One of the “genres” of pitching is the pitchfest pitch. Typically, these are 5-10 minutes in length and resemble a speed dating situation in the sense that you don’t have much time, first impressions are crucial, and the little things matter a lot.
I’ve been getting questions from people who are preparing for Cannes, The Great American PitchFest and the PitchCon Conference run by NATPE (National Association Of Television Program Executives) which is happening this week. Here are my answers to help you fine tune your pitch for these specific events or other pitching events of this type. We’ll discuss how to build rapport when you only have a few minutes, whether or not to include a rating, the proper use of “leave-behinds,”, and more.
Q: I know it’s important to build rapport. But how do I do that when I only have 5 minutes to pitch?
Research the people with whom you’ll be meeting and design a comment that demonstrates your respect for them. That builds rapport quickly.
- “I’m so glad I got the chance to meet with you. I know you were a part of [SUCCESSFUL PROJECT] and that has really influenced me.”
- “I just want to say how much I appreciated what you said in your interview with [PUBLICATION].”
Q: Do I use my logline, short pitch, or more of an extended summary? What version of my pitch makes the project more likely to sell?
First, you shouldn’t expect to sell anything in this context. You wouldn’t buy a car or a house in a five-minute meeting, and no one is going to shell out serious cash and risk their reputations when meeting you for the first time.
However, a goal you can reasonably achieve is to get another meeting. This includes having them request your material, asking you to contact them next week, or asking you to meet with them at their office.
This goal of another meeting should shape your strategy. Specifically, it should encourage you to not simply pitch your idea, but present yourself as an expert.
With that in mind, the maximum amount of time you should talk is half of the allotted time. As I’ve said before, the more you say, the less they hear. Spend the rest of the time using their questions as opportunities to demonstrate your expertise.
Q: Should I include a rating in my pitch like PG, R, etc?
Feel free to include a rating if you like. My feeling is that people can have such strong opinions about ratings, it’s best to get them intrigued about the story first, then have the rating discussion further down the road. But certainly, having an answer to “what rating do you envision?” is important.
Q: Should I use a “leave-behind” in a pitch meeting? Like a one-sheet, outline, summary, or poster?
Leave-behinds are typically used to “pass” and so I don’t recommend using them. In a pitchfest kind of situation, I wouldn’t leave anything behind except your business card which just needs to have your name, phone, and email. My experience is that I have never seen someone become interested based on something from a leave-behind, but it makes it easier to say No. Of course, if you are asked for your script, give it to them (but this is rare).
Q: What if I get asked to adapt my TV idea into film? This has happened before. Is this normal? Should I ask to get paid?
Yes, it is normal for inexperienced (and very experienced) screenwriters to be asked to adapt TV ideas to film and film to TV. It would be ideal if someone who was interested in your project would option or purchase it and pay you to adapt it. Unfortunately, while this does happen a small percentage of the time, much more frequently the writer does the work on spec and isn’t paid unless the project sells. Though frustrating, this is common practice.
The thing to understand is that it is generally easier to “break” a new writer in film rather than TV. It is basically a pre-requisite to already be staffed on a TV show for your pilot ideas to be heard, whereas in film, this isn’t the case.
Q: My pitch is set and I’m not changing anything. Is there any other advice you can give me?
Sure. Here are two things you can do that can help a lot:
- Speak slowly: You’re immersed in your project. You know your characters well. But the listener is hearing everything for the first time. Choose your words carefully and speak at a slightly slower pace than usual.
- Take notes on what the decision-maker says: The act of taking notes shows respect, will help you maintain your composure, and will allow you to look for patterns in the feedback you get so that after the conference is over you can decide how to improve your pitch, project, or both.
If you’re pitching this week, good for you. It takes courage. Just remember that pitching isn’t just how you sell your work—it’s how you get feedback which helps you to make better work. So don’t pitch with the expectation of selling—pitch with the hope of learning how to make your ideas better. That’s the attitude that, in the long run, will help you to sell your work and create a lasting creative career.