Wendy Kram is a producer and the owner of LA FOR HIRE, one of the industry’s leading consultants for screenwriters, filmmakers and production companies, specializing in script development, marketing and packaging strategies to sell and produce their projects. Follow Wendy on Twitter @wendyla4hire.
The following are helpful tips to help you ace your pitch when you have a meeting with an industry executive at a studio, agency or production company or at any upcoming screenwriting pitchfest. Quality pitchfests are great opportunities for screenwriters to have face-time with executives and agents they might not normally get to meet, and do so with dozens in just one or two days. In order to take advantage of these opportunities, it’s important to be prepared so you can make the strongest impact possible.
As a producer who pitches and listens to pitches all the time, I find that starting with the source of inspiration for your project is one of the best ice-breakers. By connecting with the source of your inspiration and initial excitement, you’re coming from an authentic and interesting place. As a result, your delivery will come across in a manner that’s organic and not rehearsed.
The more relaxed you are makes the person you’re pitching a script to also feel relaxed and engaged. Although it is the material at the end of the day and the execution that will make an executive respond favorably or not, it is important to keep in mind that executives want to like the person enough to feel this is a person with whom they would want to work. So make sure you take a beat to greet the executive in a friendly, engaging manner.
At a pitchfest when you only have five minutes to pitch your idea, you need to keep that greeting brief. You don’t want to spend too much time on small talk as you will need to get into your pitch right away. However, it is important to make human contact. If you immediately jump into your pitch without first establishing the most basic of connections, you will come across as robotic and it will make the executive feel uncomfortable. Therefore, it’s important to be personable by introducing yourself and saying something such as you’re happy to meet them, you appreciate the opportunity to pitch to them, you like their work, and so on. By conveying warmth and enthusiasm, you will immediately put your listener at ease and make him or her receptive to hearing what you have to say.
It can also help put you in a good mood and get you pumped up for your pitch. It’s much easier to pitch when you realize the person sitting across from you is another human being. While some executives may come across as cold or indifferent, the truth is that every executive is secretly rooting for you! He or she wants to find the next great talent because if you have a terrific project, he or she becomes a hero.
Keep in mind production company executives, agents and managers receive hundreds of pitches a month so they are extremely busy and not every pitch is of a high quality. Therefore, the responsibility lies with each writer to have a great product and to present that product in a concise and enticing manner. Once you encapsulate the origin of your project, i.e. it’s a true story that happened to your neighbor…or the inspiration came from something your child said, and so on, you should then be prepared to summarize your story in a few sentences.
It’s important to prepare ahead of time you’ll be confident and less likely to lose your train of thought or stumble. Moreover by spending time to prepare your pitch, it will start to feel like second nature. While preparing your pitch, be cognizant of the fact that just because you know your material inside-out (because you have lived with the material for some time) doesn’t mean the person listening is going to know as much about your story and characters as you do. Therefore it is essential to paint a vivid, descriptive and clear picture of your story. Reviewing the high points and writing them down in bullets is a good way to prepare yourself so that you can speak about your project in an organized yet natural fashion. Neurological studies have shown that the process of writing down your thoughts reinforces them. Sometimes when practicing a pitch, I’ll write down bullets or paragraphs in a free association manner several times.
After you have organized your thoughts by writing them down, practice talking about your story out loud as though you are sitting across from someone you know over coffee. Practice in the shower, while you’re walking around your living room or driving; practice with a friend. Unless you’re a seasoned pro or have a successful track record as a best-selling screenwriter or author and so on, I would not wing it and leave things to chance.
As an executive, there is nothing worse than listening to the following types of pitches:
- A disorganized pitch that is all over the place and hard to follow.
- An overly rehearsed pitch where there is no spontaneity because the writer sounds like he or she is reciting the piece from memory. If the executive has a question, the writer can’t respond out of fear of losing his or her place.
- Reading the pitch from a piece of paper. If you do this, you are defeating the entire purpose of the pitch and should simply hand the executive the document.
To demonstrate the importance of preparation, a few analogies come to mind: Many years ago, I saw Whoopi Goldberg perform live at a Celebrity Aids Benefit during the height of her career. Her on-stage comedy was unsurpassed. All of her jokes and timing looked unrehearsed and spontaneous. But having worked for her manager, I knew that to appear that spontaneous and deliver that level of brilliant comedy, she had worked her *ss off rehearsing. From hours and hours of rehearsing, performing, and practicing, she had also become a fine-tuned instrument who could handle any haggler. She was inherently a funny person, but it was her preparation that allowed her the freedom to be spontaneous.
Another apropos example makes me think of the genius, prima ballerina, Natalia Makarova. When she was on stage, she was poetry in motion, and you never thought of her technique because she had transcended it. Her artistry is what distinguished her from her peers. When you watched them, you were aware of their workmanship. But when Makarova took the stage, she had practiced her bars over and over to the point where her technique became second nature and she was able to let go and let her muse take over. As a result, she mesmerized and transported her audience – objectives you as screenwriters pitching your projects also want to achieve. The point of being prepared is so that you can deliver an organized and coherent pitch but also so you can let go, enjoy yourself and take others on your journey. If you are not prepared, you may very well flounder.
If you have fun with your pitch, your passion and enthusiasm will shine through. Even if it’s a tragedy or horror tale, connecting with the genesis of what excited you about your project in the first place will be contagious. So enjoy the process! Chances are if you do, the person who’s listening to your pitch will too! *** Wendy Kram is a producer and the owner of L.A. FOR HIRE, a boutique consulting firm ranked by Creative Screenwriting Magazine as the Industry’s “Best Script Consultants”. For more information about “Pitching”, client success stories, L.A. FOR HIRE services, and how Wendy may assist you in advancing your projects and careers, please visit: www.la4hire.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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