Pitch Meeting Structure Used By Hollywood Professionals

A pitch meeting is where a screenwriter presents a story for a film or TV project to a decision-maker such as an agent, producer, director, star, or executive.

The Pitch Meeting – Overview

If you want to know how to handle a pitch meeting, you’re probably a more advanced writer.

Typically, you don’t have a pitch meeting until you’ve:

That said, learning how to handle a pitch meeting is a good skill for anyone to have.

That’s because pitch meetings in Hollywood are a lot like sales meetings in other industries.

We’re going to focus on Hollywood, but if you sell in any industry, the pitch meeting structure pertains and can help you sell more effectively.

The Pitch Meeting Has A (Hidden) Structure

In the beginning….

Stories were fun. You didn’t know how they “worked.” You may have thought that action blockbusters, classic romantic comedies, and gritty independent films had little in common.

But when you wanted to become a professional screenwriter or TV writer, you started learning about structure. You realized that all movies, all TV, and all stories have similar structural features.

Pitch meetings also have structure.

Just as a screenplay is structured in three acts, a pitch meeting has five stages.

The Pitch Meeting Happens In Five Stages

  • In Stage 1, you build rapport and warm up the room.
  • In Stage 2, you ask questions and listen to show respect.
  • In Stage 3, you deliver the prepared component of your pitch.
  • In Stage 4, you deliver the “improvised” component of your pitch.
  • In Stage 5, you ask for one thing if necessary and leave on a good note.

pitch-meetign-structure-used-by-hollywood-pros-619-310
Pitch Meeting Stage 1: Rapport

The goal: to connect in a personal way

Stage 1 is the small-talk phase that is the beginning of just about every meeting you will ever have.

It’s important because decision-makers want to work with people they like and trust. If you’re prepared, the small-talk will hopefully turn into a deeper conversation about your common perspectives and interests.

The trap: pitching too soon

If you “get down to business” and start pitching too early, the decision-maker won’t feel connected to you as a person and won’t be listening to your pitch.  You want to build rapport so that when the time comes to pitch, you have the decision-maker’s attention.

Key tactic: prepare questions to find common ground

Before the meeting, design a couple “rapport-building” questions to encourage the decision-maker to share their thoughts, feelings, and experiences about things they feel positively about. The point is to get to know the decision-maker as a person.

Pitch Meeting Stage 2: Listening

The goal: to show respect for the decision-maker

In Stage 2, your job is to ask good questions and listen.

This shows respect for the decision-maker and earns you more of their attention when the time comes to pitch.

The trap: showing off how smart you are

Superior intelligence can be your worst enemy at this stage of the meeting.

If you show off how smart you are in this stage, it may seem like you are in need of attention and approval (the opposite of confidence). As well, if the decision-maker can’t understand what you’re saying, you may make them feel awkward or threatened.

In the next stage, when the time comes to pitch, that’s when you get to share your brilliant ideas. At this stage, your job is to ask questions, listen, and show respect.

Key tactic: prepare questions to gather information

Get the decision-maker talking, e.g.:

  • “Is there a particular kind of project you’d love to find?”
  • “How is (current project) going?”

Pitch Meeting Stage 3: The Pitch

pitch meeting structure example Johnny Depp in Ed WoodThe goal: to keep the decision-maker’s attention

Stage 3 is where you deliver your prepared pitch.

Even if the decision-maker doesn’t want to buy your project, if you can hold their attention with your pitch, they may want to work with you in some other way.

The trap: “winging it”

Making it up as you go along and hoping things work out is the mark of an amateur.  By the time you get a meeting with a decision-maker who can make something happen, you should have a short pitch as well as a complete pitch that you can deliver without referring to notes.

Key tactic: test your pitch in advance

To succeed in this stage of the meeting, test your pitch before you meet with the decision-maker.

Test your pitch on friends, family, other writers, but no gatekeepers or decision-makers. You should have at least six people in your feedback group, ideally all of whom are in your target market, but none of whom have heard your pitch before.

Pitch Meeting Stage 4: Q&A

The goal: to deliver great answers to questions

The way to do well in Stage 4 is to anticipate likely questions and prepare answers in advance.

