JEANNE’S SCREENWRITING TIPS: Sure-Fire Way to Nail a Pitch

Jeanne Veillette Bowerman is the Editor of Script Magazine and a screenwriter, having written the narrative feature adaptation as well as the limited series of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name, which was honored in the Top 25 Tracking Board Launch Pad Features Competition. Follow Jeanne on Twitter @jeannevb.

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I’ll never forget my first pitch. It was at a Writer’s Digest Conference. Most agents at their Pitch Slam represented novelists, but there was one table for the lone screenwriter’s agent. Hey, we can’t get everyone to come to the dark side. Said screenwriting agent was completely unknown to me, but I dove in anyway. I figured it was time to pop the pitching cherry.

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Oh yeah, pitching is that exciting!

What did I have to lose?

As I stood in his line, I eavesdropped on the pitches coming his way, trying to get a read on him. The woman directly in front of me had his undivided attention. He was on the edge of his seat and enthusiastically invited her to send him her script.

Cool. This guy was great. I could do this. He loved her, why not me?

Completely unprepared, I took my allotted five minutes and proceeded to lose his attention in 15 seconds flat.

As I lost focus on a coherent pitch, he lost focus on me, his eyes drifting around the room. He might have even yawned, or maybe that happened in the post-pitchfest nightmares I had. It’s all a blur.

So, how did I finally master pitching?

I got back on the horse and did it again, and again, and again, at any screenwriting conference I could get to. I must have pitched close to 200 executives over the years at pitchfests, and with each one, I learned something more about the art of the pitch.

I hadn’t even realized how proficient I had become until I had the big meeting. You know the one… when you’re in the VP’s office at a big network. Oh yeah, that meeting.

I waltzed in with my writing partner, and we proceeded to naturally talk with them about our project. It didn’t feel like a “pitch” at all, but rather, a conversation among friends about a pretty cool project that just happened to be ours. Thirty minutes later, we had built an incredible relationship.

That is what pitching is really about – building relationships.

I have found my past pitching experiences to be so instrumental to my current confidence, that if I were an agent or a manger, I’d make attending a pitching event mandatory for any new client coming in, or any old client who pulled their hair out at the thought of being “in the room.”

One day of non-stop pitching is the cure for writer’s stage freight. Frankly, it’s the cure for a lot of fears we have as humans, from the fear of rejection to public speaking.

The more comfortable you are with pitching, the more confident an agent or a manager will be that you can close a deal in a room. Because whether you are repped or not, you will have to go into the room and pitch your scripts. No way around that.

I want to challenge those who are able to go to screenwriting contests and participate in pitching events. No, this is not a sales pitch I’m giving you. I’m talking to you writer to writer. Getting comfortable pitching is the best investment in your career you can make.

If you’re terrified of pitching, then take the pressure off of yourself and don’t think of it as “pitching” or as selling your script. Instead, think of it as a Master Class in getting comfortable talking about yourself and your work, live and in-person.

The only way to learn is to do!

The first one is the hardest, but after you speak to executive after executive, you’ll get in a groove.

What’s the worst that can happen? They say, “no.” Big whoop. If you stay home, you won’t get your scripts read either, and you won’t get any practice pitching.

Invest in your career. Invest in yourself. Face your fears, and get yourself to a pitchfest. If it’s an event I happen to be at, I promise, if you pass out, I’ll fan you awake, and we’ll have a good pep talk before I throw you back in the lion’s den to keep learning.

Hey, if I can survive a pitching event, so can you!

Because I don’t want anyone to feel unprepared, listen to the free webinar I did to help writers prepare and succeed at pitchfests, ScriptMag’s Screenwriting Conference Essentials. In less than an hour, I give you all the tips it took me years to learn and links to a bunch of free screenwriting resources and articles, specific to pitchfests.

If you really want to test my theory, take your cell phone, hit record on an App, and lay it on the table for your first pitch. Then do the same for your last pitch. I guarantee you’ll see a vast improvement in your skills in just a few hours.

Now get on it. I promise, your career will be better for the experience, your fearful outlook will dissipate, and you will go back to your writing cave energized to kick some Hollywood ass.

Hope to see you at Screenwriters World Conference this weekend!

#PIMPtipoftheday: Your screenwriting career isn’t going to happen if you don’t put yourself out there.

Watch our FREE Screenwriting Conference Essentials Webinar Today!

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