Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pitching Part 6 - Performance Style

Like it or not, a pitch is a performance. And of course most writers don’t like it. The kind of people who can lock themselves in a room all day and create stories from their imagination tend not to be natural performers. You don’t have to master the art of song and dance to pitch, but there are a few techniques I recommend you consider.

First, you ought to pitch with energy. I know a writer who gets up and strides around the room during the pitch acting out parts. He’s even on occasion jumped up on a desk. I would never do that. It’s just not me and I would feel silly. But I do sit forward and describe my story animatedly, expressing enthusiasm for it the way I would if I were describing my favorite movie to someone who’s never seen it.

Because think about it – if you don’t like your story, why should they? If you slump back, mumbling in a monotone while you pick at a loose thread on your jeans, they are going to think that even you are bored by your pitch. But enthusiasm is contagious, so get enthusiastic.

Also, be sure you are telling your story in straightforward, declarative sentences. Look at this pitch opening written out as it might be delivered verbally:

So, it’s about this archeologist, right? And he’s kind of adventurous. He runs around with, you know, a bullwhip? And he’s sort of, like, this expert with it. So the FBI comes to him because they’re a little suspicious of this other archeologist who they kind of think could be, like, friendly to the Nazis or something.

There are two problems with this. First, when you pose your sentences in a questioning way, you seem like you are unsure of your story. Is he an archeologist or not? If you don’t know, who does?

Second, you want to watch for weak phrases: sort of, kind of, a little, like, a bit. It’s natural to use these in speech, but it weakens the drama of your story. As you rehearse your pitch, try to eliminate these kinds of words. Since we often don’t even realize we’re saying them, it might help to videotape yourself once.

Look at the same paragraph above re-formed with direct, declarative sentences:

It’s about an adventurous archeologist who is an expert with a bullwhip. The FBI comes to him because they’re suspicious that another archeologist might be in league with the Nazis.

Much better, right?

Of course part of presentation is how you look. A pitch is a business meeting – in a sense it’s a job interview – so you should dress appropriately and pay attention to basic hygiene. Of course what’s appropriate attire in the film business is often different than what’s appropriate in other industries.

You don’t have to wear a business suit. In fact, it might hurt you. You are supposed to be the creative talent – they don’t want you to look like a lawyer! But they also don’t want you to look like the guy who washes the cars in the valet parking.

I recommend you dress like you would for a first date. Something casual but nice, something you’re comfortable in, and something that makes you feel good about yourself.

The truth is, the single best thing you can do to pitch better is relax. But that’s probably an impossible goal. You will be nervous. So manage it by being prepared. Learning to deliver a good pitch is an ongoing process. So just keep rehearsing and you will get better at it.

Next post I’ll discuss how to handle the kinds of distractions and interruptions that might arise in a pitch.


Remember, if you’re going to be near Albuquerque on February 25th, you might want to check out the SouthWest Wrtiers Screen & Script Conference 2012 where I will be delivering a keynote. More info:

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