Five Steps To Pitching Success

If you’re going to pitch your script you’re going to need certain materials: a killer logline, a short pitch that captures the essence of your story, and a two page treatment that shows how it all works in relation to your character’s journey.

photo courtesy of cinesourcemagazine.com

photo courtesy of cinesourcemagazine.com

But often so much focus goes into figuring out the perfect pitch materials, that writers forget the most important element of any pitch:  the interpersonal relationship you build with a producer.

Pitching isn’t something that happens between a producer and a piece of paper.  It’s something that happens between two human beings, talking to each other, connecting about ideas, and getting excited about story.

All business is personal.  And all pitches should be personal as well.  So today, instead of focusing on the elements of what makes a good pitch—or even a script worth pitching—I’m going to talk about what you can do as a writer to make your pitching personal, and build the connections that can help you in the future.

Step 1:  Target The Right Producers

It’s astounding how many writers disregard this vital principal—and I’m not just talking about emerging writers.  I’m talking about professional writers, with fancy agents and big mortgages.

In fact, Hollywood is clogged like Fat Albert’s arteries with half-baked pitches, flung haphazardly and repeatedly at any producer willing to listen, without any thought about what that producer is actually looking for, or what’s in it for them.

This is understandable—as writers, we often feel so desperate to sell our scripts, and so excited for the opportunity at any connection that we exhaust ourselves pitching our hearts out to people who have no intention of making our scripts, rather than seeking out the people who do.

A good screenplay is a rare commodity—something very scarcely seen in Hollywood—and something that absolutely every producer is dying to get their hands on.

But what constitutes good is different for every producer—just like it’s different for every writer and every audience member.

As some of you who have studied with me may know, there are proven ways to identify and target producers who are likely to connect to your writing.  And while those concepts may go beyond the scope of this article, there’s one thing we all can agree on:

Jerry Bruckheimer is not going to produce your experimental character driven drama.

Your job as a writer is not to shove that movie down Jerry Bruckheimer’s throat, to change your whole project to fit his tastes or to convince him that this is the experimental feature worth taking a chance on.

If you try, you’re just going to alienate a connection that could have helped you in the future, when you finally do get around to writing that action movie you’ve been kicking around in the back of your head.

Your job is to seek out the producers who are already looking for projects like yours, get to know as much as you can about them, and build the personal connections that can get you in the room with them, at the right time and in the right way.

STEP 2:  Prepare Yourself

Before you ever set foot in the room with a producer, you’ve got some serious work to do.  Use imdbpro.com to research the movies they’ve made that are related to yours, and make sure you’re aware of which ones made money for them, and which ones flopped, so you can pitch your movie in terms of their biggest successes.

Learn about the A-list stars and big name directors they’re connected to through their projects, and make a list of people they’ve worked with who might be right for your movie.

Make lists of other recent high grossing movies similar to yours, so you can reference them if concerns are raised about your movie’s commercial potential.

Anticipate what their concerns might be about a project like yours, and be prepared to answer them when they come up.

Get professional feedback on your pitch, hone it to perfection, and then practice it with everyone you meet until talking about your script is second nature for you.

Pitching is personal, and to do it right you’re going to have to be able to pitch the same script to different people in different ways.  So forget about reading from a piece of paper, and be prepared to read their eyes, so you can reel them back in if they’re losing interest, and match their excitement if they like what they’re hearing.

Most importantly, make sure your script is industry ready, and good enough to knock their socks off.  It’s going to be a full time job just getting in the room with the right producer—and when that door finally opens, you don’t want to be standing there without any pants.

You’re asking someone to make a huge investment of time and money into something you created.  So make sure you’ve made an equal investment of your own time and energy into every page, and that you know for a fact that this screenplay shows your full potential as a writer.

Even if a producer doesn’t buy the first script you pitch them, showing them that you can follow through and deliver on what you promise helps you earn their trust, and build the personal connection with them that may lead to work in the future.

Step 3.  Distinguish Yourself From The Riff Raff

Before you even try to pitch your script, let a producer know you’re not just another desperate writer flinging stuff up against the wall to see if it sticks.

Let them know why you chose them, and why you feel your movie is a good fit for them.  Compliment their work, and talk honestly about the things admire about them as producers.

Quickly share your research with them, so they can see that you’re aware of their commercial needs, the commercial success of other movies like yours, and the stars to whom they’re already connected who would be perfect for the project.

And then hit them with a quick and effective pitch, that captures the essence of your story, and the exciting promise of your premise.

Step 4.  Concentrate On Their Needs, Not Just Your Own

Don’t just recite your pitch to a producer.  And no matter how nervous you are, don’t  you dare read it from a sheet of paper.   Your job isn’t to sell your script in your very first pitch, it’s to get to know a potential producer, and to see if you’ve got something that fits their needs.

Take your focus off selling, and put it back on understanding the needs of the person you’re talking to.  Just tell them the story, like you would to a good friend, and see if it’s something they connect to.

If your script is right for them, you’ll know, because they’ll be asking you for more.  In which case, give it to them.  You’re on the road to building a personal connection to this producer, and giving your script a chance to be considered.

If it isn’t, you’ll know that too.  And probably from the first sentence. So if you feel a producer is not connecting to your pitch, don’t just keep on plowing through.  Instead, ask them about their concerns, and see if you can answer those concerns, before you get back into telling them the story.

Step 5.  Turn Rejection Into Connection

Sometimes you’ll find that you can answer a producer’s concerns, and hook them back into the project you’re pitching.

But other times you’ll realize very quickly that despite all your research, your project isn’t quite right for them.

Instead of plowing through and trying to turn water into wine, recognize that a failed pitch can turn into a lifelong relationship—if you show the producer that you respect his or her needs.

So if you realize you’re pitching the wrong producer, stop trying to turn the pitch into a sale, and concentrate instead on turning the producer into an ally.

Try something like this:

“I can see this isn’t the project for you, so I’m wondering if I can ask you for some advice.  If you were a young writer, sitting in my shoes, and you knew you had a strong script in this genre with real commercial potential, who would you bring it to?”

When they give you their suggestion, ask this simple follow up:

“Can I mention your name when I call?”

Almost always, they’re going to say yes.  And now you’re calling not as one more random writer from the street, but with a personal connection to someone they respect.

And, now you can leave your pitch meeting feeling like a success. Rather than forcing your movie on the wrong producer, you found an ally in the industry, built a personal connection, and brought yourself one step closer to finding the right one.

To learn more about pitching and screenwriting or for information on my upcoming Costa Rica Screenwriting Retreat, please visit my website, WriteYourScreenplay.com.

And make sure to check out my exciting upcoming seminars at the Screenwriters World Conference East in NYC, April 5-7th:

The Art of the Pitch
April 5th at 5pm (included with your ticket).

The Myth of Three-Act Structure
(or, Why Am I Lost In the Second Act?)

April 7th at 10am (included with your ticket)

BOOTCAMP:  Perfect Your Pitch.
April 5th at 9am (extra fee).
(sign up when you register)

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2 thoughts on “Five Steps To Pitching Success

  1. Michael O'Daniel

    Outstanding piece. A valuable reminder that writing is only part of the job — selling is the more important. Writing can be fixed. A blown sale can’t. Many great points here, but the most important of all: WIIFM. (Put yourself in the buyer’s shoes and ask, “What’s in it for me?”) And you can never be too well prepared. Thanks for the insight about the critical importance of good research before scheduling the pitch.

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