Part 2: The Pitch

Part 2: The Pitch

The first step for any writer/editor/art director/photographer wanting to get a story into WIRED is the pitch. 

For the most part, our editors work with different stables of writers, though we also have some very talented journalists on staff. Jason Tanz is one of those writer/editors and has a CV peppered with accomplishments, including a critically acclaimed, profoundly personal chronicle of modern rap music titled, Other People's Property: A Shadow History of Hip-Hop in White America.

Jason teamed up with WIRED senior editor, Nancy Miller, to pitch his Charlie Kaufman idea at our May 22 story ideas meeting. Pitches must be one page or less and succinctly describe a thesis and proposal of reporting topics. All WIRED staffers vote on these pitches and give a score from from 1 (not for WIRED) to 6 (a must-do). The scores' mean and standard deviation are posted on a whiteboard in our main conference room and discussed in order of least popular to most popular. After taking the room's temperature, consulting with the Bob Cohn (EE), Jacob Young (ME), Thomas Goetz (DE), Wyatt Mitchell (DD) and me, Chris Anderson makes the final decicion to green light or pass.

Here is Jason's pitch: 

The Eternal Adaption of Being Charlie Kaufman.
Editor: Miller

Writer: Tanz

OK, here we go. Writing the pitch. Pitch pitch pitch. A pitch about Charlie Kaufman. Charlie Kaufman, Oscar-award winning screenwriter of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Adaptation, and Being John Malkovich. Just finished his directorial debut, Synechodoche, New York, which was the only American film to premiere at Cannes this year. Odds are that it'll get picked up by a distributor this week--probably Miramax or Sony Classics or something like that--and get released around the fall. It marks a big moment for Kaufman, one of the most highly-acclaimed and inventive screenwriters of his generation; he has to not only prove that his directorial chops stand up to his writing skills, he also has to match up against the A-list directors who have helmed his previous scripts. Kaufman, notoriously awkward, self-effacing and camera-shy, is about to face the most intense criticism of his career. It would be great to capture this show-and-prove moment. So don't blow it, Jason.

But how to convince the editors that he's Wired? I could point out that we've written about his previous collaborators, Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry, whose highest-profile work has been based on Kaufman's scripts. His protagonists are all Wired types; vaguely Asperger-y, uncomfortable around women, living in their own minds. (By all accounts, Kaufman himself isn't much different.) He's a formal innovator, bringing an experimental intellectual spirit to filmmaking. Or hell, why not go for it: Kaufman can be seen as a modern-day Philip K. Dick [Ed note: Maybe a little much. Let's discuss] obsessed with how our neurology intersects with and informs our fragile understanding of the world. Take Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, in which a character's decision to erase his memories are physically represented by a rapidly-vanishing world. Synechdoche looks to plumb similar territory; an ailing theater director builds a life-sized set of Manhattan to map the mundane drama of everyday life, but the line between re-creation and reality fades, especially as the director begins to lose his cognitive faculties. The geek set is hotly anticipating Synechdoche--sci-fi blog calls it "the movie we're most eager to see this spring"--and it's likely to become 2008's Memento, an intelligent, instant-classic piece of celluloid mind-fuckery.

Hmm. This cutesy little Kaufmanian meta-pitch idea must be annoying everyone. It seemed like a good way to get started, but now Chris is probably rubbing his temples and slashing a giant red 'X' across the page. Oh, well. Too late to turn back now. Maybe I can transition into a more standard pitch without anyone noticing.

Kaufman has never consented to a profile before, but there's a good chance he'd break his stonewalling to speak with us. This is the biggest risk of his career--It's his movie that Sidney Kimmel Entertainment ponied up $15 million to finance, and he needs to do everything he can to help them earn it back, even talking to journalists. (He's already given an interview to Variety, which is kind of amazing.) There is a unique opportunity to experiment with form and narrative structure here; Kaufman's work practically demands that we come up with something beyond the standard profile format. But even if I can't pull that off, we've still got the makings of a great feature--a glimpse at one of our best and smartest screenwriters as he tries to extend himself into an honest-to-God auteur. We won't get a ton of biographical information out of him, and he probably won't let us into his home, but we can tag along with him as he runs the standard first-film promotional gauntlet. So far, Kaufman has succeeded by pulling filmgoers into the twisted recesses of his brain; now we have a chance to catch him as he emerges, blinking, into the spotlight.

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