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Monday, November 22, 2010

5 Pitching Tips

It must be *that* time of year again when Screenwriting students have to pitch projects, because I've had a bunch of emails, tweets and messages asking about my "top tips" - and it suddenly occurred to me I have not actually written a formal post about this, which is a tad remiss of me.

First off, I should say that I'm at best, a competent pitcher and like everyone else, have had some triumphs and some UNBELIEVABLE DISASTERS THAT WILL CAUSE ME EMBARRASSMENT FOREVER. Like the time I arrived at a well-known theme park for a script meeting (yes really) and before I even got through the door (never mind pitch), I had beheaded a dummy/statue of an equally well-known figure by hooking my bag on him and basically THROWING him down the stairs ahead of me. Ground - swallowed. Though I did get the gig.

My friends and Bang2writers frequently pitch me via email, my pages, by calling me etc in a "what do you think of this?" way and of course I've heard other people's pitches at various meetings before. And I've READ stacks and stacks, especially one pagers, though also query letters on occasion too. Reading scripts and trying to "boil down" a script's concept to a logline too is a handy reverse way of looking at work and their central concepts too, I'd say.

However, just recently I was lucky enough to listen to other people's pitches in a more formal, timed setting during the speed pitching event at London Screenwriters Festival. If you've never speed pitched (putched? ; ), basically it's just like this - producer/agent/script editors etc at tables; you plonk down in front of them and pitch; once your five minutes is up, you move on to the next one. If you're lucky, that last person you've pitched to might invite you to send them your script or at least a one pager. A nice, simple set up but of course terrifying for the pitchers (and occasionally for the pitchees too, I would imagine).

So, based on this experience - which is mine, not anyone else's - I'd say:

1) Know your logline inside out. Knowing the central concept yourself and relaying it as clearly as possible is an absolute must, don't make the person you're pitching to have to guess. What's more, you can relay your logline as formally or informally as you like, it really doesn't matter; no one is ever going to jump on you for being prepared, so if you have to read out your logline 'cos of nerves, where's the harm? Remember though: a logline is not a tagline.

2. Don't forget to tell your pitchee what your project IS. Really obvious here, but I often finding myself asking things like, "Is it for television or film?" Occasionally people will say, "Both", but I think that's a bit of a cop out as knowing exactly *what* your project is gives us clues about its identity, which remember is not to be underrated. From here you might get asked a bit about the project's genre or its audience - so if it's for TV, what sort of slot are we looking at? Is it a returning drama, continuing drama or serial? If it's a film, what kind of certificate do you envisage and why? Who is your audience? What types of things have they watched before? Why would they like your project? BUT I've heard people don't like hearing stuff like "JAWS MEETS PITCH BLACK". This might be true, though to be honest I don't think I've knowingly met people who absolutely hate using this device. One note of caution I would issue with it - just sticking two movies/shows together does not necessarily "inform" us what your movie/show is "like", who its audience is or why they might like your project. I would be more inclined to say something like, "The audience who might like this movie are the types who may have watched the likes of [two or three similar movies], are in this [age range] and may have read books like [1 or 2 books]", plus any other useful demographical information that can illustrate the interests of this audience - ie. you have done your research.

3. Do I bring any extras with me? I think this depends on the context. As I mentioned on the London Screenwriters Blog, don't ever press scripts or USBs into the hands of others, unsolicited. If a speed pitching session, I don't see anything wrong with giving your pitchee a one pager, though I think it's polite to ask first. If you're doing a more formal pitch and have been told you can bring props, one pagers, mood boards or powerpoint, then ALWAYS DO SO, because such things can make you less self conscious and thus feed into helping your confidence and focus; they also help others to "visualise" your project better. But keep it as simple as possible and don't overload people. Oh - and if in doubt, ask what you can bring.

4. Don't get caught up in the plot. Remember, you're pitching a project your pitchee has NOT READ YET. Whilst this is mindnumbingly obvious, it's VERY easy to lapse into "and this happens... and then this happens... and then this happens..." as part of your pitch. The pitchee is more than likely going to zone out, because it's difficult to focus on the comings and goings of a story you haven't got the "bigger picture" on, if that makes sense. Instead of going for the smaller details then, give us a "sense" of the WHOLE. Lots of pitching people recommend "selling the sizzle, not the steak" - and this is what they mean by this: logline, characters, goals, genre, audience, *that* type of stuff, not the ins and outs of the plot.

5. Calm down. It's very easy to get het up when pitching and unexpected things *do* happen; once at a pitching event I shook someone's hand as I was sitting down, missed my chair, fell to the floor AND pulled them over the table so the (rather rickety!) table collapsed. It was very, very embarrassing. But hey, the producer in question will always remember me. But hopefully this kind of calamity will not befall you and all you'll get is a case of chronic nerves. If this happens, don't panic. If your mind goes blank or you start stuttering or whatever, just be truthful and say you need a moment to compose yourself. No one's going to think any the less of you.

For anyone who wants it, here is the model pitch I often provide for those who ask me:

Hi, I'm [name, a little bit of relevant b.g - one/two sentences max]. I'm here today to pitch a [genre of project/title of project], it's a [TV script/Film script/web series/whatever]. The logine is [logline] and it's aimed at [audience + why].

Obviously depending on the context/time you have (and whether you have props or other people with you), you can expand or reduce it to fit. I think it encapsulates those burning questions a pitchee *might* have about your project, which means in the questions/feedback part you can talk in more detail about the project, rather than chase after any important, yet missing elements you didn't cover in the first instance.



Rach said...

To stop the initial mind numbing moment I make sure I know the first line I will say. Once underway momentum takes over.

Also I try to keep the pitch in tone with the script. So no jokes for a drama and avoid deadpan for comedy.

That doesn't mean I come armed with custard pies though. I'd just eat them on the way to avoid any nerves. It still has to be businesslike.

It's gone down well for me so far but that might just be the audiences I've pitched to.

jazad said...

John August had some good advice re: pitching during his live call at the LSWF.
Practice by trying to convince a friend to go see a film that you have seen and liked.
Take note of the key moments that you mention in the story, and the methods you use to influence them, and apply them to your own scripts.
Hope this makes sense.

jazad said...

What a strange sensation! I'm about to leave a comment and I notice that the last comment here was from me. What's worse is that I don't even remember posting it or its contents.
Nevermind. The only thing I would add is that like everything else in life, you should have specific goals. For example, I'm assuming that the goal for most writers in a pitch session is to get the producer, agent, executive to read their script. Thank you, and have a nice day.