I’ve been talking mostly about how to craft and deliver your pitch, but of course the pitch will just be one part of a meeting with an executive or producer. Back in September of 2010 I wrote a description of a general meeting you might want to look at if you’ve never been to one. And you will pitch at a general meeting. Pitch meetings - meetings for a producer or executive to hear a specific pitch, most likely from a writer they already know - work much the same.
Ask any professional writer about pitching and before long you will undoubtedly be hearing horror stories. I once pitched to a guy whose wife was in surgery. Every time the phone rang, he jumped. I don’t think he heard a word I said.
Another time the producer fell asleep (not a good indicator of my pitching skill). Once a producer swiveled his chair around so I was pitching to the back of his head – try it sometime; it’s not easy. A friend was asked to pitch to a guy through a bathroom door while he was relieving himself – the guy actually asked him to do it! And these stories are mild.
I can’t possibly begin to cover all of the possible interruptions and distractions you may face. But I can give you some general guidelines that should apply in most situations.
The number one rule is never lose your cool. Whatever happens, smile and be gracious – even if they aren’t. When I pitch, of course I’m trying to sell that idea. But more important is that I start/build/maintain my relationship with the buyer. If they don’t buy this pitch, I want the opportunity to come back with the next one. So don’t get angry or frustrated… or if you do, don’t let it show.
The most common type of disruption you’ll encounter is someone taking a phone call. My advice is simply to stop pitching, wait quietly, and when they’re done just pick up where you left off as if nothing had happened. This works for most types of interruptions.
On a few occasions, someone has joined the pitch late – another exec or producer I didn’t know was going to be there. I try to quickly catch them up on the story by giving the logline, character information and critical plot beats, but avoid going into great detail so I don’t bore the person or people who were there from the start.
Some buyers will sit quietly and listen to your pitch straight through. Others will interrupt and ask questions. Some will make suggestions. You don’t want to let this throw you. Answer their questions, of course, and try to address their suggestions with a grateful attitude. Whatever you do, don’t criticize their ideas! They don’t like it any more than you do, and they’re not selling anything.
Questions and suggestions are actually good – it means they are engaged in your story. Most often, you’ll simply return to your rehearsed pitch as soon as you’ve addressed their comment. But if it seems like they’ve moved into a mode of brainstorming ideas for your story, it may be best just to abandon the prepared pitch and engage in the discussion with them.
Regardless of whether they interrupt or sit quietly and listen, it’s important to “read the room.” This means paying attention to how your audience is reacting to the pitch. If something’s exciting them, maybe elaborate on it a little. If they look confused, perhaps slow down and explain a little more. If they are starting to get bored, hurry to the next exciting twist.
This is why it can be an advantage to be working from an outline instead of a memorized pitch. It allows you to improvise more easily. Of course, many development execs are experts at masking their emotion, but if you pay attention you can often get a sense of what they’re feeling.
When the pitch is over, the buyer will likely not immediately tell you how they feel. They probably have to discuss it with others in the office before they can buy it. Or, they may know it’s not for them and just tell you that right up front. If they have criticisms, you have to be careful how you respond.
If there is some confusion or small issues that you can address, then do so. But you don’t want to end up arguing with them, particularly if they’ve already decided they’re not interested. Remember, you want to maintain the relationship! So listen politely and if you sense it’s a pass, just thank them and move on.
When you’re just starting out, every pitch can feel like it’s a make-or-break situation for your career. Trust me, it’s not. You’ll get other opportunities. So if things don’t go perfectly, don’t overreact.