Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pitching advice from the pros

Pitch season is here, and a realization dawned on me: we can read lots of professional scripts to learn about writing, but what can we do to learn about pitching? It's not as though we can sneak into professional pitches to watch how they're done (at least not without pissing off some studio security dudes). So I figured I would look 'round the interwebs to see what the pros have to say. Here are links to some helpful articles I've found, along with some of my favorite snippets of advice:

How to Pitch a Pilot or Movie by Ken Levine
Rule number one: Be enthusiastic. This is a killer idea! You’re passionate about this one. To say, “I see a lot of vampire movies are selling. Why I don’t know but anyway here’s my vampire movie” is to say, “Hi, I’m wasting your time and mine.”

No, I said "Pitching" by Jane Espenson
Now, everyone likes to pitch differently. Some people read their pitch, others have no notes at all, most are somewhere in between, with notes that they consult, but don't read directly from. I'm an in-betweener myself. I like to have practiced the pitch, but not to the point where it's lost all meaning.

But wait! There's more! by Kay Reindl
Our product -- our idea -- has to have that "why didn't I think of that" element. It has to be familiar enough, yet different enough. It has to fill a niche, but not create one. It has to be, in essence, a simple solution to an everyday problem.

TV Executive Roundtable: AMC Chief Defends 'Drama' Around Matthew Weiner, 'Mad Men' Negotiations
Here's some insight from the executive and producer side about what people are looking for. It's trying to find something that you're not developing "out of the box," just to be out of the box. Modern Family is a great traditional comedy. There are many elements about it that feel fresh and original, but it's not reinventing the wheel -- it's just executing a comedy in an incredibly special way. Glee is a bigger swing, but again, it's telling high school stories, coming-of-age stories, just with this incredible twist. [Warner Bros. TV president] Peter Roth used to say, "A great series is a conventional idea with a completely updated twist." I think that is right.

Writing: The Pitch by Jon Rogers
You are not just telling a story: you are selling a story. To be blunt, people, you are asking some strangers to pay you. A lot. You must both exhibit competence and inspire confidence. And that word is pretty important, as you figure out how to pitch your story: "inspire." To me this is important, because it is very, very easy to get lost in overly detailed plot point pitches.

How to Pitch by Craig Mazin
Write your pitch before you pitch it. It’s intuitive, right? We’re writers. We are paid to write words for prettier people to say. Pitching is our moment on the stage. Why shouldn’t we script it first? Write the whole thing out. Nnnnnoooooo, you’re not going to recite the damn thing like a school play. No, you’re not going to memorize it. Here’s what I do. I write it out. By writing it in my own voice, I quickly start to get a grasp for how I’m going to tell the story.

The Writers Making "Characters Welcome" at USA Network - article by Sandra Berg
From Steve Franks, creator of Psych: "The pitch itself actually started with me talking about my relationship with my dad and my dad sort of secretly training me to be a cop from a very young age.” Development executive McGoldrick was sold on the idea after Franks told him a story about how his father would take him to get ice cream as a kid, but before he would let him eat it Franks had to close his eyes and tell his father what the four people in line behind them were wearing.

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Elise B. said...

This is a fantastic resource! Thanks for compiling and sharing! :)

Dan Williams said...

When a person is in a pitch situation, what usually happens is that his or her heart will start to beat really, really fast. The key is not to speak until the heart rate peaks and begins to drop. So take a knapsack, and when the time comes to pitch, root around in the knapsack until the heart rate drops. If you speak while it is racing, you will not recover. If you speak after it has peaked, nerves won't bother you.

Second, practice giving the pitch to your friends, or even just by yourself in your room. We retain ninety percent of what we tell to others. That's the time to learn about the pitch and its effect on others, not when you are actually in the pitch situation, never having actually pitched the idea before.

Third, take in seven bottles of orange juice and hand them out to the persons listening to the pitch. Be grateful for their time and attention. And stand out. Take in hand puppets and do a scene. Take in a costume change and change right in front of the listeners. Get up and act out the scene with several different characters at once. Really gear yourself up to make an impact.

Then be cool. Let them react.