There are many different pitching situations, and though the content of most pitches is similar, it’s important to tailor your strategy to the context in which you will be pitching. On June 21st I will be doing a talk at the Great American Pitch Fest with Ken Aguado, my co-writer on The Hollywood Pitching Bible, about the art of the two-minute pitch. So today I want to discuss good strategy for pitching at a pitch fest.
There are several pitch fests out there, all of which follow roughly the same format. You go into a series of short meetings – 5 minutes is typical – usually with representatives of 3-5 companies in each meeting. Often the companies will be grouped by genre interest and you will be assigned meetings by the genre of your project. You get to pitch an idea, exchange information if anybody’s interested, and then move on. It’s a volume game on both sides – they’re hoping to find a couple of potential projects among the dozens they’ll hear about, and you’re hoping to generate interest from a handful of companies among the dozens you’ll pitch to.
The first thing to be aware of is that the people sitting across the table from you will not be empowered to buy anything. The decision makers at the company aren’t going to spend their weekend listening to unknown writers pitch – that’s a job for a low-level development person. And unless you are an established screenwriter, nobody is going to hire you just off your pitch anyway.
So your goal at these events is typically to convince the listeners to read one of your existing spec screenplays. If they like it, then they can bump it up the ladder to their boss. This means your pitch is designed more as a tease for the screenplay rather than a complete recitation of your story. You need the concept, a compelling character (or two or three) and a suggestion of how the story develops. You do not want to be trying to cram every plot beat into these pitches! But you should be prepared to answer any questions about the plot.
The other thing to pay attention to is the brief length of the meeting. This means your pitch must be short, short, short! In fact, if the meeting is five or ten minutes, the pitch shouldn’t exceed 2 minutes. You want some time for small talk and to answer questions, should they have any. Two minutes is ample time for them to decide if they want to read your spec, assuming you pitch it clearly.
The small talk/introduction part of the meeting is actually pretty important. It’s your chance to make an impression on them. They want to see if you’re an interesting person… and if you’re insane. In other words, they want to know if you are someone they’d like to work with.
If you’re insane, this blog post probably isn’t going to help you much. Assuming you're sane, though, I would advise you to prepare for your small talk as much as you do the pitch. You only get a couple minutes, don’t talk about the weather. Tell them something that interests and intrigues them and justifies why you might be a good writer with a good script.
If you have some experience or training that gives you credibility (for example, a film school degree or experience as a journalist) then you should mention it when you introduce yourself.
If there’s something about your life or your background that’s interesting – maybe you have a fascinating job or grew up somewhere unusual – that might be good small talk. Ideally what you say is also relevant to your pitch! So if your script is set on a boat and you are an avid sailor, your sailing hobby would be good to talk about.
By the way, if you’re pitching a comedy it won’t hurt if you’re funny. You might have a joke or two prepared – ones that you’ve tried out on your friends to be sure they’re as funny as you think they are.
It hopefully goes without saying that you should have good hygiene. I would also recommend dressing nicely, though not in a suit. Writers don’t typically wear suits to meetings. But you don’t want to wear cut-off jeans and a ragged T-shirt either. Your time is limited, everything about you should be designed to give a good, professional impression.
Some people bring visual aids, props, or elaborate Power Point presentations to these things. When the visual aids are gimmicky, they can hurt you much more than help you. If a visual aid really makes it easier to explain your story, then consider it. But flashy images or presentations will not determine if someone wants to read your script. The strongest selling tools you have are a good idea and compelling character(s). Make those things the focus.
You will want to have business cards – I suggest printing your title and logline on the back so people will remember why they wanted your card. More likely interested execs and producers will give you their card, or even just tell you to contact them and leave it to you to track down a phone number or email. Bring a notebook and jot down information about any interested parties after the meeting. By the following day you will barely remember who was who amongst the sea of pitches. Follow up within two weeks to arrange to send the script to anybody who requested it.
Regardless of how it goes, be polite and grateful. Smile. Stay upbeat. Thank the listeners at the end of the meeting. It’s a long, long day for them, too.