You go in. Tell your story. They show you the door.
In between, they may interrupt you to take a phone call, or answer an email, or close their eyes (hopefully in a good way). They may listen to your pitch, ask a few questions about the characters and make a couple of suggestions for the plot. Naturally their suggestions are all fantastic and insightful, these guys know story yeah, that’s why they pay them the big bucks.
There are great articles on the web about pitching from more experienced scribes than me. Do a Google search and you’ll get hundreds. But Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio’s column about pitching was particularly useful when I got the opportunity to pitch an idea to Working Title a couple of years ago. Most of you will have read the WordPlay article but I decided to take its advice on board for my pitch. After all, if it’s good enough for Katzenberg and Spielberg, then it’s good enough for Working Title in the UK, right?
Absolutely. Let me just say that everything that Elliot & Rossio say in that pitching column happened to me (bar making a sale, goddamit). Basically, for those who don’t know (go and read it now), they suggest outlining your pitch on index cards and pinning them to a corkboard. Then you bring it along to the studio like a schmuck (through traffic, elevators, reception) but it’s worth it because the pitch becomes an interactive meeting and all attention is on the board rather than you. It’s great.
When I pitched, the stress level went down as soon as I saw the exec’s eye on the board, working out the story ahead of me, and I was able to relax more into telling the story. Afterwards, the exec told me that no-one had pitched to him like that, definitely one of the better ones he’d received (he was doing a big solicited call for pitches). He really liked the concept and the story, appreciated the work I put into it, and was willing to take me to the next stage to pitch to the Head of Development.
Foolishly, I gave the exec a six/seven page outline of my pitch, told him to use that for reference but subconsciously I was pleading with him not to make me perform to the bigwigs, please tell them what you liked and give them the outline. Well he did, and they thought it over, but they passed. It was a great experience though, one of my first big time “Hollywood” pitches.
Another notable pitch was with Hammer Horror. They liked one of my scripts (a horror natch, not a romcom or anything) but had certain reservations about the plot. I went in to meet the exec and we discussed what needed to be done. After some interesting discussion, he suddenly asked me to pitch him the potential new story for the script. My heart skipped. I started to speak and the exec closed his eyes (in a good way). He was nodding his head to my words like he was listening to Danny iPod. His eyes were closed so he could focus. So I went all Keyzer Soze and took anything I could from around the room to give me inspiration.
Most pitches will be in writing. One page outlines, two page outlines, outlines, treatments, sample scenes, series bibles, beer mats. Anything that can express the concept and appeal of whatever project you’re trying to sell.
For one-on-one pitching, it takes a certain amount of preparation and confidence to try to convince the person to take your story on board. It’s hard. Some bad writers get their gigs by doing good pitches. If you’re “good in the room”, then half the battle is won. For written pitches, it’s down to your talents as a writer, the appeal of your concept, and the special spin of your pitch. Whatever its form, pitching is the key element that kickstarts the whole exciting process of getting something made.
It could be your agent on the blower to an exec about your latest epic or you down the pub telling your mates about your cracking new idea or running something by a colleague to see if the premise is any good. It’s all pitching. Conversing, querying, and communicating. We do it all the time. It’s only when we become consciously aware of the ‘pitch’ that our mind begins to generate nervous excitement and the fear of fluffing it up. Fear not. Tell the story. And everything else will follow.