There is no “right” way to pitch, just multiple WRONG ways … true story!
When it comes to pitching, whether via documents like one pagers or face to face (or both!), writers tend to freak out very easily. It’s not hard to see why. After all, what makes a ‘good’ pitch??
Well, a good pitch is that irritating thing – you know it when you hear it! That said, there ARE some good guidelines to adhere to in the actual pitching situation. Here’s B2W’s take on what makes a BAD and GOOD pitch … Ready? Let’s go …
1) You haven’t a clue what you’re doing
This is the thing. There’s no *universal*, expected pitch document. Outlines, treatment, synopses, one pagers, extended pitches, beat sheets and sizzlers all mean different things to different people. Yikes!
So, when you’re asked for one of the above (or something else!), it’s always best to ASK that person in turn what they’re expecting. No one will think you’re unprofessional, just say “So we’re on the same page, can you tell me what is you’re expecting from me in this document?” BOOM.
The last thing you want to do is deliver a detailed ten page treatment, when your agent or producer wanted a simple bullet point list of scenes for example. NONE of us have the time to waste on basic errors like this. So take care of yourself and guard against them by ensuring you know what you’re supposed to be doing.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Give them what they want!
2) Your story is boring (so you are boring)
Lots of writers think pitching is about rehashing the story and telling it ALL. No, a million times, NO.
One Page Pitches are an added chance to really SELL your idea off the page – this means your one page pitch has to be intriguing and interesting.
Even if you’re writing a detailed synopsis / “blow by blow” account of the story (as opposed to a one page pitch), it STILL has to be intriguing and interesting. I can’t stress this enough.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Sell your story “off the page” without rehashing the entire plot – this is what people mean when they say, “sell the sizzle, not the steak”!
3) You don’t know your story at “grass roots” level
Again, I can’t stress this enough. If you can’t “sum up” what your story is about and really grab us via your written pitch? You will not pass GO and your script or novel will probably not get read (the same goes for face-to-face pitches, FYI).
So make sure you KNOW what you’re doing here – and WHY.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Concept is EVERYTHING … so be sure you know what yours is.
4) You’re a potential weirdo
Most writers are scared witless of pitching face-to-face. Even professionals. So first off, don’t panic or think you’re weird.
However, some writers DO act weird when pitching. Common errors are being waaaay too effusive (“OMG I love your movies!”); lying about liking or even watching someone’s work (always a dead giveaway, especially combined with my previous point); and generally forgetting the power of speech and just sitting there in stunned silence.
Avoid the above at all costs. Don’t forget a model pitch can help. Practice in front of the mirror and to friends. It can be your own idea, or for extra points do it in reverse: try pitching the last movie or TV show you saw and getting your partner to guess which it was.
If you stumble, merely take a deep breath and start again. No one will think any less of you (and if they do? You don’t want to work with them anyway!!)
MORAL OF THE STORY: Just relax! Seriously. No one minds if you make a mistake. Just keep calm, for God’s sake.
6) You’re writing the same story as everybody else
Sometimes what I call “Zeitgeist Stories” happen – in other words, a bunch of different writers come up with essentially the same story, at the same time, for *some* reason.
Sometimes the reason for this is obvious (ie. a political anniversary or technological development); other times it can seem a mystery.
Whatever. Do whatever it takes to avoid this happening to you, but if you find yourself at a pitching event with a Zeitgeist Story, take note. Do NOT argue the toss with your pitchee and insist “it’s the execution that counts”. It is not the execution that counts. This is pitching. Never, ever forget that.
So, if your pitchee feels your pitch is something they’ve heard too many times? That is the way it is. MOVE ON.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Sameiness is the ultimate death knell to any pitch. Don’t fight it, or tell your pitchee they’re wrong about *yours*. It’s done, move on.
6) You DO know what you’re doing
Some writers believe they can “only” pitch projects they’ve finished, but this is not true. In fact, it’s a GOOD IDEA to pitch everything you’ve got, all the time, both formally and informally.
