On Point: 10 Pitching Tips for Screenwriters
November 19, 2020
I can say without hesitation that pitching my screenplays has been the most terrifying thing I have ever done. I can walk out in front of a large crowd and play piano without breaking a sweat, but when I have to pitch my screenplay to even a single person, I start having panic attacks. Well, I used to. I'm a lot better now. So... here are 10 tips (not in any particular order) that I've gleaned from the last four years of pitching (including those I've learned from watching others pitch): 1. Reduce your story to its main beats. You can't pitch every detail and people have short attention spans. Hit the highlights of your story, but make sure there is a connective thread.
2. If your lead character has an unusual first name, do not expect everyone to understand it and/or remember it. Pronounce the name clearly and distinctly. Do not assume that everyone can understand you, just because it's all clear in your head.
3. Speaking of characters: I try to stay with first names only. If possible only introduce three characters, four max. People cannot remember them. Less is more.
4. Practice in front of a mirror or use Quicktime or other video software and film yourself. Are you speaking too fast? Too softly? Too loudly? Are you articulating everything clearly? Are you pacing yourself? Can anyone else understand what you're saying? I've seen people pitch where it's clear that they understand what they're saying, but I sure didn't. 5. Prepare 1 min, 2 min, 3 min, 5 min versions of your pitch. I find the 3 minute version is just enough time to give a clear overview of your story, including why you wrote it (and/or what your connection is to it) and the comps (other movies/TV shows that might be similar -- and make sure those comps are well known and, preferably, as current as possible). 6. If you do not have a personal connection to the story (i.e. "This is a true story based on what happened to me/my family"), then make sure your reason for writing the story is a compelling one. People want to feel. They want to know why the story is important to you. Tell them. 7. You must introduce yourself by name (even if you have been introduced). You must state the name of your project, its genre, whether it's a feature or TV show (and whether it's single-cam or multi-cam, half-hour/hour), the comps, and why you wrote it. That should all come up front. If you have a fantastic story (30 seconds or less) that connects you to the subject, lead with that (after the other stuff I just mentioned). 8. If you are pitching on ZOOM, as most of us are, LOOK AT YOUR BACKGROUND. Is it appealing? Clean? Cluttered? Is it well-lit? Don't make it a pain for others to have watch you pitch. I saw a woman once pitch from her unmade bed. I couldn't focus on her pitch because all I could think of was that she couldn't bother to have gotten up and presented in an appealing way. It doesn't take that much effort and, like they say, first impressions count.
9. If the person hearing your pitch gives you notes, accept them graciously. Do not explain yourself or correct yourself or defend yourself. It's not a good look. Just listen and acknowledge their comments in a gracious way. Regardless, thank them for listening to you. 10. If possible, research the individual you are pitching, so if they make a reference to one of their projects, you'll know exactly what they are talking about. In other words, come prepared.