Pitching … Love it or hate it, it needs to be done if you’re going to sell your work. Sometimes this will be on paper via one pagers and treatments; other times it will be in a formal pitching environment like the Pitchfest at London Screenwriters Festival, or for virtual opportunities.
With the festival on everyone’s radar, here are my top tips for those planning on pitching face-to-face, whether that’s across a desk or via a Zoom screen …
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?
The is when you say, ‘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. That said, simply 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.
With the above in mind, 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. 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. MORE: 8 Tips For Perfect Pitches & Super Selling Documents
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.
Model Pitch For 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. MORE: Logline Hacks To Help You Pitch
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.
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.
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.
Long time reader, first time comment poster. As my spirit animal is a Deer in Headlights, being comfortable pitching is the biggest hurdle for me. Knowing that I can take a moment and not have them think less of me was a great thing to hear. And obviously your other points are helpful too. Now if I can calm myself, I feel my next pitch will be more about my premise and not about my nervousness. Thanks for the advice!
You’re very welcome, best of luck with your pitches! 😀
Hi, GREAT article. I tried Googling and couldn’t find what this means.
What does this mean?: “If it’s a film, what kind of certificate do you envisage and why?” Thank you for your help.
I mean certification as in ages suitable, decided by the BBFC (British Board Of Film Classification) – in the UK, this would be:
U (Universal); PG (Parental Guidance); 12A (under 12s only with an adult); 15 (15 years & above); 18 (adults only).
In other countries however, they will have different certificates and different takes on it, ie. in the USA I hear an under 18 can go to an R (restricted) movie, if accompanied with an adult … But in the UK, someone under 18 cannot go to an 18 movie, even with an adult.