The more you pitch your ideas, the more you hone your concept – and your concept really IS everything. If you don’t have a clear concept, then chances are you will waste your time your writing a draft no one wants. Again, none of us have enough time for basic errors like this.
Obviously pitchfests and submissions have the formal stuff covered, but what is INformal pitching? How do we pitch, whenever we can? Easy!
If you’re at an event, there’s a very strong chance someone will ask you, “What are you working on?” This is when you tell them your logline. Ask them theirs. Discuss your ideas. BOOM!
You can do similar on social media, too. Alternatively, form a writers’ circle, even if it’s just via email and do this. Whatever it takes, to get the practice you need and to hone those concepts!
MORAL OF THE STORY: Pitch whenever you can, but don’t be a try-hard. Keep it natural and people will literally FLOCK to you if they like the sound of your stories. Really!
7) You are a professional!
It’s always a surprise to me when a writer (or publisher wanting me to review or champion a book) pitches me something formally that I’m not interested in.
Why? Because I’m very vocal online about what I like & what I’m looking for, which is:
- Short Film (especially life-affirming drama)
- Female protagonists & well-drawn secondary characters (M/F)
- Interesting portrayals of heroes in Action Thrillers
- Interesting child characters (incl teenagers)
- Contained Thriller (and maybe Comedy, especially around “events” and holidays, ie. weddings, Christmas)
- Horror (especially supernatural)
- Properties with built-in audiences (ie. gangster)
- Movies that can be shot at very low budgets (£150K & below)
- Crime/ Mystery Fiction for adults
- Books with a feminist slant *somehow* (incl. non fiction)
- Books about the process of writing, filmmaking and/or writer motivation
- Young Adult with female protagonists (no supernatural)
- Erotica (but not rape fantasy)
- Ambitious novellas & short stories (ie. action/adventure)
Don’t get me wrong, I always like to hear people’s pitches and I’m happy to give people feedback, especially at events like London Screenwriters’ Festival.
HOWEVER, if you want to get me on board and to be your cheerleader, you NEED to have something from the above lists. I simply don’t have the time to dedicate to projects that don’t light my fire & get this – NO ONE ELSE DOES either.
And no, it doesn’t matter that your project is brilliant. It might well be. It’s a matter of time, that’s all – I simply don’t have enough to work on projects I am *not* 100% interested in! Le duh.
So don’t waste YOUR time – research who you’re going after, if you want their serious consideration.
MORAL OF THE STORY: Always, always, always research your pitchee in a formal pitching situation.
Good luck with those pitches!
B2W’s book, Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays will be TEN YEARS OLD in 2023!
To commemorate this occasion, I have revisited book and updated it for its anniversary.
I’ve added a whopping extra 100 pages!! This includes new case studies, plus information on television pilots as well as movie screenplays. Here’s the blurb:
Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays has the lowdown on how to get your thriller feature script on to the page, and how to get it in front of producers and investors.
“First published in 2013, this new edition offers an all-new resources section and a host of new case studies that map the considerable changes of the past decade.
With marketplace disruptors such as Netflix and the first phases of The Marvel Cinematic Universe leaving their mark, new opportunities have been created for screenwriters and filmmakers who are keen to get their stories in front of industry professionals.
This time around, Lucy V Hay doesn’t just guide you through the writing of movies, but spec TV pilots too. Putting iconic, mixed-genre projects under the microscope -such as Stranger Things (horror thriller), Brooklyn 99 (comedy thriller) and Lost (sci fi thriller) – she considers what writers can learn from these shows.
She also argues that the lone protagonist in a thriller has had its day and looks at how the genre is moving into a space beyond ‘The Hero’s Journey’. Case studies to support this include The Hunger Games, Captain Marvel, Iron Man and many more.
Finally, the book considers how the screenplay might be sold to investors, exploring high concept ideas, pitching, packaging and the realities of film finance – all updated for the 2020s – and lays out alternative routes to sales and production, including transmedia such as novels and adaptation, and immersive storytelling online.” BUY IT HERE.