An excellent opportunity arose last year to make a telephonic pitch to a team of producers and go over some potential plans for my work, which had already been gathering awards and clout, in the future. We scheduled a meeting and planned to host it over Skype. However, as the day drew nearer, the other party began a pattern of rescheduling our engagement. Something always seemed to come up, from sick pets to power outages to sudden deaths of relatives.
As the cycle of scheduling and then postponing our meeting continued to churn, I revisited my notes on the art of pitching. At the time, I was not at all nervous. I knew the story front and back – I had written it myself. The call was to span several countries on two different continents, so I would be plugging in from home. However, I still made sure to imbibe plenty of caffeine and dress appropriately for a professional meeting. When the time finally did come, and we all finally connected, I was 100% confident in my ability to put my best foot forward.
Forty minutes later, I was devastated by how wrong I had been.
One of the most difficult gaps for a writer to negotiate is between being passionate about the work and being able to sell it. My enthusiasm for the writing had clouded my mind and created a false sense of security in terms of my ability to actually articulate the critical information that is otherwise not immediately obvious to anyone else. The pitch itself can run as briefly as five minutes, but a lack of clarity regarding exactly what you should (and, more importantly, need) to say can make that time feel like an eternity.
I violated many of my own pitching rules that day. I was so eager to convey my raw conviction behind the quality of the work that, even though I had everything I needed written down and sitting in front of me, I ignored my prepared materials and allowed myself to be swallowed up by ultimately meaningless details. Once that happened and I began to run long, I attempted to compensate by jumping around the content and, before I knew it, I lost track of my messaging and lost my audience’s interest.
The Script Will Not Sell Itself
It can be an enormous challenge for passionate writers to reject the notion that the script will sell itself. That faith in the product is always misguided. You pour yourself so wholly into a project and, against all odds, you are not only pleased with the result, but someone else likes it enough to take a meeting with you. It can be easy to feel like once you have a foot in the door, the hardest part is over. That simply is not true.
Your script may be a lot of wonderful things, but it is not a piece of sales literature. You need to be the salesperson. After all the cancellations for my meeting, my singular focus on delivering the pitch was dulled by weeks of postponing and made worse when the producers devoted 20 minutes (just about four times as long as entire pitch meetings usually run) to personal conversation. In retrospect, the pleasantries were meant to communicate respect for my time after so many rescheduled meetings, but that was also enough for me to, however briefly, take too much of my focus off the bullet points I had in front of me. In those moments, I fell too far into the trap of trying to do the impossible and communicate why I believe in the work we were reviewing. As a result, I deviated much too far away from what mattered – fully communicating, as directly as possible, exactly why they should believe it.
Fortunately, there are some excellent practices you can adopt to prevent that kind of misstep from occurring. The proper mastery of these techniques can transform your ability to pitch your work effectively.
- Prepare a very short bio about yourself. It should be long enough to be relevant, but short enough to allow maximum time for talking about your work.
- Prepare a bulleted list of topics and key phrases you need to discuss in your pitch, but do not read it verbatim. Think of the list as a map of what things you need to visit in your pitch, not as a script itself.
- Begin with the title, logline, genre, and time setting of your work. You should also mention theme.
- Describe the main characters, set up the story from Act One, touch upon the “impossible challenge” from the end of Act Two, and share the ending.
- At the end, mention the title, genre, and theme once more.
- Tell the story with confidence. Your pitch should be to confirm they were right to be interested in your concept.
- Concentrate on “trailer” scenes and similar defining moments.
- Definitely do not get lost in sharing unnecessary or small details.
- Definitely do not mention “dream casting” or make movie comparisons unless asked.
- Be positive.
This all demands a significant amount of practice. That can include doing all of the above and pitching to friends, family, and even yourself in the mirror or via webcam. The first step to getting the industry to take you seriously is to take yourself seriously. Make practicing a priority.