The trap: getting defensive

If the decision-maker is genuinely interested, you are likely to be asked a number of difficult questions. If you get defensive, you lose. If you can’t handle some difficult questions at this stage, the decision-maker isn’t going to want to send your script to stars, directors, and producers – because they’ll have questions, too.

Key tactic: keep track of what you’re asked

When you’re testing your pitch in advance, listen to what your feedback group asks you.  Every time you’re asked a question about your story, that’s an opportunity for you to prepare a great answer to that question for the next meeting.

Pitch Meeting Stage 5: The Close

The goal: to leave on a positive note

It’s likely that the decision-maker will end the meeting, so you want to be ready for when that happens.  Typically, there is a non-verbal cue that the meeting is over, and your job is to “echo” the cue.

Watch for when the decision-maker:

  • Gets ready to get out of his or her chair
  • Places hands flat on their lap or the table
  • Closes a notebook or a folder

When you see one or more of these non-verbal cues, echo it back by gathering your materials and preparing to leave.

Then, you can engage in a little more rapport building—like a bookend to Stage 1. The purpose of this isn’t to reignite the conversation, it’s just to end on a personal, positive note. It can be something simple, e.g.:

  • “Tell (common friend) I said hi.”
  • “Thanks again for the tip about Sugarfish. I’ll check it out!”
The trap: continuing the conversation

When the decision-maker ends the meeting, don’t try to pitch “one more thing.” Don’t ask any more questions. Don’t tell a story.  Just make sure you’ve got everything packed up, prepare to shake hands, and exit the room smoothly.

Key tactic: prepare a specific request (aka, the “Ask”)

You may not need to make a request of the decision-maker.

Often, they may say something like, “I’m sending this to my boss today. Keep your phone on.”

However, it’s a good idea to have a request prepared just in case you need it, e.g.:

  • “How should I follow up with you?”
  • “Whom do you recommend I get in touch with?”

Pitch Meeting Structure = Confidence

When you understand meeting structure and have prepared tactics for each of the five stages, it looks like you’re poised and confident. And as you accumulate success over time, it doesn’t just look that way—it feels that way, too.

Keep in mind, there is a wide variety in how the five stages can be handled. You may spend more time in one stage than you expect.  But when you know the goal of each stage, the trap to avoid, and the key tactic to use, you’ll be able to confidently handle whatever comes your way.

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Discussion About Pitch Meeting Structure Used By Hollywood Professionals

  1. FUND MY FILM

    Excellent article. I will repost on my timeline!

    https://www.facebook.com/FundMyFilm

  2. Raymond

    Another excellent blog Stephanie!

  3. jordan pas cher

    I love the way you wrote this article. This is wonderful. I do hope you intend to write more of these types of articles. Thank you for this interesting content!

  4. hello

    Ralph Winter (Producer of X-Men & Fantastic Four) just recommended this post on FB. Just read this post and found it helpful. If it came from him, it’s gotta be good! Thought you’d like to know 😉

  5. Talia Green

    Thanks for this very helpful article! I’m heading out to a pitch and will keep this structure in mind. In sad news, Nozawa closed…

  6. Clorine

    Thanks so much Stephanie for the advice on pitching. It’s extremely helpful and something I can refer to when I get the chance to pitch here in South Australia. (Producers here are always too busy, because there’s not enough of them and the ones we have all want to write and produce their own work it seems, hence I’m learning how to produce, when I’d really rather write) Your advice is something I’ll memorise, especially the part about setting up the rapport first as I get nervous and tend to jump in and pitch first. Great advice.

  7. Joy

    I am so grateful for all your info and advice! London loves you!

  8. Maru

    Thank you so much! A friend told me about this article, it is very helpfull for me at these moments. I will work on every stage. Hugs from Madrid.

  9. Joan Kufrin

    Stephanie: This sounds really helpful. You break down the pitch into understandable components. I want to absorb them so they’ll be part of me… knowing about pitching makes it less scary.

