On Pitching: What You Don’t Know May Shock You – An Interview with Former HBO Exec Michael Garcia

I sat down with Michael Garcia, former VP of Drama Development at HBO. With hits like The Sopranos, Big Love, and True Blood-a whole new perspective on the art of pitching emerged

Nat: Why don’t you tell me a little bit about your career?

M: The factual account is like this: I moved out here 11 years ago. I started at 20th Century Fox as an assistant in comedy development and left to go to Industry Entertainment before starting up at HBO. Over 7 years I became the Vice President and the co-head of Drama series.

Nat: Is there a value system you live by that brought you up the ranks so quickly?

M: I had just turned 24 years old and I was an executive already, right? And what happened was that I shifted my way of thinking from one rooted in ambition, to thinking, “What can I give in this situation?” How can I help? It takes the pressure off, and it all becomes about learning, and people, and facilitating communication.

Nat: So it’s almost as though regardless of external frames of reference-wealth, money, power-you were able to capture a core essence of who you are.

M: Exactly. When I finally started to have integrity, then everything made sense. There are two polar orientations: 1. What do I get from this? verses 2. What can I give to this?

Nat: Let’s use that as a turning point and step into the minds and hearts of the artists who are trying to get their stories told.

M: If you can walk into a room knowing who you are and knowing and your worth, that is invaluable. You don’t need anything; and people really pick up on that. From there, be open. Don’t limit yourself or your options in any way.

Nat: On a lighter note, what are some funny things that you’ve experienced from the pitch receiving standpoint?

M: Ha…well there were some times when people came in and they were going to perform the pitch. And it’s sort of like, an hour later there’s still a performance going on. And you’re like ‘can you just tell us the idea?’ Some of the best ideas have been one typewritten page. It’s just beautifully conceived. When we were pitched BIG LOVE, for example, we could envision the whole show based on hearing the logline and knew right away it was right for us.

I guess my point, in summary, is that you have the power to bring a game changing energy into any room. Go in there to have a human experience with the other person and interact. You’ll be surprised by the results.

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