Pitching is very hard and few writers do it well… but I think that’s mainly because we lose sight of what the purpose of a pitch really is (and I definitely include myself in this). Most often it seems writers are using a pitch to test or prove their plot construction. But that’s not really what a pitch is for.
A pitch is, quite simply, a writer describing the movie they want to write to someone who is considering whether they want to get involved in that project.
And because of that, your first goal should be simplicity and clarity. Yes, at some point you will most likely have to do a fairly long pitch that includes detailed plotting. But whenever you’re pitching the listener should have a good idea of what your concept is and what kind of movie you want to do right off the bat.
Remember the job of the person you’re pitching to. Put yourself in their shoes. First of all, they’re hearing a lot of pitches during the course of a month. Their goal is to find the one or two that will be right for their company. They also have to convince their boss and maybe a studio exec that this pitch is a winner. They are going to have to pitch your idea without you there. And their job depends on a fair level of success when they do this. Also, if they do buy the pitch they are probably going to spend years of their life working on the project so they better like it an awful lot. And ultimately if this movie gets made they will have to convince an audience to come see it.
So while you’re rambling on about the details of this or that scene, in their head they are revising the pitch in a way they can re-pitch it – assuming of course that they haven’t already rejected it and are just pretending to listen to be polite.
So do them a favor and present your idea clearly and simply, emphasizing the elements that are cool and emotionally involving. As my friend Paul Guay is wont to say, “Don’t make them mine for the gold, serve it up to them on a platter.”
I have distilled this down to my first one-word rule of pitching: Clarity.
When you think about your job in a pitch as conveying your idea for a movie in a clear and compelling manner, it doesn’t seem quite so complicated, does it?
One other thing I’ve seen writers do that confuses clarity is include a bunch of razzle dazzle. A pitch is a sales tool, but it’s not a con job. Remember, if you’re in this for the long haul, the goal is to find the right home for your story, not trick someone who ultimately won’t want to make the movie into writing you a check. So let your story be what it is and if this is the right buyer for it then they’ll see that.
But there is more to the pitch than just conveying the idea clearly. You also have to sell yourself as the person who can deliver this idea.
Which brings me to my second one-word rule of pitching: Confidence.
Again, put yourself in their shoes. You are asking them to risk their company’s money – and therefore their job – on you and your idea. And if you don’t seem confident in your abilities and your project then they will not want to take that risk. Think of it this way: let’s say you are interviewing two contractors to remodel your kitchen.
The first has an easygoing manner as he clearly lays out his ideas for the remodel, casually dropping the occasional technical term into his presentation. When you ask him questions, he’s able to answer them and explain why he thinks his approach is the best. You get the impression he’s done this a thousand times before.
The second seems nervous and is constantly referring to notes as he lays out his ideas. At one point he gets confused and when you ask him about a suggestion he’s made he can’t really explain the reasons behind it. He apologizes for his anxiety saying this is only the third kitchen remodel he’s bid on.
Which do you hire?
It’s hard to just “be confident” but two things can help. First, don’t think about the pitch as a job interview, think about it as an opportunity to present your movie idea to see if this person would like to get involved. You should have the attitude that someone will buy this pitch – maybe it will be this person, but if not it’ll probably be the next. Consider it to be as much their opportunity as yours. (But remember, arrogance and confidence are NOT the same thing.)
Second, don’t pitch an idea you’re not confident about. Seriously, you must have an idea that you think would make a great movie, right? If not why do you want to be a screenwriter? If you pitch an idea you genuinely think is great then you have a much better chance of pitching it with confidence. Similarly, work out all the beats of the idea. If it’s half-baked it will show.
Two words: Clarity and Confidence. Not so complicated, is it?
P.S. - This is obviously geared toward pitching your original ideas or ideas based on material you've found. Pitching for assignments is a topic for another post!
P.S.S. - You might want to check out my interview on the You've Got Red On You website.
P.S.S.S. - If you own a Kindle Fire, you might want to check out Nightmare Cove, an interactive horror story game I wrote.