    Joan Kufrin

  10. Heather

    Hi Stephanie,
    Great tips! Do you have any suggestions for a follow up email or note after the pitch?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Follow ups notes can be short and simple. If you have something specific to call back from the meeting like, “I hope you had a great trip to New York” include it in the opening. Then something like, “I really enjoyed meeting with you on [Date]. I’m following up on [Project Name]. Let me know if you have any questions. Thanks, [Your Name]” Include your email and phone number to make it easy on them to reply.

  11. Marike Bekker

    Thank you sooo much. I recognized many mistakes I made this year (my first) at the Cannes Film Market! Next year I will be better – thanks to your useful tips.

  12. » FILM LTK – Filmmaking Links, Tutorials & Knowledge (2013) U, S, and Toby

    […] Structure & 5 Stages of being “Good in a Room”: https://goodinaroom.com/blog/the-pitch-meeting-structure-everyone-should-know/ – Stephanie Palmer, former MGM Studio Executive, shares valuable insight on how a pitch should be […]

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  14. Jon

    I like the information! It is educational and extremely pertinent. Thank you.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Many thanks!

      • LiaqatHussainKhan(CineWriter/Director)NewDelhi.India.

        Really, I’m impressed by reading the five pitch stages and the guidence by Hon’ble dignitary Stephnie Palmer. Thanks and hoping for further cooperations,(CineWriter/Director) Liaqat Hussain Khan (New Delhi, India).

  15. Young J

    Stephanie, is there a standard time-line that network executives will get back to you with a thumbs up to pilot or no go? In a situation where a network has paid for a trailer it is my understanding they have 1st right to a pilot. If they decide not to pilot, the trailer then goes back to the production company that made it and they can to pitch to other networks if they choose? In a case like this is it customary for a network just to shelf the trailer or do they get back in a standard time line ie 1-2wks 1-2months etc?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Typically, you should hear back within a couple of weeks. As my former boss said, “Deals that go slow, don’t go.” It’s rare that a deal goes forward if you haven’t gotten interest pretty quickly after they watched the trailer. Then, after they have passed, either they will shelve it or the rights will revert to the production company.

  16. Prema Rose

    As always, Stephanie, you articles are so helpful. I have had to cancel going to AFM this year as the floods in Colorado have put a damper on preparations. I am still a “displaced person”. I will use this time to hone my pitching skills for the next opportunity.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      That is completely understandable. The floods have been devastating and I hope things get back to normal for you soon. As for pitching, there will always be future opportunities.

  17. De Bushwhacker

    Hello Stevie,

    I’m shortly to create a reality series about the vocation I chose in life. I’m sure that reading and using your Five-Step method of pitching will be a large help to me as I proceed with the task of sales of my product. I’m new at this (mistake I’m sure) and I’d like to thank you for your professional insight, I will study and practice it well before approaching decision-makers with my pitch. Thank you again, DeBushwhacker ………

  18. Anthony

    Hi Stephanie,

    I’m wondering what would be the best thing to do if you want to pitch an idea to investors about a reality show? Sell the idea or ask for them as investors?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Depends on the situation, but if you can get investors to pay for an initial “proof of concept” reel to be produced, that can increase the odds that someone would purchase the show.

      • Dave Gregory

        Be care about that, though. I have found that a proof-of-concept reel has to be of the highest quality–just the like your final program or final movie will be. Otherwise, investors and distributors are generally *not* able to “see the potential” in something that’s less than perfect (no matter how experienced they may claim to be).

        If you don’t have the money to make a top-notch reel, it’s sometimes better to just have an artist prepare some storyboard art.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        You’re right, Dave. The proof-of-concept reel does need to be of top-notch quality.

  19. Melissa

    Hi Stephanie, you are truly great at what you do! Thanks for all your incredible advice.
    I was just wondering what you think the ideal time for a whole pitch meeting with a decision maker is? Around 15 minutes perhaps? That would help me figure out how much time I should be spending on each one of these steps, particularly the pitching itself. Thanks a lot!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      15 minutes is a good benchmark. I’ve never heard an executive say, “I wish they talked longer.” Typically, a meeting with a producer is 30 minutes to an hour. A meeting with a studio executive is 15 minutes to 45 minutes, but these are rough estimates as it can vary quite widely.

