5 Things Every Writer Needs To Know About Pitching
By Jacob Krueger
We’ve been talking a lot about what to do when you complete your script and are ready to take the next step.
Here’s an article about five vital things to keep in mind as you pitch your completed script.
1. Don’t Try To Sell a Script That Isn’t Ready
Breaking into Hollywood is a full time job. You’re going to have to knock on a lot of doors before one finally opens for you. So let’s make sure you don’t do all that work to get the door to open, only to have it slam right back in your face. Imagine showing up to the job interview of a lifetime, only to realize you aren’t wearing any pants. Well that’s exactly what you’re doing when you pitch a script that isn’t written at a professional level. The average budget for a feature film is generally somewhere between $1 million and $100 million dollars. That means when you send a script to a producer, you’re asking them to invest somewhere between $10,000 and $1 million dollars of there money for every single page!
You owe it to them, and to yourself, to deliver a screenplay that’s worthy of that kind of investment. No matter how good your idea, turning in a script that isn’t up to professional standards not only assures you’re not going to make the sale, it also ruins any chance you have of building a relationship with that producer which could help you in the future.
So make the investment in yourself, and in your script, so that you can feel confident you’ve got your very best work on the page. Take a class, do that last revision, find a professional mentor, and get your script professionally formatted and copyedited before you even start thinking of pitching it, so that you will know when that door finally opens, you’re ready to go through it.
2. Target The Right Producers
Not every producer is the right producer for your movie. But as an emerging writer, it’s easy to feel so desperate for any opportunity that you end up trying to cram it down the throat of any producer you can find, without any though about who that person is, or what kind of movies they actually make. Nobody wants to date the desperate girl or guy at the party.
So if you want to get a producer to take interest in you, you’ve got to take interest in them first. Do your research, and find the right producers, actors, and directors for your particular story. Make a list of your top ten, and focus all your energy toward getting your very best work into their hands. In these days of social media, getting to the people you need to reach has never been easier, no matter where in the world you’re living.
If you need help building the networking and social media skills to get connected to the people you need to reach, then make the investment to get the training you need.
3. Pitch Everyone
Someone in the six degrees of your social network already knows the producer you’re trying to get to. Which means that once you’ve got your top ten list, you’ve got to talk about your script to absolutely everyone you can find, in a way that let’s them know exactly how wonderful your project is, and exactly why it’s perfect for the producer you’re targeting. It’s natural to be worried about someone stealing your idea, but the risk you take by talking about your script pales in comparison to the risk of refusing to do so. Great ideas are a dime a dozen in Hollywood, but a truly great script is a rare commodity.
So while bad things do happen, a legitimate producer has far more incentive to buy your script than to steal it. You’re going to need help to do this, and that means you’ve got to get your idea out there in a way that inspires people to believe in your project, and use their connections on your behalf. You never know who’s going to open the door to the producer of your dreams. And even if you already have a direct connection to the top producer on your list, you want to make sure your pitch is already working with the vast majority of people before you use that connection and get them on the phone. That means you need to practice pitching your script in every possible way, and every possible kind of person, shaping and honing your pitch until you’re ready for anything they throw at you.
4. Don’t Sell. Connect.
Unless you’ve got extensive sales training and experience, the chances are that you’re going to feel pretty awkward trying to “sell” your script. So take the pressure off of yourself. In today’s market, unless you’ve got some serious credits, there’s virtually no chance you’re going make a sale with just a pitch. So rather than focusing on “making the sale,” set the goal of building a personal connection with the producer. Nobody likes the feeling of being “sold.”
So set your written materials or memorized pitch aside, and just tell that producer exactly what you truly love about your script, just like you would if you were talking to a friend. Start with something personal that connects you to the story, and take a breath or two after each sentence, to give them time to respond. If they look bored, shift to something more exciting. If they look interested, get into more detail. And if you’re not sure how they are feeling about your story, ask them!
Let your pitch be a two way conversation, and you’ll not only be more likely to make a sale, but also to build the long term connections you need to succeed.
5. Ask For Help!
No matter how well you target the producers you pitch, how great your screenplay or how brilliant your pitch, it’s inevitable that you’re going to hear many no’s before you hear a yes. If a producer says your script isn’t for them, don’t try to jam it down their throat. Instead, turn them into a mentor, and turn a potential obstacle into a friend in the industry who can help you for the rest of your career. Say something like this:
“I can see that this script is not for you. So I’m wondering, can I pick your brain for a second? I know I’m a new writer, and that the script may not be for everyone. But I also know I’ve done the work on this project. It’s a really strong script, in the vein of (list a couple of recent projects that made a ton of money) and I know that these movies make money. So if you were in my shoes, and you had a project like this, who would you bring it to?”
Now the pressure is off for both of you. They don’t have to deal with the awkwardness of saying no to you, and you don’t have to deal with the pressure of a producer who isn’t interested. With the pressure off (and hearing that somebody else is likely to make a ton of money on this project), they may even reconsider and decide they want to read your script, especially if you’ve properly targeted them. Worst case scenario, everybody loves to give advice. It costs nothing, and makes them feel smart. When they give you that advice, make sure to ask this question: Can I mention your name when I call? Now, rather than making a cold call to the next producer, you’re calling with instant credibility, dropping the name of your new mentor, and deepening the long term connections in the industry that every writer needs to build and establish a career.
Whether you’re pitching, writing, editing, revising or staring at the blank page for the very first time, remember that building a career as a screenwriter is a long term game. The writers who succeed aren’t the ones who focus on a one time sale. They’re the ones who show up consistently at their computer, pour everything they’ve got into the stories that matter most to them, face both their strengths and weaknesses head on, and treat each opportunity as a chance to grow, not only in their professional community, but also in their art and their craft as a writer.
Great advise! Thank you sir!
“rather than focusing on “making the sale,” set the goal of building a personal connection with the producer. Nobody likes the feeling of being “sold.””
Best advise I’ve hear on the subject. I get so nervous. This will help.
I cannot begin to thank J.K. for his input, lessons and free wisdom. You can find a zillion other articles talking about the art of the pitch and as valuable as they might be, they tend to all say the same basic things and only at a superficial level. J.K. goes down deep to the 10th degree of a lesson and touches on concepts, ideas and knowledge that I have not seen elsewhere — (and I’ve been reading/learning everything from Script types of magazines, websites, experts, books, webinars, seminars, etc. from Hollywood to New York,) so I’m thankful for his generosity of spirit, invaluable knowledge and Yoda-like wisdom (which can only be gained through years being an experienced player within this hard-knocks industry). I would highly recommend any of his training courses/seminars. Also his patience and sincerity are an added plus. There’s no condescending attitude to newbies and neophytes, which is also a bonus. Thank you J.K.!