Two Little Words That Can Kill Your Pitch (And Your Career)

There are lots of things you can say in a pitch meeting that can make you look like a rookie, reduce your chances of success, or break the deal entirely.

However, I recently came across two little words that are so devastating, I thought I’d give them special attention.

To many of you, this will be obvious, but it has happened frequently enough and in a meeting I had last week, so I wanted to make sure that we’re on the same page.

“It’s Done”

Of all the things you can say in a pitch meeting, when referring to the material, “It’s done” may be one of the worst thing you can say.

If you intend to stand your ground and not make any changes to your work, there are better ways to make that clear. I’ll get to those in a moment.

Think But Don’t Say

Other versions of “it’s done” are:

  • “It’s finished.”
  • “I won’t be making any changes.”
  • “This is the FINAL draft.”

Think these things, okay. But don’t say them out loud to decision-makers with whom you’d like to work.

There is a 99.99% Possibility Of Changes

When you are attempting to sell your work to a decision-maker, be it a screenplay, novel, or book proposal, it is understood that one of the things you provide is the willingness and ability to make changes—because there are almost ALWAYS adjustments required to respond to situations like:

  • The success (or lack thereof) of a project with a similar storyline.
  • A new director or editor has a slightly different “take.”
  • A permit falls through and you can’t get a key location.
  • Your main character has the same name as someone who just committed a high-profile murder and is the target of a national manhunt.

Okay, that last one is unlikely, but you get the point.

Things change.

Making Art And Making A Living

Most writers set out to make a pure piece of art, and end up adjusting their vision in order to make a living. Some typical situations:

  • An article may be perfect at 800 words, but the magazine that wants to buy and publish the article only has space for 650 words.
  • A spy novel relies on disclosing some particularly sensitive classified information, and the publisher doesn’t want to be liable.
  • A screenplay has several graphic murder scenes, but the deal with the studio won’t go forward unless the film can get an R-rating.

Now, a writer could decide not to sell the article to that particular magazine, self-publish the novel with the classified information and risk the consequences, or look for an indie film producer interested in NC-17 material instead of selling the script to a studio.

There are times when you have to make sure that if your work is published or produced, it will be EXACTLY the way you intend.

How To Stand Your Ground Like A Professional

Even if you truly believe that your work is set in stone, don’t say some version of “it’s done.” Instead, when you get notes on your project that you don’t like or would never consider, say something like:

  • “Let me think about that.”
  • “Interesting. Let me mull that over.”
  • “I’ll get back to you about that.”

In general, when getting notes, instead of definitively objecting to a given note in the heat of the moment, saying one of the phrases above can give you time and space to consider the proposed change. After thinking about it, you may realize that the change isn’t necessarily detrimental to your artistic vision or you may come up with a different solution that satisfies both parties.

However, if you must have things a certain way (especially if that “thing” is your entire project), it’s rarely to your advantage to say so out loud.  You can choose not to do business with anyone who isn’t interested in your exact vision and you’ll have the most options if you keep the creative ultimatums to yourself.

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Discussion About Two Little Words That Can Kill Your Pitch (And Your Career)

  1. charles horton

    Thanks again Stephanie this was very informative.Keep it coming.

  2. Cynde Harmon

    Stephanie,
    I always enjoy your tips, always great advice and I pass them on to others that I am mentoring as well.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.
    Best,
    Cynde Harmon
    Really Real Films
    Vancouver, Canada

  3. Melonie Thomas

    Thank you, Stephanie. When I pitched last month, I let the producers know that my script was not written in stone, and I would be happy to make changes they deemed necessary. Right now, my script is in the hands of four production companies. Thanks for the much appreciated advice!

  4. caroline

    Hi Stephanie …. how true …. how true … I directed an award-winning short film and whilst enjoying being a golden girl got asked to interview with (name hidden) who produces some of the biggest Hollywood movies. This person interviewed me lying on his back about a script I’d brought to them. Whilst not looking at me he suggested (a) I made some changes and (b) I cast Nicolas Cage. When I passionately said I thought the script was perfect (not written by me in this instance) and that Nicolas Cage was a fine actor but totally wrong for this role … he turned his eye on me and I knew I’d signed my death warrant. Nicolas Cage it turns out was his best friend and so naive was I that I thought I had a say. I never made that mistake again.

  5. Walter Nowosad

    Stephanie,

    “I’m done.” I mean…what do you say to that? “OK, thank you for stopping by…next!”

    Thank you for posting all the insightful information that you do. It helps make my work a little easier. After hearing an ill-prepared pitch, I encourage them to read your blog.

    By the way, a few other words that tend to kill a pitch for me, “I can’t remember what happens.”

    Peace

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Oh, that’s good. I haven’t heard, “I can’t remember what happens” for a long time!

  6. W. Keith Sewell

    Thanks for the timely advice Stephanie, practicing pitch strategy for AFM meetings in 2 weeks.

