How to package the perfect pitch?
A great idea does not necessarily translate into a great pitch, that's an element down to your pitching skills alone. Hannah Gal takes a look at what makes a pitch more likely to succeed.
Why do directors and writers find it so hard to pitch their film? I ask Jerrol Lebaron, CEO of InkTip.com, a network of writers, producers, agents and managers.
Keep it short
"Many writers don't understand the difference between telling a story and pitching" Lebaron replies. "The initial pitch is the overall concept which is delivered in 45 seconds or less, while the second stage is where you stretch this concept out to 3-5 minutes". Many filmmakers try to "cram every detail about the story into just 30 seconds" ending up with a butchered script.
Successfully 'getting the right script into the right hands' since 2001, InkTip.com has for many producers, agents and managers become the first port of call when scouting for fresh talent. Over 250 films were made where the script or writer were found on InkTip. The site's buzzing online market has also led to over 500 writers obtaining pre-presentation, getting hired, selling or optioning their scripts.
What's your script really about?
"The best pitching advice I could possibly give is to create a powerful logline," says Lebaron, "which is why we put together the free InkTip.com tool Logline Lab. It gets you to think in broad terms about your script by asking basic questions such as 'what describes the movie in one word?' and 'is the script character-driven or story-driven?'. It is only once this overall concept is in place that you can start expanding."
If your script is character-driven, follow with a description of your character and the shortcoming that turns the plot into an obstacle. Little Miss Sunshine's logline is a great example: 'A confident but average looking little girl drags her weird family across the country on a road trip to enter a beauty pageant.'
If, however, your script is story-driven, you start with the inciting incident, as in the Liam Neeson global hit, Taken: 'When his estranged daughter is kidnapped by sex traffickers in Europe, an ex-CIA agent must use all his badass skills to track down the bad guys and save her.'
The face-to-face challenge
Unlike Inktip's written longlines which land on decision-makers' inboxes, live pitches demand you rehearse if you wish to avoid an encounter with what ScriptEast's Christian Routh calls "the thousand mile stare".
Speaking of a "huge difference that exists between the pitching abilities of American screenwriters and European ones", the former head of selection at European Script Fund and EMDA points to three key elements that stand out in the sea of live pitching advice currently on offer; "engaging in small talk before moving on to the script, making it as personal as possible and being concise".
Good In A Room author and pitching guru Stephanie Palmer agrees, pointing to festivals' live pitching sessions as "a great way to learn how to pitch and to see how other people do it".
The former MGM executive heard over 3000 pitches before writing the resourceful best-seller Good In A Room, which refreshingly presents the decisionmaker's perspective instead of the seller's.
Who is who?
“Open the pitch by stating the project’s genre and keep things uncluttered with detail,” Palmer advises, “as you speak of your script, do not refer to more than three characters by name, if other characters need to be mentioned, do so by their relationship to the main characters, e.g. ‘Karin’s best friend, Ryan’s evil twin’.
When it comes to the full 20 minutes meeting where you pitch your project to TV or film executives, "acquaint yourself with the five stages of a meeting which are building rapport, listening, delivering the pitch, answering questions and closing". Prepare extensively for the question and answer part of the meeting advises Palmer, as "the Q&A is where the sale is made". Figure out what the buyer could ask and prepare answers for common questions such as, “how did you come up with this idea?” and “what project is this most like?”
It's the same but different
“Remember that the more original your idea is, the tougher it is to sell because there isn’t a precedent to show it can work so use a familiar context and examples of similar successful precedents while avoiding words like “revolutionary”, “unique” and “unprecedented”.
Take David Simon’s pitch for The Wire as an example: ‘...a drama that… will be, in the strictest sense, a police procedural set in the drug culture of an American rust-belt city, a cops-and-players story that exists within the same vernacular as other television fare’.
Knowing that he has a new and ambitious take on the genre of police procedural explains Palmer, “Simon doesn’t lead with his complex, intellectual ideas about writing a Greek tragedy”, he leads with what is familiar.
Stephanie Palmer will be teaching a Pitching Essentials course at the upcoming AFM, as well as critiquing pitches with Cassian Elwes and Tobin Armbrust. The experienced decision-makers will explain why a pitch worked or didn’t work for them, offering a unique opportunity to hear “what the executive’s say about the project after you’ve left the room”.
Preparation is paramount.
Be it a rushed film festival pitch or a full 20 minute meeting with a film executive, in a moving elevator or in front of a large audience, preparation is paramount. “Rehearse in front of friends and colleagues,” says Lebaron, perfect your timing and famliarise yourself with decision-makers’ background if you can, don't overdress but don't look too casual, just clean and professional.
Take advantage of festivals‘ pitching sessions such as Raindance’s legendary Live! Ammunition! and look out for similar opportunities to refine and perfect your pitch.