Welcome to the Movie Pitch Pro Guide To Pitching Your Movie To The Right People, The Right Way! This weeks special Guest Interview is with longtime Hollywood Producer and Writer Jordan Kessler (Lee Daniels' The Butler)
I remember the very first film set I ever stepped foot on. Unlike most people, I didn’t have to journey to Hollywood to experience it. Hollywood came to me. I was just 10 years old when my tiny, rural New Hampshire hometown became the location for the major motion picture On Golden Pond. I remember being struck by a magical feeling that something special was happening. The town was abuzz with the excitement of hosting Henry Fonda and Kathryn Hepburn. It gave us goose bumps just to be around the set. The cameras. The lights. Our small town's population nearly doubled with all the crew and talent that had come to work on the film. Business was booming and we were the envy of the state! It was truly a wonderful summer and as it turns out, it was a wonderful film, but it didn’t require magic to get made. It would take ten years and the first half of my career for me to finally figure out what it was that got that film green lit... Salesmanship.
Like any industry, the film industry is driven by sales. It is the single most important process that determines the success of a film project. Even if you're making an obscure little art film, you still have to sell your creation. From Script to screen, making a film involves the pitching and selling of the creative over and over again. The process may start with selling your screenplay, but it doesn't end there, it will have to be sold to:
- Production Companies
- Talent Agents, Actors
- Finance Institutions
- Foreign Sales Reps
- Foreign Distributors
- Domestic Distributors
- TV Buyers
- Streaming Buyers
- The Audience
Now THAT’S a lot of selling! And it all begins with you.
Over the course of my career, I have worked primarily in Film Finance. I have arranged all or part of the financing for a dozen films. Been a partner at a company that placed the equity financing in a Golden Globe winning film, Directed films with A-List actors that were released worldwide, and over the course of those 20 years put my blood sweat and tears into countless great projects that we simply couldn’t get across the finish line. All of this experience has led me to understand in great detail, the script pitching process from the buyer side. Now, I don’t have any magic tricks up my sleeve to turn you into Steven Spielberg overnight, but I do want to share some fundamentals that should help us all keep working!
The first rule of a good pitch is very simple... Convey the right information in a concise and compelling way. I can’t tell you how many times I have read or been pitched a film project that only presented the creative details of the script. Which is important, and sometimes fun – but isn’t really the information I need from the first pitch. I need you to cover a few things before you give me a 10-minute description of the lead characters off-screen backstory. Mainly these things:
- Story Type
- Budget Level
- Target Audience
Until I know these things, I have no idea if I can help get your movie made, no matter how much I may enjoy hearing about the psychic cat from the third act. I am listening for the answers to these simple things:
- Is it the type of film I want to make?
- Can I get the film financed?
- Can I sell this movie to the companies and individuals I do business with?
In last week's article, I shared how the Movie Pitch Pro app was born. As I spent time using the app for my own career, I began to see how the Film DNA directly corresponds to a good pitch. I realized I could answer the key questions a buyer like me is going to have at the start of a pitch meeting, so long as I focused in on the right information.
The second rule of a good pitch is: Know the person you are pitching to. Movie Pitch Pro is a fast and easy way to get relevant historical data that will provide all of the information you need to prepare for your pitch meetings. When you go into a pitch meeting, you should know everything you can about the person you are pitching to. It will help you speak intelligently about their company and project history.
The third rule of a good pitch is: Overcome Objections. No matter how good your film idea is, there will always be some resistance in the sales process. The key to good sales is being prepared with informed, quality responses to these objections. Imagine how a pitch might go if you were able to overcome some of the buyers objections within the first 90 seconds of your pitch, eliminating some of their reasons not to buy your script. When you use the analytics in the Movie Pitch Pro app, you’ll be able to overcome objections from buyers before they are even raised!
There are a few really great sources to help you refine your sales skills. We suggest Stephanie Palmer's “Good In A Room.” Movie Pitch Pro is a great research tool that will give you a targeted list of buyers and sellers that will be interested in your project. But more important, it helps you understand how to sell it to them!
I recently sat down with a buddy of mine, Jordan Kessler, who has been on the seller and buyer side of pitch meetings for a long time. And he has done pretty well doing both. You may have seen a recent effort of his. He was an Executive Producer on Lee Daniels’ The Butler. He and I met up at one of our regular spots.
Derek: You have been pretty busy lately. You're coming off of The Butler, you just wrote, directed and starred in a film that did pretty well for itself. Tell us, what’s next?
Jordan: I produced Kevin Smith's new movie and I’ve been focusing on writing.
Derek: Before you became a world-class executive producer, producer, director, writer, actor, you were a very successful post-production supervisor. Tell us about how you made that transformation and what it took to do it successfully.
Jordan: Post Production Supervision is basically producing the post-production process. So a lot of the skill sets you acquire can be applied to producing. I made the transition by moving to a state that was offering tax credits and being a sort of “big fish in a small pond.” But truthfully, I was more of a goldfish in a bowl. But I was the only goldfish, so I got to produce. Once I had enough small credits under my belt, I moved back to LA and tried to step up my game.
Derek: How integral to your success would you say your sales ability has been?
Jordan: Selling is not just how you make money on a film—it’s how you get a film made. As an indie producer, you are selling SOMETHING every step of the process. You are selling a script to actors and directors, you are selling actors to investors, you are selling all the time.
Derek: Can you share any keys to good sales you may have figured out over the course of your career?
Jordan: Information. The more of it you have to back up your case the better off you are. It’s not everything, but it cuts down on the shucking and jiving. If you have the data to support your pitch you won’t have to beg as much. You’ll just have to beg a little.
Derek: In advance of this interview, we sent you a copy of the Movie Pitch Pro App Have you tried it yet?
Jordan: I have. It’s a great way to start gathering that information I was going on and on about. You have to know your target audience for a pitch. The app certainly goes a long way to helping you figure that out. In 5 minutes MPP accomplished what would have normally taken half a day. So that was nice.
Derek: Are there things you try to research when you're pitching a movie to someone that wasn’t in the app?
Jordan: Well, of course. I’d like to see what a production company from my results list has in development. I think that would be cool.
Derek: That is one of the many new features we are hard at work on.
Jordan: Really? That’s great.
Derek: Tell us what you think the three most important keys to success in the film industry are.
Jordan: I think that depends on what you want to DO in the film industry. But generally speaking, you want to have as much knowledge about the players—execs, directors, actors, and distributors as possible. You need to be able to work well with a variety of types—making a film is an extremely collaborative process and you need to have a thick skin. It also doesn’t hurt to be extremely good-looking and incredibly charming.
Thank you for reading the second of a 6 article series presented by Script Magazine and Movie Pitch Pro. Next week, Movie Pitch Pro Creator and Executive Producer Derek Purvis will delve into the importance of researching for a pitch, in a winning Film Career with a very Special Guest interview. Follow Movie Pitch Pro on Twitter: @MoviePitchPro.
Selling Your Screenplay to Hollywood Step-By-Step How to Give Your Project Its Best Chance For Success
Who to Contact and What You Can Do to Pierce the Veil of Hollywood