PITCHING AT FILM-COM
Many Film Com attendees will be pitching their film and television projects to visiting executives. As I am one of those executives, I would like to offer you some well-meaning advice.
But I will get to that in a second. I want you to understand something first:
The executives that you are pitching also pitch, and frequently on a daily basis. Agents and managers pitch their clients’ projects to studios or production companies; executive producers do the same. Sometimes the pitch is for direct financing, sometimes it is to attract talent to the project. The bottom line is we all do it. Understand this as you go in.
To the advice …
1. You will have several executives in your pitch room. What a rare opportunity! We all know you will be nervous. Do not allow your nerves to overcome your presentation. This is a rare opportunity for you, and it will take one executive to potentially make a difference.
2. Be ready but do not be too rehearsed. Know what you are presenting, anticipate questions … but also be prepared for an interruption. Perhaps an executive will positively respond to you and ask a question before you are finished with your pitch. Unlikely, but it happens. Similarly, also be prepared for an interrogation following your pitch. An executive wants to be sure you have answers. Questions can include, “What age group is the market for this?” “How do you intend to help market your project?” “Would you work with with other writers?” And so on.
3. You may receive criticism on your pitch. Do not take this personally. The executives are there to help, and we’ve all been in your shoes.
4. Understand that everyone you pitch is different. The executive can be buttoned-down and serious, or affable and jokey. You‘ll need to develop a skill whereby you can pitch any personality. Pitching is really no different than any other kind of sale, save for the fact that most decisions are made by committee.
5. Engage, engage, engage. Make eye contact. Pitching is not a one-way street. You run the risk of getting boring. An executive is not as close to the material as you. They may not believe you’ve created the next best thing, or something that has never been seen before. Trust me. As someone who’s on both sides of that equation – as a writer and a producer – each and every time someone has said “It’s never been done before,” I’ve been able to give examples otherwise.
6. An effective pitch will not necessarily get you a sale, but it may keep the door open to future pitches.
7. In as much as you can, research your executive beforehand. See if there are any hooks there. Maybe they went to the same school, or lived in the same city. Hooks break down barriers.
8. Manage your expectations. Remember, in this business, IT’S ALL BULLSHIT UNTIL THE CHECK CLEARS.
9. Understand that great meetings may lead nowhere. Understand as well that iffy meetings may lead to a sale. Regardless, always follow-up as requested.
10. If you are including a visual presentation in your pitch (recommended), make sure your verbal pitch coordinates with the visuals. Common sense, but it is not unusual to go off on tangents.
11. You may want to begin your pitch by asking a leading, or provocative, question. ”What if?” can be a highly effective tool.
12. If you can pitch your project in “high concept” fashion – one or two sentences, usually 15 seconds or less – go for it. Otherwise, pitch your project in less than a minute when you can, to leave plenty of room for engagement.
13. Recognize potential “buying questions” on the part of the executive: “When are you looking to shoot?” “How much money are you looking for?” “How do you see us getting into business with you?” Respond as if you are at the negotiating point of a business deal. You’re not, yet, but deals have been consummated “in the room.” It’s rare, but it happens.
14. Never go in a room and pitch as if you’ve memorized a script. You’ll be thrown quickly when interrupted with a question.
15. Stay calm! Never let em see you sweat.
16. Pitch as though you have an opportunity to further your career, as opposed to selling a single project. If you sell the project, your career is furthered anyway.
17. Appreciate that this business is about relationships. You will get into more rooms by reaching out to existing contacts.
18. Respect. Say “no” if you need to. When you pitch, you are in essence asking for a company to invest multi-millions of dollars in you, or your creation. Remember, every successful filmmaker had their first success by gaining the respect of someone in influence.
19. Remember, this business is built on relationships. Film-Com may well be in part responsible for your career … if you utilize the event to build your network.
20. Every attending executive is a window to someone else, someone you may want to “get to” in the business. This is an important and often overlooked aspect of networking. Earn the trust and respect of those to whom you are pitching, and you’ve increased your odds of a sale later on. Asking for introductions is an everyday aspect of this business.
21. Blackjack. You have interest from an attending executive. Now what? Firstly, manage your expectations. Deals do not happen overnight. Secondly, send the executive a note of appreciation. You actually may want to send all executives a note of appreciation, actually, as few do this. Regarding the interested executive, be sure to get more face time with them during Film Com, and feel free to ask any questions. If the interest is real, do not worry about offending the executive with your enthusiasm. At the same time, please be professional and not over-zealous. Calling the executive daily asking if there’s “any progress” tends to be counter-productive.
Finally this: Sometimes these meetings lead to bigger and better things, perhaps a staff position on an existing television show, a rewriting assignment for a film, etc. Keep that in the back of your mind as you pitch.
I personally wish you the best of luck on your pitching! We all do, and look forward to meeting you.
Partner, Council Tree Productions