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  23. Ryan

    Stephanie, just found your content through your recent interview with Forbes. I actually had aspirations of being a filmmaker and interned years ago with John Avnet and Jordan Kerner. I’ve since found my calling in the ministry as a pastor. Go figure! 🙂 Just wanted to let you know that your Pitch Meeting Stages translate well into how to build a good sermon to “sell” to a congregation! Just thought you may like to know of yet another (likely unsuspecting) use of your material!

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  27. Douglas Westfall

    Thank you Stephanie — you always have the best information.

    What I’ve found is there are more speckwriters than screenwriters. Too many know how to sell, but not necessarily write. I have a list — one guy gives a class on it.

  28. Chanel

    Hi Stephanie,
    What are at least 3 questions that are asked at a pitch meeting? Can pitching be done at film festival parties? What do you mean by elements that a group may or may not like?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Chanel,

      Here are 23 Meeting Questions You Can Expect (I know that is 20 more than you asked for…) While pitching can be done at film festival parties, I do not recommend it. The best thing to do is to meet people, build rapport and then if it feels right, you can ask for a card and followup. You only want to pitch ideas when people have the opportunity to move forward on them and social settings and parties are not appropriate. If you are asked, you can tease with one line about your project, but do not pitch the whole thing.

      Often in a pitch meeting, there will be a dialogue and question and answer. You may get feedback like, “I really don’t understand why the story jumps from a spaceship to a beauty parlor” or “It seems to take a long time to get started.” That is valuable feedback so you can adjust your pitch and project if you start seeing a pattern emerge from the feedback.

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  30. Dan Moriarty

    What do you have against donkey balls; sounds politically correct?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I wish I could claim credit for the term— but that’s all Lennon and Garant. 🙂

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  33. Angel

    Hi Stephanie,

    I want to know how can I get a pitch meeting with the executives?

    Thank you.

    P.S: Good article. Your content is very interesting

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Angel,

      In most cases, pitch meetings happen through referral after you have an established reputation. An agent, manager, producer or executive would recommend you to meet with a potential buyer and set up a meeting. There are also events such as the American Film Market Pitch Conference, Stage 32/Happy Writers Online Pitchfest, Austin Film Festival, and others where you can pay either for an opportunity to pitch or a guaranteed spot to pitch your project.

      • Shawn Morell-Zatorsky

        Hi Stephanie, Thank you so much for the wonderfully informative article. The information is very much appreciated. I have a question regarding getting a pitch meeting. You stated above that it should occur through an agent, manager or executive, however I have read repeatedly that as new writers we should wait to be contacted, to just focus on writing a great story and they’ll FIND you. We have produced a TV series and would like to get a pitch meeting with a studio or network, but we don’t know where to start. I have studied the “how to pitch,” but I am stuck with where do I go to find the who? I haven’t found a course that includes this information. It would probably be helpful to know that we are not LA based; yet. Do you have any advice regarding this dilemma? Thank you for your time.

      • Stephanie Palmer

        You’re asking good questions, Shawn, however, the answers aren’t so simple as it depends on the kind of project you have produced. As you probably know, typically, scripted TV shows are developed internally and by established TV writers and producers. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is very rare for someone who isn’t already a working TV writer to have the opportunity to pitch a TV show. In the rare time that this happens, often a powerful agent has gotten the team a pitch meeting. I have a course How To Get An Agent that covers what agents do and how to approach them in the right way.

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  35. Drew

    Once again, great article Stephanie. Two questions for you. 1) My writing partner and I have actually landed a pitch at a studio after lunch with President of Production. We however, are not represented by an agent or manager. Is this okay? 2) If they ask what else we are working on, is it beneficial to talk about other projects of the same genre you have just pitched? Maybe we hear they’re dream is too find a Sci-Fi/Rom-com about teens and we happen to have that, even though we have just pitched them a comedy. I guess, I’m just not sure if people look at Comedy writers for dramas or horror, etc.

    Thanks Stephanie!
    Drew

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Congrats, Drew! Yes, you can take the meeting, and yes, you can pitch other projects (in a “short pitch” format) if you’re asked.

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