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Screenwriter Pitch Sessions - What To Expect

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 4

Script Pitching

A screenwriter pitching session is essentially a three to five minute face-to-face sales pitch with big industry names from film, network and cable TV, people whose names grace the pages of publications like Variety every day.   As a screenwriter, it is your job is to try to pare down your story and communicate the most exciting moments with enough enthusiasm to convince this person  to read your script.  The executive sitting across from you could be an industry producer or their girl Friday.  It could be a development executive, agent or literary manager.  Whatever their title, this person represents his reputable company, and this is a chance for a contact you may never encounter again… until the next conference.

Pitch sessions are a big business.   The same organizers who manage these events also usually sell dvds and books to help you learn how to pitch effectively.  The reason there are DVDs and books filled with information on how to pitch your script in person is because it’s one of the hardest things to do for most screenwriters.  After weeks and months of planning your script, and writing it in the cocooned safety of your computer chair, you must now reveal your baby.  Not only reveal it, but try to describe it without stammering and visibly sweating before a stranger who you know has the clout to make things happen.  After reading all the negative data concerning the chances of selling your script, you go bravely into the industry arena to pitch your idea and hope no one laughs… unless you’re pitching a comedy.

You’ll find pitching sessions scheduled at many venues like small luncheons.  These are somewhat enjoyable meetings with typically pleasant exchanges where everyone has a chance to overcome the stress of the situation and reach a level of comfort.

Then there are larger venues like conferences, where screenwriting gurus speak, and writers genuflect while signing credit card receipts for books and dvds.  At conferences, your pitching sessions are scheduled ahead of time only if you have pre-registered to attend the event itself.  Often this is a substantial investment. Several days before the conference, online ticket sales close and tickets are available only at the conference.  Not everyone gets to participate and stand-bys are common.  Once you pay for the privilege of pitching, you learn the names of companies taking pitches.

How It Works

You bring your script pitch and the conference supplies the audience.  When you enter the room you may find as many as 50 industry people at tables.   The three to five minute session puts you in a chair, face to face with one executive.  You can buy additional tickets that will allow you to pitch sessions with other people too.   At the end of a session, you usually get a signal to leave.  It’s not a hook that yanks you from the chair, but it’s sometimes a beep to let you know you have so many seconds to wrap it up.  This is great practice for your Oscar speech!  Rules vary at different conferences but at this point you must leave the seat so the next “pitcher” can begin their spiel on time.  If the executive likes your pitch he will ask for a copy of the script before you leave.  If he doesn’t request a copy of the script in the 3-5 minutes, it’s considered a pass. 

You should be aware of the possibility that the person you planned on pitching to could cancel at the last minute due to personal or travel problems.    While you won’t get to pitch to that individual, someone else will step in at the last minute to hear your pitch.

Pitch Troubleshooting

As a screenwriter your job is to pitch your story, the executive’s job is to listen.  If he finishes before you, you’re in big trouble.  Unless you’re a born performer, it’s difficult to focus on conveying your story in an animated and interesting way and at the same time be aware of how your industry person is reacting.  It’s important to stay alert.  If you can’t gauge his involvement, you may be wasting his time as well as yours.  When his interest wanes, jump to another part of your story.  Try to offer him something visual, an exciting turning point, anything that will pull him back into your pitch. 

Nothing will start off a pitch session on the wrong foot like an arrogant writer who acts like they are doing the executive a favor by sharing their script idea.  On the other hand, the same holds true for executives who treat the pitch like one big imposition.  Sometimes personalities clash for no apparent reason, but the writer should find a way to move past this issue.  Accept that you may never be this guy’s friend, but that’s not the reason you are there.  Use your best and most descriptive language to get him excited about your story.

Pitching Ideas VS Completed Scripts

The way to make the most of a pitching opportunity is to make sure you have a finished project.  Sure, miracles happen and occasionally someone successfully pitches an idea with no script to back it up.  But do you want to take that chance?  If you haven’t completed your script and the “suit” asks for a copy, you won’t be able to send it to him the next day. The excitement of the pitch moment will dissipate for him quickly and he will not wait around for you to bang out the rest of your screenplay.  No matter how much he loved your idea, he will quickly forget your face and your script, and you will have blown a chance with his company.  Besides the dollars you’ve invested in this conference and in pitching, you need to consider the opportunity before you and guarantee you can immediately deliver when a request is made for the script.  

Pitching The Right Person

Your project should suit the person you pitch to.  If they primarily produce children’s films, don’t pitch them an x-rated story.   Do your homework and determine which companies would be receptive to the kind of script you’ve written.  A search on IMDB (Internet Movie Data Base) will quickly provide you with a list of films produced by individual companies and an idea of the kind of material in which they are interested.   

Know Your Story

After putting so much work into a project, it’s surprising how many writers can’t convey their story in a clear way.  Sometimes you’re simply nervous, sometimes your mind just goes blank.  Rehearsing can minimize those problems and so can memorizing your pitch.  The easiest way to get it organized in your head is to break your script down into three acts.  Ask yourself what the most important event is in each act.  Then write down the most interesting facts surrounding that event.  Lastly, note the turning point in that act.  In each sentence capitalize or make bold, one key word that will serve as a memory jogger if you stumble during your pitch.  Put all this information on three index cards, one for each act.  Read them and time yourself.  Trim your pitch if it runs too long.  Keep in mind the executive may ask you questions about your plot or characters, so allow a little time for that.  Practice with your index cards until you know your material completely.  Look at the cards often so you so you will have a snapshot of them in your mind.  Video tape yourself pitching or pitch to a friend to get an idea of how effective you are. 

Pitching a script to an industry executive is not a matter of life and death.  But it’s certainly of paramount importance to a screenwriter who hopes to sell a script.  Executives hear bad pitches all the time so give your self a break.  Try to relax and relay your story in a conversational way.  And during your pitch if you go blank, picturing the key words on your cards may help you to remember what comes next and get you back on track.

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Feb 21, 2011 6:11pm
Very instructive article that will really benefit many new screenwriters. Great addition to your library of articles.
Feb 21, 2011 6:31pm
Thanks Deb!
Feb 22, 2011 10:11pm
As always, this article is jam packed full of great ideas! Knowing who to pitch to by doing a search on IMDB is such a good idea. Thanks Diva!!
Feb 27, 2011 2:06pm
Thank you Introspective!
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