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Ask the Expert - The Pro Pitch Method

Question: How does a relative newbie “wow” with their pitch like a pro?

Answer: At the core of every story is a beating heart. The beating heart is initially the writer, unleashing his or her vision onto the blank page. And, next, the beating heart is the excited pulse of the director or producer or executive who believes in the unique vision of the writer. Finally, the beating heart is of a totally engaged audience member – who is having a compelling, thrilling or hilarious emotional experience as a result of the writer’s story as it unfolds on the big screen. And the beat goes on – hopefully reaping box office returns.

But it all starts with the writer’s passion.

Whether you are a professional writer or a new writer just starting out of the gate, every writer needs to learn how to infuse a professional sales pitch with the pulse of passion.

When the pro pitches a story there is a sense that the character is alive and the buyer can see it, feel it and wants to “get into bed” with the project (i.e. option or buy it) based on the following:

  1. Vitality of the pitch
  2. Professional demeanor of the person pitching
  3. Commerciality of the premise.

The presentation, whether on paper (“paper pitch”) or pitched verbally (“the pitch”) carries with it a FEELING of confidence. It exudes professionalism, vitality and commerciality.

“Not every professional writer is necessarily a good pitcher and sometimes even a great pitch doesn’t mean a writer can deliver on the page.”

- Marilyn R. Atlas, Manager/Producer

And sometimes an aspiring writer can be a fabulous pitcher, hitting it out of the park the very first pitch. But, pitching is an acquired skill that can be learned.

The real question here is how does a relative newbie “wow” with their pitch like a pro? There is no standardized way to pitch. The Pro-Pitch Method is really about an attitude of confidence coupled with knowing what content the buyer is prepared to hear.

I like to describe the pitch as a candy wrapper. Its sole purpose is to get you interested in consuming (i.e. reading) the product. So you need to be brief, point out those details that make someone want to read the script. But many writers “feel bad” that they cannot give the producer or agent the whole candy bar when they first sit down in that face-to-face context. They misuse their “face time” and waste the opportunity by not focusing their pitch.

Pro Pitch Point: Do not allow yourself to get bogged down in details.

“I want to entice the consumer or the potential buyer with just the salient information about the project. When I pitch it is about getting someone interested and excited so they want to find out or hear more.”

- Marilyn R. Atlas, Manger/Producer

It is just a wrapper, remember?

One important quality that a professional writer has over many newcomers is he knows what the heart (or crux) is of the story they have to tell.

Pro Pitch Point:Have the ready answers to the obvious questions asked in the minds of most buyers.

“Who is the main character and what is their goal?” And, “what is keeping him from that goal?” If you don’t know the answers to these basics, you will not look like a professional during a pitch. If you get nervous (who doesn’t), then perhaps write these answers down on a cheat sheet or 3x5 card or post-it.

Stand-up comedians use bullet points to recall the flow of their routine. My mother suggested I tattoo it on my arm. I think that’s a bit drastic. Just know it. Otherwise, it may suggest -- to the pro listening -- that your screenplay will also be unfocused. Is that something you want? I don’t think so.

When I have heard first timers pitch, it sometimes sounds like the writer (during a badly prepared pitch) could be beating a dead drum: their voice is monotone and the presentation is flat. It is as if they had suddenly become the iconic deer in the headlights.

Pro Pitch Point:Avoid something I call “pitching road kill.”

Some writers, either by choice, style or out of fear deliver lackluster pitching performances. While nerves are always acceptable, checking out or freezing up can chill any pitching session. For “too cool for words” writers, there is no seeming heartbeat within them, no urgency within the story they are presenting, and it feels, during a pitch like this, that there is no oxygen in within the room. Subsequently – no life is being communicated between writer and buyer. The dead zone won’t usually get you results. Also, devouring spiked brownies, two martinis or a case of beer pre-pitch is not suggested. Stay alert and energized.

Pro Pitch Point: Review your pitching presentation.

Practicing your pitch so you are comfortable in front of potential representative or a buyer is a must. Do not just say, “Hey, I will improvise.” Ask the deer -- Chance is not always your best friend. Also, overtaking or speeding through a pitch is equally off-putting to a buyer. Slow down. Pace yourself. Savor what you have to share.

Sometimes a novice writer will not listen to helpful feedback and even to silent nuances in the room. Instead, they can be self-destructive by getting defensive or aggressive. Don’t oversell. Don’t make them wrong.

Pro Pitch Point:Realize the truth about Hollywood: This is town of individual taste.

One producer may love your story and really get it, another one may “pass” because it doesn’t grab them. Accept the “NO” – don’t waste your time or the buyers’ time. Another telltale novice mistake is telling the buyer what they are supposed to feel, i.e. “Sounds, funny, huh, right. Pure genius!” Let other people say you are brilliant.

New or seasoned writers may often forget to include the theme. In talking terms this is the part of the pitch where you as the writer answer the question: “What drew you to the story in the first place?” (Note: This is the writer’s “big idea” also known as theme.)

The biggest error many writers make is telling the plot versus the heart of the story. An inexperienced writer can often talk endlessly about what happens (plot) versus how what happens is serving the larger issues the story is really about (the theme).

Most working writers have lots of entertaining tales from the pitching wars. One time I literally dressed up as a Yankee pitcher in full uniform to pitch to agent Mike Marcus; I came in with a glove and a ball, which I threw at the agent as I entered the room. It got the agent’s attention. Unfortunately, the pitching pun joke was on me. I think that year he was a Red Sox fan.

Pro Pitch Side Note:Do your homework on the buyer.