It may surprise you, but in general, the best way to use visual aids in a pitch is… not to use them.
Visual Aids Limit The Decision-Maker’s Imagination
In the idea selection stage, pictures of your vision can work against you because they constrain the decision-maker’s imagination.
If you say, “a handsome man steering a boat down a river,” listeners supply the details that work best for them. If you show them a picture of Adrien Brody canoeing down the Amazon… you better hope that they love Adrien Brody and the notion of filming in South America.
When you show a decision-maker something specific, you’re telling them that your vision is exactly that. If you use words, listeners will imagine your pitch in the way that works best for them.
Visual Aids Can Make You Seem A Little “Kooky”
When I was a studio executive and a writer would pull out a picture or other visual aids, I would think, “Oh, no.” This is because the group of people who used visual aids to pitch included a:
- Guy who used marionettes
- Team of dancers
- Man in a diaper
- Fully costumed pirate with a sword
- Stripper who gave a Powerpoint presentation with 50 slides
- Team of writers who acted out the scenes with sock puppets while Mark Harmon delivered the pitch from an audio recording. (Though they must have pitched Mark Harmon well to convince him to participate.)
And that’s just off the top of my head.
The best pitches do not use visual aids, even for sci-fi or epic adventure stories. That’s why when you use visual aids (even if they are great), right away you seem like you could belong in the “kooky” group.
Visual Aids Carry A Higher Standard
Studio execs are used to seeing materials produced by marketing departments with big budgets and teams of experienced pros. It may not be fair, but that’s the kind of standard you have to meet if you want a decision-maker to take your visual materials seriously.
So when they’re looking at your cartoon, mock-up of a poster, cast collage, treasure map, or drawing of a space milieu, they’re not thinking, “Wow—that’s pretty good, he must have Photoshop,” they’re thinking, “This is cheesy and straight-to-video at best.”
Words Travel Faster And More Easily
If visual aids such as a picture or reel is a required component of the pitch, this makes it slightly harder for decision-makers to discuss it. For example, they can’t just make a phone call and pitch it—they also have to email the accompanying materials. Or, if they’re at lunch, they probably aren’t carrying your artwork with them, and might have to show a low-res pic from their phone.
That might not seem like a big deal, but decision-makers receive hundreds of phone calls and emails every day. You don’t want to add anything to your pitch that takes more of the decision-maker’s time or energy.
In contrast, a verbal pitch travels up the chain of command more easily:
You might pitch your story by phone to an agent, who then calls a producer. The producer calls and pitches a junior executive at a studio. The junior exec pitches to a senior exec, who then pitches the idea to the President of the studio.
A verbal pitch is easy to spread around. It can be delivered by phone, email, or in-person, and it takes less than a minute. It’s ironic, but in the visual worlds of film and TV, the purely verbal pitch is most effective.
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