The delightful Holly Lyons, screenwriting lecturer at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School, and maven behind script assessment service Screenwriting Scriptease, invited me along last week to a speed pitching session for her screenwriting students.
Along with some fellow industry peeps, we lined ourselves up for an onslaught of pitches from emerging writers and filmmakers working on their pitching technique. They had just three minutes to pitch, and we only had one minute to give feedback – as you can imagine, it was a fairly intense affair! I heard 12 pitches in total, ranging from comedy series to horror features to factual entertainment formats. It was great!
The process was a great reminder of how frenetic and daunting pitching can be, particularly when you’re starting out. So I thought I’d share some thoughts I’ve picked up over the years on what to consider when you’re next out pitching your latest project:
Stick to the ‘Big Picture’. The temptation to blurt out too much information is so strong, especially for newbies – but try not to! A pitch is not an excuse to talk through your story – it’s a hard sell. It a teaser of what you have to offer – what is the A story and what makes it so enticing and great. Don’t get caught up talking about your supporting characters and going into the minute detail of anything! Stick to the big picture.
Who’s the protagonist, and why should I care about them? Don’t get caught up describing your storyworld and building too much context – the world you have created for your project is (of course) of vital importance, but it isn’t what’s going to keep people watching. It is your protagonist who an audience wants to know about, to feel for and to follow. Get to them as quickly as possible so we know who’s story it is, why they are intriguing and what impossible problem they have themselves wrapped up in…
What’s your personal connection to this story? If you’re that passionate about your project, and you want other people to be too, there must be a reason. What is it? What is your personal connection to the material? Talking a little bit about why a particular idea has direct resonance for you can be an engaging way of assuring your audience that you know what you’re talking about, and shows us that you are coming at this project with a unique perspective.
Consider your antecedents. A divisive point (Holly completely disagrees with me on this one, and so do a lot of people!), but I would strongly encourage you to consider two to three other shows that are similar in tone and style to your project. Even if you really don’t want to mention them in your initial pitch, at some point, someone is going to ask you directly, ‘what’s your show like?’ You need to know the answer. Knowing the marketplace is absolutely your business.
Everyone will feel differently about your pitch. Not everyone is going to respond favourably to your pitch, no matter how well you pitch it. Think of books or television or fine artworks. Everyone’s taste is wildly different. The aim of your pitch is to communicate as effectively as you can what it is you envision so that the person you are talking to can give you a quick ‘no’ if it’s not their bag, or a quick ‘tell me more’ if it is.
Be grateful for the feedback – even if you don’t like it. An extension of the above point. When pitching, it’s unavoidable that someone at some point is going to give you feedback you don’t like, don’t want to hear or you think is just plain wrong. That’s fine! Don’t get hot under the collar or start an argument with them about it. And definitely don’t belittle them for it. They’re bothering to listen to you and give you their thoughts – they’re doing you a favour. If you want to know someone’s real opinion, be prepared for it, no matter what it is! That information is always useful to some extent. If you are unsure of something they’ve said, or want to understand why they feel a certain way, ask politely. Don’t go into defensive mode. They are commenting on what they’ve heard, not on you personally! You risk alienating someone who may well prove to be a great ally, and you risk them not being wholly honest with you about their thoughts on your work. So thicken up that skin of yours and hustle!
And finally –
Relax! Yeah okay, this one is hard, and to be brutally honest, no one is going to mind if your nerves are showing. We’ve all been there, we all understand the anxiety and fear. Truly. But in the grand scheme of things, try and remember all you’re really doing is sharing your cool idea with another person. And they may like it, or they may not. If you really believe in your project, and you’ve actually done the groundwork, your potential will shine through regardless.
Would love to hear your thoughts on the pitching process, so do comment below – and good luck with your next pitch!
Image: Our speed pitching session at AFTRS last Thursday! Photograph courtesy of Holly Lyons.