Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pitching Part 8 – What You Bring with You

The vast majority of the time I rely purely on my storytelling ability to sell my pitch. If it’s based on underlying material – a comic book or a novel – I will bring that with me. It helps the project feel more substantial.

It used to be that, for writers, bringing anything else was considered goofy and amateurish. But these days that’s changed somewhat. Some writers now bring concept art, props, maybe even a short video (emphasize short – two minutes at most if you’re going to show it in the meeting).

My take on visual aids is that if it is organic to the concept it can help, but if not there’s a risk it will smack of “trying too hard.” So if you were pitching a story about, say, an actual specialized, elite, military unit and you had some photos of that unit in action, it would be helpful to make them part of the presentation.

But if you’re pitching something like a more standard romantic comedy, bringing in props will seem gimmicky. You probably wouldn’t want to bring in wedding cake to pitch a wedding comedy, for example.

If you do decide to bring something, it should look professional. Remember, these people make media for a living. They’re used to looking at the most high quality stuff. Unless you’re a trained entertainment designer, don’t bring in drawings you made yourself. And if you shoot a video, it shouldn’t be something you made with your mini-DV camera in your back yard.

(Note: Directors are far more likely to bring in visual aids for a pitch. But the standard of professionalism still applies.)

Leave Behinds

Far more common for writers is the “leave behind.” This is a printed, one-page summary of your pitch that you leave with the executive or producer you’ve pitched to. The reason you might want to do this is that the person you pitched to may have to pitch your idea to other people at the company before deciding whether to move forward. Giving them a leave behind helps them do this better.

Of course it also gives those mysterious other people something to reject. Many writers refuse to do leave behinds because they would rather get called in to redo the pitch themselves for the other execs. There’s no guarantee that will happen, of course, but it’s more likely if you haven’t given a convenient summary for them to read instead. Or that’s the theory, anyway.

Personally I don’t do leave behinds. But sometimes I’m asked if I can provide a summary. In those cases I’ll do a one pager and send it along after the meeting. But only one page – I don’t want to get into a situation where I’m developing a treatment for free.

Sometimes people do outrageous things to try to make an impression. And sometimes it works. But usually it doesn’t. Microsoft famously had the Halo script delivered to studios by a man dressed in costume as the main character. People in Hollywood still snicker about that.

My advice is to just be professional. Ultimately you will succeed or fail based on your ability to tell a compelling story. Focus on crafting and rehearsing the verbal part of your pitch rather than trying to devise intricate gimmicks.


One week left until the SouthWest Wrtiers Screen & Script Conference where I will be delivering a keynote. More info:

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