Pitching may be the toughest thing you do as a writer.
In my life as a playwright, I have the luxury of writing FIRST. Rarely have I been in the position of telling someone what I was going to write before I wrote it. That means I have all the freedom of creativity without the restrictions that come when someone expects something. When the piece is finished, then the world can see the piece with fresh eyes. In fact, when I went to playwriting school, we were required to “bring in pages”. All the brainstorming and idea developing was done.
That’s not true in the world of TV and film writing. Pitching is required.
You have to pitch in order to sell an idea or a series. You float what you’re up to and if you make a sale, they pay you to write it.
You have to pitch if a production company has a project they like, but is looking for a writer to write it. You pitch your take on the material.
You have to pitch in a writers’ room – the name of the game is coming up with ideas for episodes and within episodes.
Pitching can be challenging because there’s a vulnerability to it. You and your ideas are exposed before they’ve been tested. Ideas can be shot down easily and that’s never fun if you’re on the receiving end.
So what’s a writer to do?
Learn to pitch.
It will take some time to master the ins and outs of pitching. There are some key things to know, whether you’re pitching in a writers’ room or for a producer.
- Let your audience know what you’re going for. (For a producer pitch – you may lay out the key themes. In a writers’ room – you can talk about what led you to the story idea. “We’ve been trying to get these two characters connected and I thought…”)
- Your story must be clear: Present it beat by beat (Figure out if you need broad strokes or super-detail – depending on the time frame and situation).
- Include emotion. Letting your audience know what the characters are feeling is key to hooking your audience. It’s not just about “moves”.
- It can be useful to explain your expertise around your story. This shores up your POV and lends authenticity to what you’re bringing. “This used to happen all the time when I was in high school.” or “This is based on something I used to experience…”
- You can use notes! It’s fine to refer to something you’ve written as long as you’re breathing life into it. If you use notes, keep your head up and make eye contact with your audience as much as you can (rather than burying your face in the page).
Unique to a producer pitch:
Visuals can help. Some writers bring in photos to engage the producer’s imagination. You can also do a character chart if you’ve got a ton of people in your story. Limit visuals to a few items.
Short is good. Find out how long a typical pitch is for the people you’re meeting with. (Ask your rep if you have one, or ask the producer what she expects.) In general, if you’re pitching a TV show or a movie, try to tell your story in 15 minutes (20 tops).
Leave room for questions. It’s a great sign of engagement for the people on the other side of the table to ask more about your story. Expect it.
Practice! Whether you rehearse by yourself or in front of people, take the time to run through your presentation. Time yourself. Make your pitch lean and compelling.
Even though pitching is an essential skill, it’s important to know that it’s different from writing – in the same way auditioning is different from acting. There will be a learning curve as you wrap your mind and heart around the skill of sharing ideas in a professional setting. At its simplest, it’s like telling a story to a 5 year old. Keep it flowing, stay engaged, and find your groove. The more you practice, the better you’ll be.
If you need guidance as you step into it, you know where to find me.