Last post I discussed the two biggest ways I saw writers fail with the content of their pitches at a recent pitch fest I observed. Now I want to discuss my observations on a topic just as important as what the writers said: their attitude during the pitch. What I observed can essentially be boiled down to a “do” and a “don’t.” Interestingly, the writer who succeeded most impressively with the “do” was also the one who failed most dramatically with the “don’t.”
DO BE ENTHUSIASTIC
Enthusiasm is contagious. It was great to see how excited the panelists got when the writer was excited. This doesn’t mean you have to jump around and act out parts or anything. I’m naturally kind of a laid back person so my pitches tend to be laid back as well. But when I’m talking to my friends about a movie I saw that I loved, my excitement comes through in my voice and expression. What would it say if I didn’t show similar enthusiasm for my own idea?
The other thing is you want the buyer to be rooting for you. I found it interesting how supportive the panelists were to the writers who were upfront about their Hollywood hopes and dreams. It’s a tough business and I think meeting someone with a little wide-eyed optimism helps the buyers reconnect with why they got into this line of work as well. The opposite of that were the writers who seemed more focused on mechanics or marketing than on telling a story they’d love to see on screen (more about that next post).
Bottom line, the buyers should be able to tell that you’re talking about a movie you’d really like to see as a fan of movies.
DON’T GET DEFENSIVE
After each writer pitched, the panelists at the event each offered a few words of feedback on their stories. A similar thing happens in your average pitch meeting. How you respond is important to how the buyer will remember you. None of the writers at this event had a full-blown meltdown or anything, but some did not handle the criticism as well as one might hope.
The most common problem was defensiveness. A panelist would start to speak and before they could even finish the thought, the writer would jump in explaining some piece of the plot they hadn’t mentioned. In this event, writers were limited to nine-minute pitches, and some seemed to think that the time limit had prevented them from properly telling their story. Believe me, if you do a good pitch you can convey your story well enough in nine minutes for a buyer to decide if they’re interested in it. In fact, several writers did that successfully at this very event.
Often, too, the writer’s response was actually not related to what the panelist was saying. So the panelist might say, “I didn’t really feel like the character learned an important lesson…” and the writer would interrupt with something like, “Well, he and his brother were both in love with the same woman when they were in college. That’s established in the first act, but I left it out of the pitch because of the time limit.”
I could see the panelist get frustrated whenever something like this happened. The writers usually didn’t notice because they were too wrapped up in their own story and not doing the most important thing at this stage:
When a buyer is giving you feedback like that, it’s important to listen. Then take a moment to consider the suggestion. And if you think there is relevant information that might clarify something the buyer missed, share it. But if they really just didn’t respond to the character arc, you are not going to change their mind by throwing out a bunch more extraneous information. And worst of all was when the writer would delve into some minutia of plot. As I said last time, plot mechanics never sell your story.
This one is hard, I know. Chances are pretty good that you’re going to be nervous when you pitch, and it’s hard to stay calm and collected when you’re nervous. But you’ll do much better if you can keep an enthusiastic attitude but combine it with a little cool objectivity.