Over the last few days I have been training filmmakers from across Europe as part of a Euro initiative called Four Corners – and it’s been a blast! I have learned tons about pitching by listening to the filmmakers and mentoring them. So what where the big takeaways?
1. Get the genre clear
Without the genre framework, the person listening to the pitch is kind of lost at sea and unable to image the story in their mind.
2. Create a world
Without a world to imagine, I make up my own, which may not be appropriate. So is it Blade Runner world? France in 1942? Scotland in the summer? Where is your story set? It takes less than five seconds to fill in these details, but it makes ALL the difference to the pitch.
3. Engage me as a human being
A large part of the pitch is making it clear that you will be fun to work with, collaborative and passionate. Often the pitch is about the person and not the story. Remember, you may fail to pitch a specific project but you should always succeed in pitching yourself and creating powerful relationships.
4. Use visual aids
Pitching is REALLY hard, and having photos, pitch videos, posters, even a title card on a screen, makes ALL the difference. Cinema is a visual medium, so use it in your pitch. The people you are pitching to will also appreciate that you have taken time to prepare more than just words. Plus visuals break up a day of verbal pitch after pitch, which can become monotonous.
5. Every pitch is different
Know who you are pitching to, why you are pitching to them and what their personal twist is. Pitching to investors is different to pitching to commissioners which is different to pitching to actors. No single size fits all, but YOU and your story remain the heart of the pitch.
7. Start with a question
Making it personal and making the listener reflect is a great way to hook people in right away. What would you do if you discovered your gandparents had started taking drugs? If your daughter had gone missing? A question that poses a personal and pertinent dilemma is very powerful and frames your pitch right away. And if it’s a comedy, make sure that opener makes people smile too.
8. Make it personal
I advised some of the students to talk briefly about their personal connection to the story they were pitching. Many times this would show vulnerability, but it would also show authenticity, commitment, expertise, passion… ALWAYS it made the pitch much better. Some of the students couldn’t handle revealing that vulnerability and their pitches suffered.
9. Who is the story about?
Many of the pitches had complex stories and multiple character threads, which only served to confuse the listener. Focus on one character and make it about their story. Mention other characters for sure, but don’t get bogged down if their detail.
10. The pitch is not your movie
The point of the pitch is to get to the next meeting. That meeting might happen immediately (you stay for an hour chatting), or next week (you come back in and meet the decision makers), or over skype, but the pitch is the first step to getting to that second stage. As such, the pitch should be highlights, with lots of sizzle. The substance will come later in follow-up discussions (though you must know your ‘substance’ too as you might be questioned in the pitch).
I hope this helps. And if you want more pitching tips, there is a great short video here from the London Screenwriters’ Festival – Why pitching is SO much more than selling your film….
Onwards and upwards!