No one knows their story better than a writer, but telling the story in an entertaining way can be one of the most daunting aspects of screenwriting.
You have a few minutes to a half-hour to sell a project you’ve poured your heart into by yourself in a room. Those stories are meant to be seen or read, so the “art of pitching” can feel counterintuitive as a way to sell an idea. But if you know what makes a great pitch and have a great support team behind you, you’ll be able to talk to anyone about your film idea.
So, here are a few things to keep in mind.
What’s the Venue?
Circumstances will change the way you talk to someone about your idea. Are you sitting down for a formal meeting, a formal pitch, having a brainstorming session with your reps, talking to your manager over the phone, or just running into an executive or potential representative in an elevator?
You should always have a one-sentence logline and a one-paragraph pitch that you can rattle out to whomever you’re speaking. Keep in mind, though, that just because you’ve met a representative or executive doesn’t mean that they want to hear your idea. You’re likely better off pitching yourself, your voice, and anything you’ve created, rather than a specific project that deserves a formal presentation.
A sit down with your representatives can be fairly casual but they’ll work with you to get into the finer details. How the conversation goes depends on your working relationship with them. Some representatives and their clients are more casual than others. An executive will always have some level of formality, whether it’s a general or pitch meeting.
Reps First, Always
When it comes to your original ideas, always talk to your representation before pitching to an executive. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that this is what you pay them to do. They most likely set the meeting and have a relationship with the executive. They will provide insight into what kind of meeting it is (pitch or general), the executive you’re meeting with, and the best way to approach the situation.
When it comes to pitching to your agent or manager, it will depend on where you are in your career and your relationship with them. What this means is that some reps will ask you what you’re working on and interested in after finishing up a project. Some reps, more likely managers, may even brainstorm ideas with you. Others, particularly if you’re less established and building your portfolio, will ask for a list of loglines you’re considering and help you choose the best one to fit your brand/voice and the current market.
Pitch vs. General
“Generals” are meetings for an executive/producer and writer to meet and get to know one another. Ideas that the writer has completed or are developing can come up, but you’ll be best waiting for an opening when you hear what they’re looking for, instead of going in with a hard sell.
Pitches are when you meet with an executive or producer and sell them on your idea. There may or may not be a visual component, and the length can vary from 10-30 minutes, often landing right smack dab in the middle at 20 minutes. You may or may not go to a pitch with a producer who is attached as you pitch to an executive.
What to Bring to a Pitch
What you bring to a formal pitch depends a lot on the project and your pitching style. Plenty of writers don’t bring any visual components, pitching solely verbally. A document with the story may be brought for the executives to walk away with or be emailed before or after the meeting.
If you’re writing a genre project, whether it’s set in another world or has sci-fi/fantasy elements, a visual component can be incredibly valuable. In those instances, you’re pitching more than a story. The visual elements can help solidify how you see the story for the executives.
Your visuals can be a pitch deck (either physical boards/pages or power point-style), or a mood board. A pitch deck includes the logline, budget, audience information, a breakdown of the major characters, and the main beats of the story. It also includes images throughout that evoke the visual tone of the world, the characters, and the big story moments.
A mood board focuses solely on the visuals inspiration. Mood boards pair well with the early version of a series bible in television pitches.
Your verbal pitch is basically a more detailed version of the pitch deck you provide. You’ll give the logline, the audience, the budget, the characters, and a detailed version of the story. While that pitch deck includes a visual tone, your storytelling skills should similarly come alive when speaking about your script. You want equal parts passion, story knowledge, and the ability to connect why your story matters to the potential audience.
One of the benefits of a rep, mentor, or advocate is that they will help you get these meetings and prep for them. They can run through rehearsing it with you and answer any questions you have about what to focus on that fits a particular executive’s tastes and focus. Going to your peers can also be a great resource and wealth of knowledge, and you should definitely ask your friends how they approach pitches. But at the end of the day, the people who advocate for you, your reps, are the best support system in this process.
Sharing your ideas with anyone can be nerve-racking, especially when it entails sitting in a room with a bunch of powerful people who can take your career to the next level. But hopefully these tips have shed some light on situations that might be a little obscure to you so you the next time you have the opportunity to talk about your story with someone, regardless of who it is, you can do so with confidence!