One of the most difficult crafts to master in the Hollywood universe is the art of the pitch. Like other challenging tasks, “pitching” is practiced by many, but is mastered by few. Having the ability to convince someone to invest millions in your wickedly effective one-liner is a rare skill indeed. A good pitch can put you on the Hollywood map and a great pitch can change the fate of your career overnight. Thus, in an effort to help everyone take one-step closer to becoming one of the fortunate few, here are a few key insights into “pitching.”
K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid!
It all starts with a kiss. The most effective pitches are the ones that are easy to envision. Your pitch should immediately convey your concept in such a clear and simple manner, that even a four year old, or caveman, can understand it.
One of the shortest and most effective pitches I can remember is the one for the film Twins (1988). This genius pitch was only three words long: “Schwarzenegger. De Vito. Twins.” Those three words triggered a fourth from the studio: “yes.”
Pitches Are Like Jokes: Short Ones are Easy To Remember
Another reason for keeping your pitch short and sweet is short set-ups are easier to remember than long ones. For example, all of us can remember a short joke for decades, but longer, more detailed jokes are often times more difficult to remember in their entirety. Furthermore, studio executives, producers and distributors all hear a countless number of pitches every week, month and year, so the best chance to have your pitch be remembered by the powers that be is to keep it short.
Your One-Liner Must Actually Be A One-Liner!
If I had a dollar for every time I asked a filmmaker if they had a one-liner for their pitch idea, and they responded with a paragraph or two of ill-crafted random gibberish, I’d have a more dollars than I have now. A long pitch will earn you an even longer walk on a short plank, and you’re pitch will die a quick death. Simply put, from the beginning of your pitch, you only have a few precious seconds to either grab, or lose the attention of the person you’re pitching to, so the first words out of your mouth have to be your best.
There is one unshakable truth about delivering a great pitch: your idea isn’t ready until you can hone it into one sentence. Not four sentences, three or even two. One sentence. You have to deliver the one sentence that will forever change your life.
Have More Than One Idea Ready To Go
“What else you got?” Those four words are inherent to most pitch sessions, because like most screenplays, most pitches don’t sell. In layman’s English, “What else you got?” translates to “I’m not buying your idea, but you still have my attention for another six seconds, so use it to sell me something else.” The biggest mistake most people make in pitching is to only go into the meeting with one idea. Doing so makes you look like a novice. It also kills your chance of pitching to that person again (because you’ll seem like someone who knows no better).
I’m a non-violent guy, but if I ever went into a war situation, I’d go in with more than one bullet. Survival is key. Thus, think of selling your pitch as going into war: you need far more than one “bullet” to survive.
Be Flexible, Shut Up and Listen
Assuming your pitch was received in a positive manner, spend your time listening to the ideas, concepts and suggestions that the person you pitched to is giving you. They may love your idea, but not love exactly how you’ve laid it out. The worst thing you can do in this position is say “no way, I can’t change that.” Just listen to what they have in mind. They are probably testing you, to see how flexible and easy to work with you are. For example, if your pitch is about a ”a bark-less dog without a tail,” they may ask if you’d be open to change your concept to “a meow-less cat without whiskers.”
A more realistic example is that the person you’re pitching to may also want to change the concept from a male lead to a female lead, the age of the character, ethnicity, or physical appearance. Just nod and listen. They probably have an actor in mind that would love the idea, and if that’s the case, you could be in great shape. Of course, it’s up to you to decide if you’d rather go with their suggestion and get a sale, or “stick to your guns” and walk out of the meeting empty-handed. Either decision is valid.
Another common anti-flexible mistake is to be married to the city your story takes place in. Unless your story is inherent to the city or country that it takes place in, be open to changes. I grew up in Kansas, so I enjoy mentioning my home state in the stories I write. But, in my mind, only one of my scripts “has to be Kansas based,” and I’m even open to changing that one if a studio wanted to green light it if I changed its location.
Get The Hell Out Of The Meeting After They Say, “Yes.”
That’s right. Once they say “yes,” you need to say, “thank you, I’m excited. I’ll have my representation contact you to figure out the details.” In the event that you don’t have “representation,” tell them you do anyway. Then leave the pitch meeting and call a few strong talent agencies or heavy-hitter entertainment law firms, and say, “Hi, I just sold my pitch Warner Brothers (or whomever you sell to) about five minutes ago. I’d like to discuss having your agency represent me on the deal.” Trust me, you’ll get represented pretty damn quickly.
Furthermore, do not, under any circumstances, stay in the meeting (either in person or on the phone) and continue to babble about the idea you just sold. The simple reason is that the longer you stay in the meeting after you get a “yes,” the more time you’re giving the person who just said “yes” to change their mind and give you a “no.” Don’t laugh, it happens far more than you could ever imagine.
While In A Pitch Meeting In Person, Find Their Clock
Finding the clock in the room will help you tremendously; because you’ll know that your pitch is dying if the person you’re pitching to shifts their eyes toward the clock. Should that happen, change what you’re talking about immediately, because they are about to end the meeting.
Don’t Wear A Watch To The Meeting
You’re probably nervous and anxious, and looking at your watch repeatedly is a sign of nervousness and being anxious. Thus, one way to stay relaxed is to not wear a watch.
Learn About The Person You’re Pitching To
Upon entering their office, look for family pictures on their desk, diplomas on their wall, or any other personal item on display to ask them about. Better yet, you should know everything about them – or at least their basics (school attended, films produced, recent pitches purchased) before you meet them. The Internet is a wonderful tool, so use it! Remember, the pitch meet is not about you. It’s about your idea, and how the person receives it you’re pitching to.
In closing, the art of pitching is difficult to master, but then again, all art is difficult to master. Here’s to all of us becoming master “pitchers”. Thank you for lending me your eyes, and I hope to borrow them again next Tuesday!
Posted on April 26, 2011 in Features, Going Bionic by Hammad Zaidi
If you liked this article then you may also like the following Film Threat articles:
- PITCHING LUCAS
- IT’S AN ELECTION PITCH-A-THON!
- MAKE AN INDIE A MOGUL
- IT’S AS EASY AS RIDING A BIKE
- GOING BIONIC: DISTRIBUTING INDEPENDENT FILMS INTERNATIONALLY – WAKE-UP CALL! WELCOME TO YOUR 2011 “TO-DO” LIST
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