HERE’S THE PITCH

A pitch is what it sounds like. It’s a sales pitch. When you write a script, you wait for the opportunity to pitch it to a production company. Sometimes they have already read your script, sometimes not. Sometimes you go in cold, sometimes you go in recommended. It all depends on a lot of things.

Back when I was going to USC Cinema/Television, we didn’t spend a lot of time on pitching. What little we did was usually in a writing class. We would spend the first two or three classes pitching our stories, get some feedback, then start writing our scripts.

What I’m learning in my GLAWS Screenwriting Critique Group is completely different. Every other week we practice pitching. The two moderators, Dan and Saran, roll play studio executives and someone in the group pitches to them. A typical session starts with some small talk, then gets into the story.   The first time we did this, Dan would keep interrupting and asking questions. I kept thinking to myself, how can you hear his story if you keep interrupting? But there was a reason for this.

Both Dan and Saran have worked in the industry and have heard thousands of pitches. First, the small talk is there to get you to relax.   Execs know you’re nervous. But it’s also there so they can get to know you outside of what you’re pitching. One question often asked is what’s your favorite movie? And why is it your favorite movie? They’re trying to see if you’re story driven, character driven, special effects driven, or what.

The pitching part of this group is new. We just started doing it this year. To be fair, the first few people that pitched were not actually telling a story. They were giving an elevator pitch (Two or three sentences) or the premise of their story. So Dan and Saran were interrupting to drag more out of them. The pitcher was laying down plot, Dan and Saran wanted to know what was unique about these characters, what drives them, what is the twist in this story we haven’t seen before.

As Dan explained it, two minutes into the pitch, the exec is jumping ahead. You’re saying boy meets girl. He’s heard that a million times before. He wants to know what’s different about this story. He’s also thinking about the five other projects he has in development, and how he may be able to use you on them. The truth is you’re not just selling your story in a pitch, you’re selling yourself. If they buy your script, they will be in a relationship with your for at least two years. Are you someone they can work with? And if they don’t buy your script, are you someone they may want to have work on something else?

I was taught that a pitch is a presentation. But it’s not. It’s a conversation. You not just tell your story, all of you talk about your story. Ideas get thrown around. Things in the story may change. A script is never completed until its shot.

I was also taught that the goal of a pitch is to sell you script. But that’s not true, either. The goal is to be asked to come back. The first exec you meet with does not have the power to buy your script. So you want to be invited back to pitch to his boss.   Then his boss, and so on up the ladder.

Saran’s advice is to know your story backwards and forwards. Be prepared to answer questions. And if you don’t know the answer, be prepared to make something up on the fly. And she constantly repeats, tell a story. Don’t talk about demographics and who you think will see the film. Tell a story. We all want to hear a story. It’s in our DNA. And she also wants to hear your passion.

What are you passionate about?

A LONG TIME AGO…

In a Starlog magazine far, far, away science fiction writer David Gerrold wrote about being a writer. He often wrote about being a writer, and one of the things he said is that a writer has to be an egotist. If you are walking into a publisher’s office, or are about to pitch your script to a producer, you have to be excited about your story. You have to believe it’s the best story in the world. Why? Because if you’re not excited about it, you can’t expect anyone else to be. Publishers and producers listen to pitches every day. You can’t walk in and say, “Here’s something I wrote. I hope you like it.” You have to walk in with the attitude of, “I’ve got this great story. Let me tell you about it!” Of course, there are limits. You don’t want to be obnoxious. And you want to stop and listen to what the person you’re pitching to has to say.

The point is to be excited about your work. And that starts with writing something you’re excited about, a story you want to tell, an idea you want to explore. Right now, I’m excited about steampunk, so that’s what I’m writing. Some writers make the mistake of trying to follow a trend. For example, zombie movies are big now. But let’s say you started writing one right now and sold it within a year. It will still take at least two years to produce. The trend will probably be over. But if you happen to be passionate about zombie movies, there’s a greater chance you’ll write something original, with a new twist. And even if the trend is waning, some studio might still say, “Nobody has done THIS before.”

The truth is that writing can be a long, hard process. Not every scene is going to be a thrill-a-minute or a laugh riot. Some days you’ll just get stuck or write yourself into a corner and have to back track. And there is no guaranteed payoff. Write because you love writing. Even if only your friends and family will ever see it. David Gerrold once wrote that he writes because there are books he wants to read, but no one has written them yet. So he has to write them. That’s my philosophy. There are books I want to read, movies I want to see, but no one’s written them yet. So it’s up to me.

What’s your story?