A pitch is a spoken summation of a script with emphasis on the main characters, the conflict, and the genre. However, for you to sit in front of that production person, agent, or manager and spill out your story takes temerity and courage.
What are the most common mistakes that pitchers make? What can you do to improve your pitch and success rate? Remember, your success is based on that check cashing and the camera rolling. Everything else is just practice.
The Top Five Pitching Mistakes
Mistake #1 – Pitching scripts that are not complete, not saleable, and not your best work
Writers are enthusiastic about their own material. It is natural to want to spread your enthusiasm. You may want to pitch your material before it is complete. Perhaps you think to yourself that if they want the script so badly, they (the agent, producers, managers, etc) will pay you to finish it? Perhaps you think that the self-same agents, producers, managers, etc have the patience to allow you finish the product before you turn it in? Yeah, I did that. Burned some bridges along the way. Don’t do it. Do not pitch material until it is completed. Only in that way will you know the story intimately enough to tell it in a convincing way. Also, the producers,’ agents,’ and managers’ time is precious and by pitching something that is not complete is wasting their time and they do not forget that you manipulated them.
Mistake #2 - Tricking your way in
I know a female producer friend who went out on a first date with a guy she really liked. Half way through dinner, he pulled out a script and asked her to read it. Yeah, she read it. No, she did not buy it.
Do not deliver a script or treatment inside a prop -- pizza, box of chocolates, even a ticket to the Laker's game. Your work has to stand on its own. I know that there have been exceptions to this rule, but if you are pitching a truly great script you do not need these tricks. I know it is tough to get in and it seems like it would be better to use some kind of trick, but there are so many better ways to get into this business. If your writing is good enough, the producers, agents, and managers will come looking for you.
Mistake #3 - Pitching the wrong people
Do your own research. If you are pitching a horror feature, pitch to production companies accepting horror features. You are wasting peoples’ time if you pitch your horror story to a company that makes only romance. Yes, I know you did not do that intentionally. You are aiming to get your story out there. But, a little bit of research will not hurt.
What do you do if you discover you are pitching to the wrong person? Stop pitching right that moment. Why? Because pitching a project that doesn't fit a producer's market reduces your chance of ever doing business with them on a future project. Ask about what they are looking for and exit the conversation gracefully.
Mistake #4 - Flashing producers, agents, or actresses with your script
One word – Don’t even think about it. Well, four words.
I was at Screenwriters Expo several years ago when Joss Whedon spoke. After he had spoken and as he was exiting the hall, people (I will not give them the title of writers.) intercepted him with their scripts in their hands. They also threw scripts at him. Hey, those brads hurt.
Mistake #5: Thinking desperation is attractive.
You have passion in your own work. That behavior is something you must have as a writer. You want to translate your passion for your story into something you can convince other people to buy. However, acting desperate in a pitch is repelling. If you are desperate, you are speaking from an internal place of failure. In your mind, you have already failed, so you overcompensate in the belief that the behavior will fool people. I know you have bills to pay. I have got bills to pay. But if you chase people, beg, demand, break down, and even declare that they are desperate not only will they reject you out of hand, they will not forget.
Pitching to an agent and producer – what are the differences -
If are pitching to an Agent, sell yourself more than trying to sell your project. Agents are not buyers. They cannot finance your movies, but they are the doors to those buyers that you will need. Project an image of self-confidence along with your knowledge as a writer and your love of the work.
If you are pitching to a Producer, pitch all of the talent that you have as a writer and as a performer. You need to know your material backwards and forwards. You need to show a great deal of self-confidence and yet be willing to listen to their questions and ideas. Your attitude should always be “up.” Show your enthusiasm for your project in a businesslike way.
A Possible Sequence of Events in Pitching
Say the title of our screenplay
Tell the listener the genre
Give a clear concise logline.
Drop the hook – a brief statement or premise that brings the listener into the story
Stop talking – wait for the question and answer period
Leave the listener wanting more.
Have a ‘take-away’ so that if the listener wants more information you can provide that.
Some Last Words
Three words of pitch success - Practice, Practice, Practice
How you enter a room
How you introduce yourself
How you introduce your material
How you begin your story
How you engage with the person you are meeting.
First impressions are everything – in person or on the phone
Sharpen your performance skills
After 30 days – call
After 44 days – call. Ask them to return script. Someone else is interested.
· Accept the water
· Do not talk business too soon
· Access thoughts, feelings, and experiences
· Start with silence
· Lead with genre
· Embrace the question and answer portion of the session
· Beware the trap of “who do you think should be cast?”
· Save a surprise for the end
· Chose your battlefield carefully
Just remember, most producers, agents, and managers have the attention span of a ferret on crack, so if you ramble or get off - track, they are likely to start planning their next meeting before you're done. You need to engage the listener - tell them a story - Start with the logline and then run through the rest of story hitting the emotional high points – the hero, his goal, the conflict, what is at stack, emotional turning points, and conclusion. Yes, give them the ending. If the listener starts looking at their watch or appears disinterested, tie it up. Have a ‘go to hell’ plan - Ask if they would be interested in another pitch. If they agree to consider the script, stop talking. Make the most of your face time. Query letters are not going to cut it. Have a healthy self – esteem. Expect, even welcome, rejection.
Prolificacy is defined as the property of producing abundantly and sustaining vigorous and luxuriant growth. Nice, but what does that have to do with writing? As a writer you must write. You must continue to write every day regardless of whether you have been ‘struck by the muse’ or not. You must write at least one new scene every day. If you go back a re-visit previously written scenes, that does not count. A. New. Scene. Every. Day.
Got it? Good.
Why are you reading this? Go write!
John still practices screenwriting in King County, WA along with a small rat dog, a mortgage, and a great view of the valley.