Welcome to the Movie Pitch Pro Guide To Pitching Your Movie To The Right People, The Right Way! This weeks special Guest Interview is with longtime Hollywood Actor and member of the National Board, SAG-AFTRA, Joe d’Angerio.
How many times have we all heard that old saying about the film business; “It’s all about who you know”? That saying is born out of the struggles we all face in our careers. I think it is a self soothing catharsis for the answers we all hear when we pitch our projects: “We are going to pass on this one,” “We just didn’t respond to the material” and “It’s a good idea, its just not for us right now.” I don’t know exactly why this saying has been passed along from one generation of aspiring filmmakers to the next so often. However, what I do know is that based on my 20 years of experience in this industry, ‘who you know’ makes next to no difference in getting a film made.
Think about this; if I set up a meeting with you and Steven Spielberg today, would it really help get your project into theaters? Even if I walked you into his home office and we all sat down for lunch and laughed for an hour leading up to your big pitch. Would the fact that you had a connection to him change the ultimate outcome of your pitch? No. It may help a little to speed up getting an answer, but you still have to have the right pitch to win him over and make him want to work with you on your film. You still have to offer up a project compelling enough for him to take time away from the projects he already has going. Point is, it only accelerated the timeline; it didn’t really get you closer to getting a film made. This will be true about whomever you are pitching. Because, believe me, everyone you will ever pitch, spends an awful lot of time hearing pitches from their friends and family. The simple truth is, if your going to get your film made, you have to have the right pitch. The sooner we all tune into this, the closer we will be to the career goals we have. (Unless you career goal is to hang out with Steven Spielberg and never make a movie.)
So, what exactly is the right pitch? Lets start with this; you always have to have a great pitch, but a great pitch isn’t always right.
“…you always have to have a great pitch, but a great pitch isn’t always right”
Let’s assume your script is really great, your in tune with the importance of sales and that you are good at selling. Because of this, you probably have a really great Pitch prepared for whomever you get in front of. Your pitch is very concise, articulate and loaded with exactly the right information we buyers need to hear in the initial pitch. The truth is, with out good research as part of your sales preparation, you aren’t making the right pitch.
I’ll give you a hypothetical example to illustrate the difference between a great pitch and the right pitch: I sit down with a decision maker at a mid-sized production company and pitch a wonderful Family Comedy, with a Small Budget for teens 11-16. The script is great. The target audience is ideal. The budget level is perfect for the type of film I want to make. That sounds like a great pitch! There is only one little snag; the company I am pitching to, makes Family Comedy, Studio Budget films for teens 11-16. Did you notice the difference? The budget levels differ. Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but your talking about the difference between making Napoleon Dynamite ($400K to make) and Night At The Museum ($31M to make). If I am pitching Night At The Museum to a company that can only finance Napoleon Dynamite; I am not making the right pitch.
Budget capability is an obvious data point that we all probably take into consideration when planning to make a pitch. The truth is, there are many more data points that are really important, but often go overlooked. Having the Right Pitch means you have taken all of these factors into consideration before even setting up the pitch meeting. What if your Action Adventure script with a male leading role is exactly what the Executive Producer you scored a hurried lunch meeting with is looking for, except, he tends to gravitate towards a female lead, and your pitching them on Bruce Willis as your star? Or, everything about your Sci-Fi Thriller for teens works, except he only makes R rated movies? You have wasted that Executive Producer’s time, that’s what. It’s this sort of un-informed exchange that ends with that EP never taking your call again. And can you blame him? You wouldn’t go into a hardware store and pitch them on selling women’s lingerie would you? You certainly wouldn’t expect that storeowner to set another pitch meeting with you if you did! So, you have to take the time to learn what the person your sitting across from, is, all about. You have to do the research work.
Movie Pitch Pro provides over 60 points of data for each section within the analytics associated with every company or person in a results list. When you get a list of the Producers most likely to be interested in your script, you also get the worlds most comprehensive data set designed to prepare you for your pitch meeting with them! You can learn more at www.moviepitchpro.com.
Lets talk about another point of emphasis that is critical research for a winning sales pitch; the history of the film industry itself. Know your industry. By this, I mean a whole lot more than just knowing how many Oscars your favorite director has or having total recall of every Jimmy Stewart movie. No, I mean really know the history of the industry. Learn about the history of film distribution, production and how films are budgeted.
Having this knowledge base will provide the foundation for more productive meetings. When you can engage with the person sitting across from you in an intelligent discussion about the business of your idea, the conversation changes. No longer are you an outsider, trying to off load your idea to a company. You become a participant in analyzing, discussing and strategizing how the project could be made. Good meetings like that are not immune to leading to a pass more often than not. But engaging with the person your pitching to like this will put you light years ahead of those that are not in a discussion at all, but are simply repeating the same sales description of their creative over and over again, hoping to strike pay dirt.