  7. Travis Watkins

    How about to my knowlege it done and i have no problems making changes,or it’s finished to my knowlege and changes are fine with me…

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I wouldn’t bring up anything suggesting that you feel the script is finished. I recommend asking, “What do you think?” and then listening to their notes and suggestions. It doesn’t mean that you have to agree with all of them, but you will be perceived as a professional.

  8. Caroline Prugh

    Oh my goodness, I had a student say those exact words to me about a draft of their play earlier this evening. So very timely.

  9. Paul Knauer

    I recently went through a round of changes with a production company. Stifled my ego. Took the notes and worked through them. Wouldn’t you know? The script got stronger!

    Just saying, change can be good.

  10. Anders Sundstedt

    Great article. How would you say this applies to other work like the production of a short film / video?

    It can be hard to make what may appear as even small changes to the client, when the “completed” project is delivered for approval.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      It is a different situation when you have a completed film that has gone through edits and is being turned in for completion. But even in this situation, you can show that you are willing to work with the client. I’m just making this up, but something along the lines of, “With the deadline of this Friday, we won’t be able to make all the changes, but we will be able to implement two of the edits we discussed. What two are the most important to you?”

  11. Christopher Chance

    Hi Stephanie,
    one of my scripts was recently optioned by a prodco when I said I want to be a team player and not present obstacles by not allowing changes to my work.
    Lots of changes happened and it was shown to me as it happened and it is now on the verge of production. Another of my scripts is being earmarked for a sequel. ‘Team player’ did it for me.
    Best,
    Chris.

  12. Brad

    Hello Stephanie. I recently responded to the email address that was on file when I got your ebook. I’d like to buy some of your time but not sure what is best for me. If you could please respond to that email so I can go from there that would be great.

    Thank you

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Brad. I have replied to your email and suggested a plan. Let me know if you have further questions. Thanks!

  13. Mike Youngman

    Just another Exciting Day.

    Based on my Manuscript which is my Autobiography not yet published.
    The story of my many life threatening incidents in numerous countries while working as a Rig Mechanic and Inspector.
    I have called my book 9 lives of a Rig Mechanic (Just Another Exciting Day) As a youngman who has just been made redundant I see my bleak future so I dive in the deep end of the rough early days of the oil rigs in the north sea in those times safety was lip service, I was or most killed in a chopper crash and a narrowly missed a further crash in the Shetland’s.
    After some years I end up traveling to Nigeria where I get taken Hostage and talk my way out of it 4 years later on my second trip to Nigeria I get involved in a fire fight at Kidney Island,
    My work in Brazil had me falling from a drill ship into the middle of migrating killer whales later on entangled with the pirates also my friend ends up in a Brazilian jail after an explosion onboard the ship.
    Sometime later I cross paths with the Chinese Mafia in Shenzhen province which involved a local shipyard crane driver and his daughter. Another of my true life incidents happens in the Saudi Desert five hours drive from the nearest road I am checking a rig I need to see the water well some distance from the rig as I stumble through the deep sand I come upon Terrorists as I am suffering heat exhaustion I take shelter by tanker truck parked up they are cyphering oil from a wellhead to finance their operations I get away and become a local hero. I also have incidents similar in Siberia and Iran.

    Mike Youngman

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Wow, it sounds like you’ve really had 9 Lives, if not more, and have some dramatic stories to share.

      • Mike Youngman

        Glad you think so I m all at sea with this I m not sure how to proceed with my 57000 word manuscript. get it published perhaps it would be a base for a film?

      • Stephanie Palmer

        Yes, getting it published is a good first step. Here’s some more information about selling a project based on your life story.

  14. Rebecca Hamilton

    Once upon a time, I thought no person would say something like this. Surely they KNEW changes would most likely be required. Surely they KNOW how valuable and rare a deal is, and that they need to be willing to work with the person who wants to PAY THEM. Surely.
    Then, not so surely. For I have now ran into this type of person a few times. When I look at them as if they are an alien with two heads and six eyeballs, they probably wonder what MY problem is. In reality, I’m just watching as all hope and dreams I had for them gets sucked into the black hole of their self-importance. So long, promising author. It was nice knowing you while you still had a chance. Next time, stay out of your own way.

    • Stephanie Palmer

      “When I look at them as if they are an alien with two heads and six eyeballs, they probably wonder what MY problem is.” — that is funny! Thanks so much, Rebecca.

  15. Rebecca Hamilton

    This can happen after a deal is signed, too. I’ve seen authors shoot themselves in the foot. Their attitude limits them. When I work with an author whose self-importance frequently gets in the way, I go from wanting to do everything can to help them to holding back from recommending anyone else work with them. The reason is simple. I know what a pain in the behind they are, and I don’t want to ruin relationships with good contacts by recommending they work with someone who will be nothing but a headache.