The 5 Most Common Mistakes In Pitching
I have heard thousands of pitches. And I have seen it all. From writers breaking down in the middle of a pitch, writers getting frustrated that they can’t convey their story, Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde-syndrome (explanation later) and of course the nirvana connection between the writer and executive when the pitch was conveyed perfectly.
Earlier this year, I had three big management companies (BenderSpink, Magnet Management and Principato Young Entertainment) calling and emailing me wanting to meet with a writer that they met in a pitch session. I wasn’t at all shocked by this since they put a star next to his name after he was done pitching and mentioned they were going to read his script first. There’s another writer that pitches with us that gets a request before she even starts pitching her story. She ends up pitching a comedy script, but already has the executive laughing before she even starts her story pitch and it gives them the confidence to know that she has a sense of humor and a good handle on comedy.
On the opposite side I have seen executives struggling to stay focused on somebody’s pitch. So the big question is: what makes a good pitch? And, yes, there is an answer to this question. If you’re a writer, you have to pitch. End of story. There’s no way to avoid it. You are going to have to pitch your story to a potential manager, you are going to have to pitch ideas to your agent when you get one, you are going to get general meetings with production companies where you are going to pitch your ideas.
Below I am going to highlight the 5 most common mistakes done in pitching.
IF YOU AVOID THESE MISTAKES YOU WILL IMPRESS AN EXECUTIVE.
1) Dr. Jeckyll and Mr Hyde-syndrome- I remember once a writer from overseas was pitching. It was her first time and neither me nor the executive talked with her before. We Skyped her and she pitched. For 7 and a half minutes straight she read off a piece of paper in a monotone, robotic way. When she was done the executive asked her one question “what is your favorite movie?” and the writer lit up and excitedly and engagingly told us about her favorite movie. Those last 30 seconds were more interesting to listen to than her entire pitch. Pitch to these executives like you are pitching to your best friend. If an executive wanted to hear a writer read off a piece of paper then they would have just asked for a written pitch. These executives are looking for REAL people with real emotions that they WANT to spend the next two years working with.
2) You’re a human first, a writer second and a producer last when pitching. One of the biggest things that frustrates executives is when a writer will spend the first part of their pitch talking about who has seen the script, how an investor in Canada said they would put in half the budget if xyz happens, how this movie is destined to do good because another movie that came out recently did well. THIS IS NOT YOUR JOB! Your job is to tell the story that you spent months and years writing. Don’t spend the entire time talking about why other people think it’s great and then say “Oh yeah, my movie is about a wedding that takes place in Mexico.” Focus more on setting up the tone. For example, if you are pitching a comedy script then you need to sprinkle your pitch with comedic set pieces. If you are pitching a horror then splice in specific elements that show the executive that there are scary moments in your story. Be conversational when pithcing. Don’t be robotic. These execs are looking to invest in people, not machines.
3) If you are sending any type of written pitch or query to a company that has more than two typos on the page chances are an executive will not request it. Some complain “But my story is good. Give it a chance!” But why should an executive trust the competence of a writer if a 1–2 page written pitch has typos and/or grammatical errors? If a 1–2 page document has typos in it then how many errors must be in a 100 page script? Again, your job in a pitch is to portray your talent as a WRITER. There is no excuse why your written pitch should have any typos on it. Honestly, it just makes the writer look lazy and careless.
4) Give away the ending. There’s two rules of thumb here. Give away the ending and don’t give away the ending. When I explain to writers that you should give away the ending I simply tell them to put themselves in the executives’ shoes. An executive, on average, will read 20 scripts a week. They want to know what they are getting into before they start reading. If an executive has to read 20 scripts a week do you think they will want to spend 1–2 hours reading a script just in hopes that the story will play out a certain way? It’s always better to give away the ending and give them a full picture of what your story is before they commit to read it. They will be more excited to see how it plays out on paper than being forced to read 80 pages just to get an answer on how it pans out.
5) Make sure your protagonist shines. A pitch with too many details and set pieces will cause your hero to drown and disappear into the backdrop. The protagonist is the heart of your story so without that strong focus in your pitch the story will feel flat. No matter what your genre, the protagonist must be in the foreground in every pitch.
5b) I have to add this too. When you introduce female characters please avoid describing them solely as “sexy, beautiful, gorgeous, athletic”. Executives are getting tired (and thankfully so) of female characters falling into stereotypes. Even if your female characters is beautiful, try to focus on other aspects of that character first otherwise it’s going to feel one dimensional and tired.
Because I know how important this is, I asked a few of my friends their advice on pitching mistakes to avoid.
And if you have any questions about the pitching process or Stage 32 Happy Writers’ services, don’t hesitate to reach me at Joey@Stage32.com or leave a comment below!
“Number one pitching mistake: not telling us the story from the perspective of the protagonist and elucidating what it is about this protagonist that makes them special and their story worth telling…” Beth Bruckner, Director of Development for Millennium Films (OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, THE EXPENDABLES)
“I think the number one pitching mistake is an unclear (too convoluted/confusing) or overly detailed synopsis, which causes the listener to lose track of the main story through-line and characters, thus losing interest in the pitch overall.” Stacy Keppler, Director of Development, OddLot Entertainment (ENDER’S GAME, DRIVE)
“People don’t give enough time to what their story is about — yes, it’s about a haunted house and a family that moves in and is haunted by events in the house……but what is it really ABOUT? Is it a marital discord movie? (THE SHINING) A mother-daughter story? A love story? Etc. Movies are about more than their logline/their plot — what is the THEME of the movie, the thing that makes it universally appealing, regardless of whether it’s an action movie, a thriller, a comedy, etc.” Garrick Dion (NIGHTCRAWLER)
“Not being able to define your idea in one sentence. Too many “pitches” are less of a detailed expansion on a core idea, and more of a writer trying to explain a meandering story that doesn’t really have a core point to it being told. If you need 5 minutes to explain “What it is”, you don’t actually have something. Perfect examples: When the writers of ALIEN pitched the idea to the studio, they sold it on three words: Jaws in space. When Kurtzman and Orci pitched TRANSFORMERS to Michael Bay (a project he previously passed on), all they said was “It’s not about Transforming cars…it’s about a boy and his car.” The point is, you need to know at its heart what the story is about, what makes it clear and unique, and then ensure the pitch itself merely expands on that core idea.” Jon Oakes, SVP, Production and Development (WHIPLASH)
Joey Tuccio is the President of Stage 32 Happy Writers
Joey founded The Happy Writers back in 2011 after working as an executive for various film production companies including Bold Films (Drive, Whiplash). In 2013, The Happy Writers joined forces with Stage 32 to host a number of Online Pitchfests giving screenwriters the opportunity to pitch to a variety of executives over the course of a single weekend to gain educational and informational feedback on their pitch and scripts. To date, over 200 screenwriters have secured representation, have had their work sold, optioned or put into development or been staffed through the services offered by The Stage 32 Happy Writers.