Know Thy Elevator Pitch!

It’s been said that luck is where preparation meets opportunity. Only one of those things is completely in your control — preparation. Whether you’re a screenwriter, a filmmaker, an entrepreneur or anyone else trying to draw attention and support to a personal or professional endeavor, there’s no excuse not to have your elevator pitch down cold. It needs to be practiced, honed and memorized so that when opportunity rears its head, the words roll off your tongue with an undeniable confidence.

This is a horror story, but please don’t avert your eyes.

I have a friend. Let’s call him Alberto. Alberto is a successful film producer of some 15 films, many you know well. He also has one Academy Award nomination and two Golden Globe nominations under his belt.

I have another friend. We’ll call him Joe. Joe is an extremely talented screenwriter who has placed high in some prestigious contests and secured a couple of options over his five-year writing career.

For all his success and his solid reputation within the Hollywood community as well as navigating a schedule that would challenge the most driven, Alberto remains a remarkably humble and accessible guy.

Joe has a personality opposite of most screenwriters in this town in that he’s very much an extrovert and certainly not one who shies away from expressing his opinion whether solicited or not. If you give him the opening, Joe can melt the ears from your face discussing any of his seven available scripts. The joke amongst our mutual friends is that Joe takes longer to get to the point of his story than the actual running time of a film based on one of his scripts would be if produced. Another joke we like to throw at Joe is that his loglines need a logline. In short, conciseness ain’t Joe’s bag, baby.

Joe recently began pitching to executives through a service we offer on Stage 32 called the Stage 32 Happy Writers. The way the service works is a writer can pick an executive (manager, agent, producer, director of development) to pitch to in one of two ways, either face-to-face via Skype or by submitting a one to two page written synopsis. The executive then provides feedback on the pitch and decides whether he or she would like to read the script. The goal of this service, besides providing access to industry gatekeepers is to provide education and information designed to make the writer better at pitching and at their craft.

When using the Stage 32 Happy Writers service, Joe always chose the written pitch option over Skype. When I asked him why he decided against the intimacy face-to-face pitching provides, he stated quite arrogantly, “If I’m going to get paid, it’s going to be for writing, not talking. My screenplay is on the page, my pitch should be there too.”

I explained to Joe — and offered my personal experiences as a screenwriter as proof — as you become more known and successful, eventually and inevitably there will come a time when you will find yourself in a pitch meeting. Every screenwriter needs to learn how to be good in a room, and, of course, practice makes perfect. Joe wanted none of it and blew my advice off with a guttural moan and a wave of his hand.

Back to Alberto. A few weeks ago, Alberto met me for lunch on the studio lot where the Stage 32 offices reside. I was meeting Joe directly after to offer some advice on a book he was hoping to option, a situation I had recently navigated myself.

Alberto and I had a spirited lunch, discussing the industry and the politics within. Toward the end of the conversation, he mentioned that he was in the market for a sci-fi thriller. I immediately thought of Joe who only weeks earlier had regaled me (for seven of nine innings of a Mets game) with the story of his latest script. I told Alberto about Joe and spent a few minutes talking him up as a wondrous and diverse talent. Alberto decided he would hang around a bit longer to hear the pitch directly from the horse’s mouth. I warned him that Joe could be quite wordy. Alberto promised he would give him ten minutes.

Twenty minutes later, no Joe. I began walking Alberto to his car.

Just as we were saying our goodbyes, Joe pulled into the parking lot. I introduced Joe to Alberto, rattling off the latter’s accomplishments and his desire to find a killer sci-fi script. Joe’s eyes went wide and his swagger began settling in.

“Give me your best elevator pitch,” Alberto said.

“You want the whole story in a minute?”

“Fast elevator, small building,” Alberto replied. “Thirty seconds.”

Swagger gone. And thirty agonizing seconds later, so was the opportunity.

As Alberto drove away, Joe stared into the distance.

“I just became a cautionary tale, didn’t I?”

“A short, succinct one, my friend.”

Don’t fret for Joe. He’s rebounded nicely. Not only did he get his elevator pitch down, but he also has his one, five and ten minute pitches on lockdown as well. And this week, he’s secured another thirty seconds with Alberto. Whether the story is a fit for Alberto remains to be seen, but at least Joe knows that going forward he’ll be able to do justice to all the work he’s put into such a great piece of writing by being prepared when opportunity decides to pay its next visit.

Richard Botto, known as RB to his friends, is the Founder and CEO of Stage 32, the online platform dedicated to connecting and educating film, television and theater creatives. The network currently has a half million members from across the globe. FORBES has called Stage 32 “LinkedIn meets Lynda for film, television and theater creatives.”

RB is also a repped screenwriter, actor and producer. His script, THE END GAME, is currently in development. He has spoken and instructed around the world at festivals, conferences and schools such as Cannes, AFM, SXSW, Tribeca, Raindance, Winston Baker, and Columbia College on social media, crowdfunding, crowdsourcing, screenwriting, filmmaking and the entertainment business. His book CROWDSOURCING FOR FILMMAKERS has been published by Focal Press under the AFM Presents banner and is available here.

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