Screenplay Pitching – What Not to Do!

After going over the Dos of pitching, its important to also acknowledge there are a number of DON’Ts that you want to avoid when pitching your script. These apply mostly to organized pitchfests put on by schools, private companies and industry magazines. Most of the Donts come from years of attending these events and also listening to the complaints from executives at the snack table during breaks or after a day of pitches.

1. Don’t be flashy

Many times we get “leave behinds” such as photobooks, posters, or art projects to convey the gist of a project. If your pitch or idea is good, you don’t need these fancy extras. If you want to bring a few pictures to give us an idea of the setting or look of the film during your pitch, that is usually welcome. But elaborate gimmicks just make us feel like you are trying to make up in flash for what your pitch lacks in story. 

2. Don’t stray from tradition 

Stick to the traditional pitch style. Outline the acts; tell us who the main characters are; give us the tone; etc. Do NOT put in in song form or bounce all over the story. We are programmed like robots to look for milestones like act breaks, character arcs and tone. When you stray from this, we short circuit and lose interest and concentration. I know, I know, sad, but true.

3. Don’t overstep boundaries

This is relevant both during and after the pitch. 

During your pitch don’t go over the allotted time given to you as its disrespectful to the pitcher after you who now has less time and to the person you are pitching to. You should be prepared and practice to stay within your time and leave a minute for possible questions and exchange of contact information. 

Don’t push the executive for their contact info if they don’t express interest. If we like the pitch, we will ask for your information to follow up. If you ask once for an email/phone number and the executive doesn’t immediately agree, don’t force it. Telling us “But I think you would love it if you just agreed to read it” is not going to change our minds. The pitch should be the selling point and if we want to read the script or a more in-depth treatment, we will definitely ask. Most executives will request this even if there is only a small amount of interest or if there is any possibility of potential. If they don’t, its because they will follow up with you later, they need to consider the idea further, or because they simply are not interested. 

Also don’t approach the person you pitch to outside of the context of the meeting unless again, you are invited to. This means unsolicited calls to the office, emails, or accosting the exec in the hallway during the event. 

Most of these executives are giving their time for free on top of the work they already have to do for their job. Wow us during your allotted time and leave us wanting more instead of wanting to run away from you screaming. 

4. Don’t leave out relevant info 

This can be done either intentionally or unintentionally and both will harm how your pitch is received. 

The intentional comes when you pitch a story and build up the surprises we will discover when we read the script. This is typically something like “the end is so mind blowing and shocking that you will have to read the script to find out what happens!” This isn’t going to make us want to read your script because these generalizations make us feel like the ending is bad so you don’t want us to know what it is. But if you tell us what this shocking ending is and it is indeed surprising, we will want to read the script. 

The intentional happens when you are nervous or ill-prepared. For example you tell the whole story and then in act three you mention the briefcase with the bomb that the protagonist has had in his or her possession the whole movie. These important story pieces should be set up in the first and second acts and not just mentioned haphazardly at the end. 

Also don’t forget to mention awards or contests you have won right up front, before you even tell us your story. Maybe you even have a personal connection to the script, like it’s based on your family or its about a therapist and you are a licensed psychoanalyst. This just adds to the legitimacy of your pitch and piques our interest because you have a real connection to the material. 

5. Don’t get distracted 

The last pitch session I attended was as loud as a bar during a Super Bowl game. I could barely hear the pitches, let alone give these participants the attention they deserved so I had no idea how they were able to plug ahead and belt out their stories. There were a few who kept stopping and looking around because they were distracted. Or they lost their place in their story because it was extremely hard to concentrate. While this is completely understandable and will happen to the best pitchers, you will set yourself apart if you can dig your heels in, confidently recite your story and be engaging in the midst of chaos.

This is also wonderful practice for pitching to executives outside of a pitchfest setting. Many times they are getting interrupted by phone calls, assistants busting in on the pitch, and their own rudeness as they check email/blackberries, etc. You should be able to ignore this commotion and get your story out in a concise and comprehensive manner despite the interruptions. 

6. Don’t Get Down

After all these “don’ts” it’s important to emphasize that you should stay upbeat and positive. Don’t compare yourself to others who may be better pitchers. Don’t belittle your pitch before you even start by making qualifying statements about it (“I don’t have this all worked out so bear with me” or “This still has some rough spots and isn’t all there”).

However hokey it sounds, some of the most successful people in this business are people who dust themselves after failure and forge ahead. Remind yourself that just doing these pitchfests is a step in the right direction. It will help you gauge where you need improvement but also what your strengths are and how you can use those positives to sell yourself and your story idea. 

After every pitch session I’ve been to, most executives are just so impressed that the pitchers had the chutzpah to put themselves out there and give it their best shot. If you can be as prepared as possible and truly do your best (remembering that next time, you will be even better), you are halfway to being a good, if not great, pitcher.

By Beatrice S.

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