Stephen Merchant’s Failed Elevator Pitch

In Hollywood lingo, an elevator pitch is an extremely short speech given to convince a potential investor to put money into a movie, in roughly the same amount of time it takes to ride in an elevator. In other words, the plot or theme of the movie must be explained in approximately ten seconds or less, with only a few words. During this recent media interview with the Hollywood Reporter for the movie JoJo Rabbit, actor Sam Rockwell explained the concept of the elevator pitch to his co-star Roman Griffin Davis as a brief spiel pitched to people who “have money to give you to make the movie.”

The bright young man seemed to understand the concept well enough and responded on cue, eloquently summing up a theme for his new movie with three words: “Friendship overcoming hate.” A lovely sentiment, indeed.

The film stirred up some controversy because the protagonist has an imaginary friend named Adolf Hitler and the movie might best be described as a comedy set in Nazi Germany. The movie trailer looks absolutely brilliant, managing to evoke childhood memories of a television comedy called Hogan’s Heroes, which was set in a World War II prisoner-of-war camp. Like the characters in that show, the German soldiers are portrayed as incompetent, bumbling fools as opposed to the ruthless and barbaric butchers they actually were. (Imaginary) Hitler doesn’t appear to be the only German in the movie whose character seems to be a caricature of a typical soldier in the Third Reich, at least as seen through the eyes of our young hero.

Early reviews have been mixed. However, the movie just won the prestigious People’s Choice Award in the Toronto International Film Festival, and that’s a pretty big deal. Previous winners of this award have also gone on to win the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony. Winning the People’s Choice Award won’t guarantee box office success or future Oscars, but it can’t hurt the movie’s chances of box office success going forward.

Stephen Merchant portrays a Gestapo agent in JoJo Rabbit. He was participating in the Hollywood Reporter media interview with Rockwell, Davis, director Taika Waititi, and fellow co-star Thomasin McKenzie as the elevator pitch concept was being explained to Davis and the very first words out of his mouth directed to the young star were, “What do you think about Donald Trump?”

Prompted, Davis obediently read from the script he must have memorized during media training and replied: “I feel this film will teach him a lesson on hate.”

Everyone clapped. Merchant approved by saying, “This is brilliant.” The movie perhaps, but the interview was certainly not.

When Davis began talking about how realistic and scary the guillotines and scaffolds on the movie set had been, Merchant attempted to change the subject by saying, “Bring it back around to the film.” Davis had been talking about making the film, but dutifully complied with his new orders and mentioned the movie’s scheduled release date for theaters is October 8th.

In a sublime slice of delicious irony, Davis was then asked to pick a random question out of a fishbowl. He came out with this question: If your cast were to rob a bank, who would be the mastermind? Even though the film’s director would seem to be the most obvious choice, Merchant immediately volunteered to claim that role by saying: “I feel like I would be known as the Professor, or Brains.”

When I finally stopped laughing, I began to write this article. I seriously doubt that Mr. Merchant will ever read it, but if I could, I would offer to explain the concept of humility to him -- it is best to let others proclaim you to be the smartest person in the room rather than assigning yourself that lofty title. Liberals often accuse conservatives of suffering from what is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, a cognitive bias in which the subject believes he or she is much smarter than reality would allow. Merchant certainly wasn’t the smartest person making the sales pitch for his movie, because I am a member of his potential audience, and I was offended that a political cheap shot were the first words out of his mouth.

Doesn’t the self-proclaimed smartest person in the room realize that he alienated millions of potential customers for his movie by insinuating that President Donald Trump is consumed by hate? I actually wanted to see the movie before I saw the media interview. Now, I’m thinking I’ll just wait until it comes out on video, if I bother to watch it at all.

While I only represent one opinion personally, I cannot help but think that millions of Americans are like me because sixty-three million people voted for Trump in the last election, and I expect at least that many, if not more, will vote for him in 2020. But my message is not so much for Merchant as it is for the recipient of the elevator pitch -- is this how you expect your investment to be rewarded by actors receiving ridiculous salaries for playing make-believe in front of a camera, repeating words from a script written by others, to anger half your potential audience?

As the pundits often say, a lot can happen between now and the next election. In fact, much has already happened and much will continue to happen. Trump won’t face any serious threats in the Republican primaries. The Democrats vying for the nomination will continue to eat their own. Their most serious challenge to Trump in the last election actually came from Bernie Sanders, yet Bernie isn’t even a member of the Democratic Party. He’s a Socialist. Because of his success in 2016, most of the candidates in this election cycle have veered harder to the left toward Bernie’s turf, and the unintended consequences of that action is to boost Trump support among blacks and Democrats because of job growth under Trump’s economy.

Yes, liberals do love to call other people Nazis and compare them to Hitler, but that doesn’t mean they will necessarily want to watch JoJo Rabbit, where the imaginary Hitler is funny and a friend to JoJo. More than anything, liberals love to hate. And they love to boycott. Liberals can’t even put politics aside for more than thirty seconds to do a media interview, which is pretty pathetic.

I was never a fan of Barack Obama as our president, but while he was in office, it wasn’t very difficult to have an entire conversation without once having a reason to mention his name. Several of my books were published during his tenure. Three of them even won an award. I gave several speeches, participated in a debate, and promoted my books without ever once invoking the name of Barack Obama, because in my opinion he deserved neither blame nor credit for my work. Quite frankly, my books had nothing to do with him.

Barack Obama was not Satan in the flesh. Donald Trump is not the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, either. It was anything but brilliant for “the Professor” to turn a conversation about what is probably a wonderful movie into a political football with a non sequitur. Merchant’s elevator pitch cost his investors a ticket sale.

John Leonard writes novels, books, articles for American Thinker, and blogs at his website, where he may be contacted.

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