One additional thing I can pass along is: you have to stay current with the people in our industry as well. Knowing who the key decision makers are, who the influencers are is critical. Keep up to date with the trade magazines and follow as executives move from company to company. More importantly, keep up with who will work with whom and who won’t! I learned this the hard way. When I was at Paramount, I put a meeting together over a small script I found and that I thought was a real gem. I had a couple of smaller production companies both interested in the project and had the idea of putting them together as co-production partners. I set up a meeting with the heads of each company at a fancy restaurant (that I couldn’t really afford at the time) and arranged for them each to meet me there at the same time. What I didn’t know, was not only wouldn’t they work together, but they were in the midst of an active lawsuit against one another! Needless to say, when they walked in and took one look at each other, the anger and disdain was palpable. All at once, I had stalled a good project with two companies that had already said yes, and ruined my relationships with the heads of two finance ready production companies. If only I had done some research to get a sense of their work histories, I might have had a real success much earlier in my career.
Just as Sales is the key to getting films made, research is the key to selling. And there is an interesting group of people that have also had to master the art of sales to find success; Actors.
Acting is one of the cornerstone disciplines in the business of filmmaking. Their talents and market value really are at the heart of what makes films resonate with audiences around the world. With a good script and a good actor, the medium really doesn’t matter. It could be a stage, on celluloid or in digital 3D. The basic recipe will always require good writers and good actors. I wondered what I could learn from Actors about how to succeed with research and sales, so I sat down with a friend of mine, Joe d’Angerio. Joe is an accomplished actor and he is currently on the national board of the SAG-AFTRA.
Derek: Joe! You recently produced a film called MERRY XMAS, which is playing the festival circuit starring Dick Van Dyke, Valerie Harper, Mathew Modine, and Glenne Headly. Congratulations! Anything else you’re working on these days? (Besides your suntan and your side burns)
Joe: As a producer, I tend to juggle a couple of projects at the same time. This works for me in keeping me active and more importantly connected with the film industry. With my schedule split between my work on the board of SAG-AFTRA, producing and my family life, time is at a premium.
Derek: As an actor, how much of your time is dedicated to selling your talents, experience and, yourself?
Joe: ‘Selling’ is the key word here. A performer has to self himself relentlessly. And not only to the people in the industry that can help them get roles, like directors and producers. In today’s industry, they have to be capable of building an audience through social media. Selling themselves to the public is more important now than ever for actors. We are seeing that a lot of times, when the choice for a role comes down to a couple of actors, things like the number of Twitter, Facebook or Instagram followers can be what decides who gets that role. So yea, we spend a lot of time selling our talents.
Derek: What are the most important traits, work habits or practices an actor needs to be successful?
Joe: Some of this is answered in your last question. Acting at times can weight heavy on a performer. They must stay connected. They must stay informed. With New Media the film industry moves forward very quickly these days and it’s important that actors stay up to date on the careers of the directors, producers and production companies. Who is making what and how it performed. Doing that requires a commitment to research. So, I’d say researching the industry, studying your craft and networking are the big keys.
Derek: Now more than ever, people from all across the industry are finding ways to get projects made. It seems like more and more actors are getting into producing or directing. Why is that?
Joe: With over 150,000 members in SAG-AFTRA, the competition is BIG. This number makes it difficult to stand out. However, that is what a performer has to do, STAND OUT. One way to do that is by figuring out if they have another talent besides acting, like writing, directing or producing. Also – its significantly easier to get projects made these days and so those of our members that have a desire to broaden their careers have a real chance to do that, whereas it was much harder in years past.
Derek: When a member of SAG-AFTRA starts working on a project as a filmmaker, are there things that the SAG-AFTRA leadership does to help them out with?
Joe: Yes. They have contracts and guidelines that protect their members. The protection and enforcement of wages and working conditions are key in an actors professional career.
Derek: Now that you have been through the process, what was it like going from acting in other peoples projects to producing a picture of your own?
Joe: For me it was great. As an actor, if you have paid attention, you will find that your experience and knowledge has great value. To be able to put that talent, and experience and knowledge is talent, into practice is very rewarding.
Derek: When you were producing your recent film, how did you determine whom to approach to plug in production companies, distributors, foreign sales companies, in order to get your film made?
Joe: Well, to be honest, I brought the project to the people I know. I circulated the script and took meetings with friends, people I had done business with in the past. And it seemed like, maybe I wasn’t going to get anyone on board with me to get it done for a while. Obviously we found a way to get it made, but it could have ended up being shelved just as easily.
Derek: What would you do differently to research your next film?
Joe: Use Movie Pitch Pro. I really struggled to find good leads on people to talk with about this project. I mean, I know a lot of people, but once I went through that list, I had a hard time generating a qualified list of people outside my network. It would have really helped to have Movie Pitch Pro. Research is so important, as I said earlier. To be able to use an app like that and save time is priceless.
Derek: What would you say is the key to getting projects made?
Joe: Use good judgment and know the answers before the questions are asked. By all means, be reasonable with yourself and others. But here is the big key that I have figured out over the years, knowing when to move on from a project and when to double down on your commitment to it is integral.
Thank you for reading the third of a six-article series presented by Script magazine and Movie Pitch Pro. Next week, Movie Pitch Pro Creator and Executive Producer Derek Purvis will delve into the importance of Knowing Your Product in a winning Film Career with Special Guest Mark Garbett (Midnight Movie/The Seamstress). Follow Movie Pitch Pro on Twitter: @MoviePitchPro.
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