Writing a screenplay is only part of the job of a screenwriter. The rest is hustling. Whether you’re pitching your own film and TV projects or pitching your take on somebody else’s material, pitching is part of the script writing game.
The anatomy of a pitch session contains the following vital elements:
Make it memorable and ensure it conveys the genre and the essence of your story. A good example is ‘The Forty Year Old Virgin”. Some obscure titles such as “Scanner Darkly” and “Men Who Stare At Goats” are risky because they lend themselves more to indie cinema.
This is really important, especially for high concept screenplays. It instantly helps a producer visualize your idea as a movie. Consider the film Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind. The unique idea of this movie is two people get their memories of their relationship erased to ease the pain of breaking up. Pretty cool, huh?
Pitch your project as one, possibly two genres. If your screenplay doesn’t have a predominant genre, it suggests it’s unfocussed and trying to be all things to all audiences. Take note of hybrid genres such as bromance, tragicomedy and dramedy, especially if it applies to your story.
Reduce your story to between one and five sentences; ideally one. Add a hook, such as “imagine if a lawyer was forced to tell the truth in order to win back his son’s respect”. Hooks add producer interest by reconciling originality and familiarity. Different but same.
This refers to the character arc and gives the producer an idea of how your story is likely to be executed.
Pitching your screenplay in a meeting
PITCH MEETINGS – DOs
- Ask producer what they are looking for before your meeting. Their preferences are likely to change depending on the marketplace and their slate.
- Scattergun pitch multiple projects if you can. Aim for at least 3, but go for 6 to 10 if you speak quickly. Squeeze in 2-3 projects in a 5 minute slot. However, you need to slow down if the producer is interested and wants you to expand.
- Gauge the producer’s response. A rejection is rarely personal. They may have tried to set up a similar project in the past or setting one up currently.
- Be enthusiastic. If you’re not passionate about your project, why should anyone else be? Be real. Be authentic. How does your worldview shape this story?
- Be calm and relaxed. Funnily enough, most producers are human beings and understand your anxieties. In turn, they need to pitch to financiers too.
- Establish rapport as a writer. Even if all your projects are rejected, you need to leave an impression that you are professional. Be flexible with changes. For instance a producer might have access to a particular location or tax breaks that need to be incorporated into your screenplay
- Bring art work if it’s a comic book or graphic novel.
- Ask if there are any questions? At this point you can assess the producer’s interest and whether you have successfully pitched your movie idea.
- Send a thank you note after your meeting. It creates a paper trail and is courteous.
- Know that 9 times out of 10 pitches don’t result in a sale.
- Be confident rather than arrogant. Even if they don’t buy your pitch, they may hire you for open writing assignments.
PITCH MEETINGS – DO NOT DOs
- Drink, eat, chew gum or smoke. Don’t laugh. It has happened.
- Read from your notes.
- Be rigid, boring and cliched. Modulate your voice. Talk with your hands.
- Be desperate, needy or clingy.
- Use props. The jury’s still out on this one, but generally I advise against it. I’ve heard stories of people pitching in animal costumes and diving suits. Unfortunately the gimmick is remembered, but not you or your project. Having said that, if you’re pitching “Avatar” or “Shrek”, a poster will help the producer visualize the film.
- Over-memorize your pitch. If you’re interrupted or you forget your place, you’re toast. Have a mental outline of your pitch but don’t sound like a telemarketer.
- Forget to practise. Try practising in the mirror, on tape or to other people. An under rehearsed pitch can be as disastrous as an over rehearsed one.
- Neglect to answer questions. Some of the questions may not relate to your story. Producers commonly ask who you see playing the main role.
- Repitch rejected projects unless specifically asked to do so. Producers will remember and won’t be impressed.
- Argue. If they don’t like your pitch, accept it and move on. Viva La Difference!
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