Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Me And Al(ly) Magee...(Part IV)

On and on it goes. When Al Magee starts talking TV, it's tough to know when to say when. Though I suppose it begins with all the questions --- okay, it's my fault. But check out what Al has to say about pitching...very astute.

Will: One final question about Smart Woman Survival've been working on the international roll-out with Tom Gutteridge, Fremantle Media North America's former CEO and now head of his own shop, Em2. Why did you choose to work with Tom? Is there more interest in the finished programs or in purchasing Smart Woman as a potential format?

Al: Tom Gutteridge is a very inspiring person and he knows everyone in the world of television. When Tom was CEO of Fremantle he was looking for a producer to partner with on Fremantle formats for Canada. He asked around and was lead to me. We hit it off and were working on a deal to produce his formats in Canada when suddenly he left Fremantle. We stayed in touch and when I had a rough cut of Smart Woman I sent it to Tom and he committed to it right away. He took us thru MIP in October and introduced us to dozens of potential partners both distributors and format producing partners. We’re still working on that.

We went quite far down a road with an American broadcaster for both the sale of the Canadian episodes and the production of American episodes and just recently learned that they have new management and are using the money earmarked for our show to bolster their bid for Nascar. I was a bit tender for a few days after that but now have to laugh. I’d put my money on Nascar in America too. International buyers went nuts for the show and we have offers from the biggest international distributors with interest in both the completed shows and the format. It has been a fast and overwhelming education for me and a journey that is really just getting started and I’m struggling to keep up with the momentum on Smart Woman Survival Guide.

We’ve just delivered our second season, which we shot in HD and upgraded everything that we could upgrade and the show is amazing. We’re shooting the third season right now.

Will: What are your short and long term goals for your company, Magee TV?

Al: The long term goal is to be thought of as a go-to trusted innovator of new ideas and formats with a proven value to our broadcasters, our creative partners, our producers and creative teams. Our goal is to be a top of mind team for delivering impactful series. The television industry is super fickle and I’m always trying to create or find the next great idea that is going to disrupt the flow and create the next set of opportunities.

Short term, I’m working on a national mentoring project to bring new talent into the television industry, and want to be the company of choice for emerging talent to pitch new ideas and we’re committed to providing a nurturing and rigorous creative environment. Short term we’re looking to replace the three series that we just completed. And short term I try to get thru the week without dropping the many balls I juggle.

Will: Have you reached a pinnacle now where networks are coming to you with ideas or for ideas on a preferred basis? Or is it same as it ever was and about grinding it out?

Al: It varies. I’ve had networks come to me with ideas and that is a welcome boost of confidence and obviously great for business. But I grind it out like everyone else. Ideas and economies are what is most important to broadcasters and there is very little loyalty to individual producers or companies so we all tough it out every day.

Will: Has your pitch process changed over the years? The Al I know is an awesome pitcher. How did you come by your skills and what are your top pitching pointers for newbies?

Al: Thanks for the compliment. I’m a conversational pitcher. I don’t make a big deal about staging a pitch I just work it into conversation. I got my pitching skills by working in development for 20 years and living by the rule of “you only eat what you kill.” If I don’t sell I don’t eat so I’m just another version of Willie Loman.

But seriously – I take Jan Miller’s pitching course every year. I do. And I take notes, and I reframe all my current pitches when I’m in that course and I consult with Jan. I have great success that way. Pitching is about creating opportunities for people. I learned a while ago that nobody wants to be sold, they want to solve their problems and realize their own dreams. Nobody gives a shit about your crappy project they’re too busy trying to solve their own problems and dreaming their own dreams so if you and your project can create an opportunity for them – they’ll seize it, and if not, they won’t. If your pitch doesn’t solve a problem or create an opportunity for your target then it’s just talk.

I always do the homework. I keep track of what the broadcasters are looking for, how they’re planning, what they have on air now, how their current schedule is performing and how they are competing and I look at how my projects and ideas can create opportunities for them to meet their goals.

Will: How much writing do you actually still do? Is that an enjoyable process for you?

Al: Now I mostly write notes. Some days I write good notes, other days not so much. I don’t write too many scripts any more. For my lifestyle shows I write the formats, the storylines and do a final pass on the host on camera scripts. On my scripted shows I work in the writers room with the writers and spend time on each iteration of each script but the heavy lifting is done by a head writer and writing team. At Showcase I’ll have up to 12 series on the go at one time so all my ideas tend to go into those series and I don’t have much interest in writing after spending half the day on all that material.

I do like writing, more in the room with other writers than alone. And I have a writers heart so I tend to write ridiculously long emails and letters and notes. I can type faster than I can think which is a curse some times.

Will: What personality traits and/or skills do you think best serve you in your work? What qualities do you look for in your staff, or in creative people you work with?

Al: I value integrity, impeccability and creative. But if people aren’t impeccable with their word then I don’t really care how creative they are. I’m a neat freak and a germaphobe so they have to be able to roll with that. I can create a fair bit of chaos so I like order and dependability around me so they need to be able extremely organized. I work with a lot of self described bossy women. I like people to be outspoken and fearless and clear about their communication. I try to balance out the dreamers and the doers. I can get a lot done but mostly I’m a dreamer. Toni Miceli our VP is a doer. She could run a small country.

And I can’t stress enough – the quality of being able to keep your word. Some people think they can get away with being flakey but they can’t. Many of the key people on our team have been together for eight years because there is such a high degree of trust. Production is hard enough without having to worry about trusting the people you’re working with.

Will: Note to self...tone down my flakey!



Juniper said...

Don't apologize for the length. It's all good.

Now to absorb the words and work them into my life!

Anonymous said...

Does Al only do half hours and lifestyle programing or is he interested in one hour dramas as well?

CAROLINE said...

I recently heard Al say:

"We are a half hour company. That's what we do."

Don't think they are in the one hour business as Magee ... he does consult on one hours, though.

Kelly J. Compeau said...

I define 'flakey' as eccentric, which I am. I'm a silly, goofy chick with some really weird obsessive-compulsive habits who likes to dress in Goth garb to go grocery shopping. But when I make a promise, I deliver the goods. No screwing around on the job!

This has been a very interesting and informative interview, Will. Thanks for doing it -- and thanks to Al, too, of course.