted, without burning bridges, can be a tightrope act.

Ask yourself (and be honest):

What do you want to accomplish?

Who makes sense? Why?

What do you know about the person? What do you need to find out?

Is there an ask? If yes, what? Is the ask something that will take hours of their time (reading a stranger’s manuscript) or less than an hour (considering an author for an interview)?

What is it that you want to share and how will you share it using the fewest amount of words possible? How to avoid repetition?

And what is the tone? Positive? Negative? Will you touch on emotional points? Rely on reason?

How will you show your passion—that this isn’t just another pitch, but something that means something to you? Can you release controlled passion—enough to show why it matters, without rambling overboard?

How will you show you’re sincere?

Most important: How will you avoid auditioning for Rita Hayworth in a film that isn’t about her?

Posted in What It Takes

6 Responses to “This Isn’t About Rita Hayworth”

  1. Kent Faver
    January 4, 2013 at 8:27 am

    Well, that is good timing. I watched the last half of Shawshank for the 30th time a few nights ago. I then went on-line on Amazon to find the book, and couldn’t figure out why there was not much there! I then remembered it was from a short story and eventually found it thought I had no idea Rita was in the title.

    The 237 info. is awesome, as is the post. Thanks!

  2. January 4, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Good reminders, Shawn! Trying to sell pearls and rubies to a coal company rarely pays off.

  3. January 4, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Thank you for a wonderful column. Having worked in the music or film business for over twenty years, I have been pitched a lot of projects that I often asked, “Why are/did you send this to me?”

    When I was a publisher, I pitched Roy Orbison’s catalog, among others, for film placement and would often receive submissions from unknown writers wanting me to “purchase” their songs from them for possible placement–seriously!

    Now that I work in post production, I have people call and send me songs to try and get into various projects–and I have nothing to do with music supervision. Some will still want to argue, “but you must know the person who does the music… can’t you pass my songs on to them?” Seriously?

    I introduce a lot of friends to others I think they might want to work with–but a cold call from someone asking for a favor about something I have nothing to do with and then arguing about the fact is craziness.

    I appreciate and enjoyed your article. I hope with my writing, I take care to make sure I know my audience.

  4. January 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    This reminds me of my exagent. He thought he knew what women wanted in a cover for a romantic erotica novel. He rejected all the stock photos that later became some of my most popular covers. Why? Because he thought he knew what women wanted. How? He asked a few women friends who didn’t like or read romance or erotica. Are you laughing like yet? ~shakes my head~

    The popularity of social media makes it so easy for authors to network with their target market and LISTEN to what these readers really want in a novel. When you know, give it to them. Yeah, it’s that easy.

    Btw, I ended up using the Breach of Contract clause to end my relationship with that agent. Just too much blood loss in my career because he didn’t dig deep enough and do the research. Great post and much needed info no matter what business you’re in!

  5. Basilis
    January 5, 2013 at 4:01 am

    Callie, please, keep adding questions!

  6. Luc Prévost
    January 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Just discovered your blog.
    Got your RSS feed!

    Talking about Madame Hayworth, I saw yesterday this amazing mashup/rewriting of a routine with Fred Astair.

    But it might really be about the King… ;-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ILbvtB_0pKk&t=15