Tuesday, October 5, 2010

SFFS Pitch Perfect

Many screenwriters find pitching their scripts to be particularly challenging. I certainly have quite a bit more experience writing stories than pitching them, so I went to last night's San Francisco Film Society pitching seminar called Pitch Perfect to learn more about this. The event was hosted by Michele Turnure-Salleo and Michael Behrens and featured panelists Jennifer ChaikenMegan GelsteinJudith Helfland and Jacob Kornbluth.
I wanted to share the notes that I took during this event for those who weren't able to attend, and to encourage all of you who live in the Bay Area to attend future SFFS events. This event was targeted more to documentary film makers, but most of the advice seemed applicable to all kinds of pitches. Here are the notes that I took, in no particular order:
- Know as much as possible about the company and the individuals that you're pitching to. Know exactly why they are the best people to be listening to your pitch and then tailor your pitch specifically to them. What have they produced that made you want to talk to them and how is your story similar, but different?
- Keep your pitches brief and don't give away everything about the story in the pitch. Of course this doesn't mean that you should conclude your pitch with a cheesy "will he succeed?" ending.
- End your sentences with downward intonation as if you are making a definitive statement. Don't end with upward intonation as if you are asking a question.
- Don't think of the pitch as a "pitching" but as "storying." Parents don't pitch their children to sleep, they tell them stories.
- A good pitch tells who the hero is and why he is sympathetic, what he is trying to accomplish, what obstacles are in his way, and approximately three things that he does to accomplish his goal. Show how hte hero goes through a "transformation machine" and comes out changed on the other side.
- Be passionate but not aggressive.
- Don't use a creepy announcer voice when giving a pitch. A lot of people do that for some reason.
- Pitches are mainly about the first act, setting up the big questions and then answering them only if they ask. You can release more information later as a reason to follow up with them.
- It's okay to use pictures, tchotchkes, or other tangibles to help give people a good visual image of your story.
- Of course, you should practice your pitch thoroughly, but also decide which other pitches you will give (and will not give) if they ask you what else you've written, then practice those as well.
- Tell why this story is personal to you and why you have special access to the world that you're describing.
- Be able to answer these questions: Why you? Why this story? Why now?
- Don't try to sound lofty or formal. Be personal. You want them to like you as well as your story.
- Leaving a pitch feels in some ways like the end of a date. Try treating it like a (non-romantic) date and it might go better.
- If they schedule a lunch meeting with you, then they are probably already interested in your story and just want to know if they are comfortable with you as a person. Treat this meeting in particular like a date and also as an interview for you to figure out if you will be comfortable working with them.
Finally, I want to pass along one thing that I have learned while giving pitches. You know how studios tend to make multiple trailers for each of their movies? Frequently, they produce one trailer for the action story, one for the romantic story, and one for the comedy story. Obviously, these vary depending on the type of movie. The point is that they want their story to appeal to as wide of a demographic as possible, so they make multiple trailers to "pitch" their story to multiple demographic groups. Likewise, you should consider creating multiple pitches for your story that will appeal to multiple demographic groups.
I like to think of myself as a relatively PC person, but what I'm about to say can only be described as sexist. When I was at a big pitchfest with multiple "pitchees" sitting at tables in a big room, I discovered a general trend in the kind of stories that these people wanted to hear. In general, the men wanted to hear the action story (or 'A' story) and the women wanted to hear the romantic / internal story (or 'B' story). See, I told you it was sexist. In fact, in the last pitchfest that I went to, this was true 100% of the time. Of course that was not a statistically significant study group, but I have found this to be the case far more often than not. The bottom line is that it's a good idea to be prepared to talk about both your 'A' story and your 'B' story in detail so that you are ready when people ask you to tell them more about whichever plot line interests them the most. </sexism>

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