A few weeks ago, I had a very important telephonic pitch to make to a team of producers. The purpose of the pitch, of course, was to discuss the potential future plans for my multi-award winning screenplay, “BANKING ON BETTY”. This Skype meeting was scheduled multiple times over several weeks and postponed several times during that time (not by me). It was always something; from power outages to pets going to hospitals and even deaths in the family.
As each meeting approached the set time, allowing for the changing time zones (the call was placed through several different countries over two continents), I refreshed my notes on the art of pitching, and didn’t feel too nervous about the call. I felt I knew the story cold; hell, I WROTE the damn thing, and you’re talking about someone who has sung the National Anthem at a New York Knicks game and who has performed a countless of times on stage. Although the call was made from my home office, I made sure I dressed in a casual, but professional, style to make it FEEL like an in-person meet-and-greet. I had plenty of caffeine to keep me going, and closed the office door to keep my cockatiel, Sydney, from clamoring out of jealousy for paying a little attention to someone other than herself.
The Skype call was placed, and the pitch was in progress. I went in feeling like Nolan Ryan…only to emerge forty minutes later, shell-shocked and angry- at myself.
I blew it.
I didn’t know my story down, at least not the way it should be known for a pitch. The pitch itself took less than five minutes, but the stammering, the indecisiveness, and the lack of confidence and clarity made it drag out longer.
Afterwards, in review, when the producers and I discussed the actual pitch itself, one of them asked “Geno, how do you feel about your execution?”
After a moment of deliberate silence, I replied “After that, I’d be for it.”
I realized that I violated many of my own pitching rules. I had my logline, my synopsis, and even my written pitch in front of me, and I made every effort to NOT read from them, turning them over to prevent myself from doing so. I practiced- a little- and certainly NOT in the way a proper pitch should be conducted. I got too wrapped up in meaningless details, and realizing I was running long, jumped around, lost track and before I knew it, was D.O.A. I guess I felt what so many “pitchers” feel- that the script will sell itself.
I wasn’t prepared for the nearly 20 minutes of personal, friendly chatter I received. In my experience, in most pitch sessions, you have a few minutes to tell the story and you’re out. While I was glad that they wanted to know about me and that they had shown interest in my career, I wasn’t expecting it and it threw me. In retrospect I think that, with all of the previous cancellations, they decided to give me uninterrupted time. I just wish I had known that ahead of time! I also wasn’t prepared for the event of “forgetting” something. I did not have the bullet points in front of me.
So I put together a short list of suggestions on preparing for a pitch session, especially as many of you are now considering attending the Great American Pitch Fest, and the upcoming Ink Tip Pitch Fest.
1. Prepare to respond to the request for a SHORT bio about yourself. Avoid anything that may be too controversial, and make it relevant to your career and goals.
2. Prepare bullet points, with key phrases, that you want to cover in your pitch, but do NOT read from the list. Practice enough to where these points are naturally repeated, not memorized as if reciting a poem for school. Refer to you list if and when you lose track or focus.
3. Start with the title, logline, genre and time setting. Mention the “theme” of your story as well.
4. After describing the main characters, set up the story from your Act One, describe the “impossible challenge” your character faces from the end of Act Two, and provide a specific ending to the story. If it involves an intricate twist, you don’t necessarily have to give it away, as long as you conclude the story and keep it compelling.
5. In review, mention the title, genre and theme again in closing.
6. Do NOT mention any “dream casting” unless asked, and do NOT compare your story to another movie unless asked. Avoid the “mash-ups”, if possible.
7. Don’t bog down in the details.
8. Concentrate on “trailer” scenes.
9. Keep a smile on your face throughout. Smiles can be “heard” through telephone pitches, as well.
10. Above all, have confidence. You’ve gotten this far. You’re not asking for a donor organ, you’re telling YOUR story that THEY have already expressed an interest in.
This is clearly a “learned” technique, and one that takes practice. So- practice! Practice with family members, in front of the webcam, to those in your writers group, to someone in line at Starbucks, to the doctor checking your prostrate- as long as it isn’t a comedy. Practice. There are lots of books and articles on pitching; get them all and read them. When I was doing my research, I sought the assistance of Kathie Fong Yoneda, the author of “The Script-Selling Game”, and screenwriter Robert Gosnell, who provided me his Script magazine article “10 Simple Rules to Surviving the Pitch” (his ten are different from my ten, so together, you have twenty)! They both helped me in some guidelines to help improve my pitching, and I am grateful and thankful for their time and expertise.