You’ve got your hot little script in your hands. What next? How do you get it to see the light of day? Pitch it. Steven Fernandez has been there, done that and shares some essential tips in face-to-face pitching.
Hello fellow writers! I am going to pass along tips on pitching your film or TV scripts based on my own experience at “The Great American Pitchfest” (June 13-14 2009, Los Angeles).
Dumb luck had nothing to do with it
Out of the eleven production companies that I pitched to, eight were immediately fascinated by the story (written for a feature). Out of those eight, five asked for my ‘one-sheet’ without hesitation. Out of those five, one asked for the script as well.
Respectable success for a first-timer at this kind of event. Mind you, dumb luck had nothing to do with it, as I will explain.
Know Your Story
The strong points in my favour were that I knew the story back to front, that I believed in it, and that I have had three years worth of experience in delivering monologues on stage. Wearing nice job-interview-like clothes also helped.
With regards to knowing your story back to front, you must not simply parrot plot details. You must be able to intelligently and succinctly answer the Why questions: Why does your protagonist want to go to Dubbo? Why does the antagonist want to stop him? Why doesn’t the antagonist do the most direct and logical thing to the protagonist (kill him, kidnap him, etc)? And so on.
Wearing nice job-interview-like clothes also helped.
Do not assume that the pitchee won’t think at that level: They will!
Furthermore, never assume that they’ll be too tired or sleepy to see the cracks in your story. You will be the one who’ll come out as a goose, if you do!
Believe Your Story
On the point of believing in your story, I cannot emphasise enough how important that this is. Trust me: If you don’t really believe in your story, they will be able to smell it.
And don’t think for a millisecond that you can just ‘gab’ over this fact and win them over with clever words and/or gimmicks instead. That trick won’t work! Taking an example straight from my own case: One of the producers remarked, “Wow! That’s straight from the heart!” She was the one who asked for the script.
Lacking conviction in your own story will never be excused.
If you’re now inclined to mutter, “Well, that’s easy for you, Steven, but I get nervous when talking to strangers.” Then you have missed the point. Being nervous can be excused, in fact, it will be. But lacking conviction in your own story will never be excused. Nor accepted.
Quite seriously guys: If you don’t really believe in your story, then why the f@#* are you writing it, let alone pitching it? How can you expect a producer to throw down several million dollars (or more) on a story when even the progenitor of that story is wobbly? Do not pitch what you don’t believe in. It’s as simple as that.
Far better for you to spend your time refining the story, or writing another story, than pitching dog poo.
On the point of my experience in delivering monologues, I don’t want to give the impression that mere showmanship is everything.
Better for you to spend your time refining the story,
or writing another story, than pitching dog poo.
Yes, if you are good at oral storytelling, then that’s a real and undeniable tactical advantage. But this advantage is pretty empty without the fundamentals already in place – viz good story, thorough knowledge of that story, and true belief in it. I won’t dwell on this.
Finish the Script and Remember Names
On the minus side, there were two weaknesses in my pitching practice that you could do well to learn from.
Firstly, the script wasn’t finished, and, secondly, I wasn’t awake to taking down the full names of those I was pitching to.
If you are good at oral storytelling,
then that’s a real and undeniable tactical advantage.
The truth is that it is a real pain in the afterburner, from the producer’s point of view, if she has to wait weeks or months more before the script will be finished. Far better that you pitch a script that she can hit the ground running with. If, despite this advice, you do go out pitching an incomplete script, then don’t lie! Do not misrepresent the status of your script.
Very seriously guys: apart from writing talent, your next most valuable career asset is your personal credibility. A hot talent whose word cannot be trusted is not going to last. He will be condemned back to his day-job.
Not taking down the full names of pitchees is a pain in the afterburner for you. It frustrates your ability to follow up on those who you pitched to (trust me on this one!).
Find a way to either jot down or memorise the name on their name tag.
Without full names it is much harder to call the production company and get to that one specific staff member you spoke to. Even when they don’t give you their business card (which will be the norm, not the exception, in my experience) still find a way to either jot down or memorise the name on their name tag.
A good story, plus thorough knowledge of that story,
plus genuine conviction about it.
And make sure you’ve got that name written down before you go to your next pitchee!
And there you have it. The fundamental ways to maximise your script pitching success come down to what I have already said earlier: A good story, plus thorough knowledge of that story, plus genuine conviction about it.
The other points I have mentioned are add-ons to these fundamentals, but never a replacement for them.
Enjoy your day and write great stories!
Steven Fernandez is a writer-director of short films and, most recently, of a regular theatre event (“Mono Mania” monologue nights)