5 Ways To Pitch Like Ron Howard

Ron Howard gave an interview at USC where he explained to a group of film students about how he pitches ideas in meetings in order to get decision-makers excited and bring them on board.

Five Strategies Used By Ron Howard

1. Ask Good Questions

If you can ask the right questions… not only do they begin to understand what you see in the story, but you begin to see what other people are seeing…. I have found that the less I try to force or enforce everything I felt when I initially read the script… and the more I begin to say, ‘Here’s what I think is possible, what do you think is possible?’ It opens up a dialog that is so fruitful. (3:48)

When you’re in the Q&A stage of the meeting, typically you’re the one answering questions. However, as Howard points out, there is also value in asking questions: it shows respect for the decision-maker’s point of view, and you may get some useful feedback as well.

2. Create An Open Environment

You have to create an environment where people feel safe talking. [People] can so much more readily accept that their idea has been rejected if they honestly believe that there’s an environment where good ideas are embraced…. I try to really create an environment where a better idea can emerge and then I try to be ready to grab it. (5:22)

While it’s true that you have to be willing to fight for your vision, almost all scripts change in accordance with the needs of production. Being open to better ideas shows a professional understanding of how the development process works.

3. Bring Other People On Board

I called it the ‘six of one, half a dozen of another’ rule. If somebody comes up with an idea that they own… if the objective can be fulfilled through their approach… they own that. Their execution is going to be pure. Otherwise, they’re doing what you’re telling them…. When somebody comes up with an idea that does meets the objective, they’re thrilled and will be on your side…. (8:09)

If you can use one of the decision-maker’s ideas, you can convert the decision-maker from a passive listener into an active participant.

4. Engage Agents And Other Gatekeepers

Engaging agents, getting excitement behind your ideas means so much [because] they influence studio executives and the people who make decisions. They are also, intelligent, passionate people. They have a slightly different agenda in that they really have to think of the economics…. You just have to realize that for them, a ‘Yes’ is always a career-threatener. No one is fired for a ‘No.’ Even if they let a great movie go, it’s always the safest answer. Now they have to come up with a few ‘Yes’s’ or eventually they’ll get fired, so they do need to finally say ‘Yes’ to something, very very carefully and very very reluctantly…. (10:47)

It’s important to understand that while agents and executives look at your material from a business perspective, they can give you valuable feedback. Remember the standard that they are applying: “Am I going to stake my career on this project?”

5. Tell Your Story Simply

[Agents] want to know who could be in it, what the genre is, the quick hits of what your take is…. Not a bad exercise, organizing those things. Not a waste of time for you to figure out how to be able to tell your story simply. (19:02)

Your short pitch is what your agent wants to hear first—your 1-3 sentence summary. Make sure you have tested and honed your short pitch before meeting with your agent, manager, or any other decision-maker.

Howard’s Approach Uses “Pull” Instead of “Push”

Instead of trying to force or “push” his ideas into the minds of other people, Ron Howard uses “pull.” He gets decision-makers excited, asks good questions to draw out their creativity, and incorporates their feedback.

He turns listeners into collaborators, partners, and allies.

You can, too.

PS.  Special thanks to Jeremy Cole for letting me know about this interview.

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Discussion About 5 Ways To Pitch Like Ron Howard

  1. John W. Bosley

    Great stuff. Reading this as I am finishing up the free 7 day course you offer. A lot of what I am gaining is “simple is best”. Finding ways to be very concise on what it is I am pitching, reaching the people who would be the most interested and finding a way to do the Ron Howard way of “pull”ing people into wanting to be on board (making it a collaborative process).

    Thanks for all the blog posts!

    JWB

  2. Matt

    I like Ron’s approach. If the decision makers are asked what they want, they’ll probably identify with your project more. They’ll feel that they contributed to it. Well played Ron, well played…

  3. COREY

    GREAT STUFF…STORING THIS FOR THE FUTURE!

  4. Dave Carter

    Ron Howard is my all-time favorite director. (We’re also exactly the same age!) I have a script for a uniquely American character-driven drama, if he’s interested in hearing a pitch. Please ask him to have his peeps email my peeps!

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  7. W. Keith Sewell

    I am in agreement with you on all five points! Very informative Stephanie .. I especially like and will heed the advice on drawing the listerners/buyers into the session by asking open OP questions. I’ve always gave careful attention to any suggestions from a proven filmmaker like ‘Opie’ 😉

  8. rahul Singh

    Stephanie Palmer its a great job to helps new comers in this industry. superb job. after complete the story how can i sell my script on bollywood or hollywood

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  10. Frank

    Thanks Stephanie, Reading and watching all your information sent to me with much interest. Many thanks. Happy 2016.

  11. Kenrick Bautista

    Perfection! I absolutely love it. This is a very good way to help screenwriting/filmmaking aspirants to pitch a project. So thank you Stephanie for the information on pitching. Now I know, in three more years, I am definitely going to be a successful writer. So thank you again Stephanie.

  12. David Robbins

    Looking forward to learning more!

  13. Tizio Senzafoto

    I’m a (mostly stage) actor who went to film school as an adult. I’ve polished a feature screenplay I want to direct (family drama with a bit of an edge) to the point that its won consecutive high profile screenwriting awards.

    I’ve also directed some compelling shorts (professional opinion – not just mine) I’ve yet to submit to the more known festivals.

    What is my next step? I presume private investors and the film festival circuit. Are there agents and/or producers interested in someone like me? How would I find them?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Tizio – Thanks for the comment! Please email me at spalmer@goodinaroom.com and I will send you a recommendation for someone who can offer you individual guidance regarding your next steps.