Monday, December 14, 2015

Five things to think about before pitching

I’ve done quite a few guest speaker sessions at the excellent Met Film School over the past couple of years, talking about my work and the industry in general. Sometimes, I sit in on the pitch panels. These panels are part of their assessment, where they pitch their movie/TV projects to a group of industry folk, who then give feedback, ask questions, and offer advice on refining the pitch. It’s always fascinating and inspiring, as the students are extremely smart and full of great ideas.

A lot of similar things regularly come up in the feedback sessions, so I thought it might be useful to talk about them on here. This is by no means a “how to pitch” guide, there are plenty of those out there in the bloggoscribothingosphere (including one from me), this is just a general set of things to look out for when doing your own pitches. There are many more, and there are also exceptions to all of these, so your mileage may vary, take it with a pinch of salt, nobody knows anything, blah blah blah.

Also, you should know I have done *all* of these things wrong at some stage. Usually more than once. Learn from my mistakes. So here goes:

Make it personal

Is this based on something from your life? Is there an intriguing question at the heart of it? Start with that to hook them in. Make it personal. Why are you telling this story? Where did it come from? What inspired you to create this character? Ask them what they’d do if faced with the dilemma at the centre of the story. Open with that, then start the pitch, and they’ll interested before they even know what it’s about.

Let me know where I am immediately

A lot of potentially great pitches have been undone by very simple omissions: the title. The genre. The setting. Let them know what the movie’s called, what type of movie this is, if it’s set in the past, present or future. Sounds obvious. But you’d be surprised how many times it gets forgotten.

If you’re halfway through your great story, and they’re still trying to work out if it’s supposed to be funny or serious, if people have cars or horses, then they’re not going to take in the information. Ground them first, then they know where they are.

Notes won’t kill you

It’s totally fine to clutch some notes and occasionally refer to them to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything. It’s a pitch, not a memory test. Obviously it’s better not to need them, but nobody ever said “wow, loved the idea, but they didn’t have it memorised so we're not going to buy it”.

Glancing at notes is much, MUCH better than constantly stopping and starting, apologising for forgetting parts, and losing your place. They want to love your story. So tell it properly. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t just *read* the notes at them like a speech. It does go without saying, right? I don’t need to tell you that, right? Good.

Let them decide if it sucks or not

“This is just a working title.” “We’re not sure about this bit.” “I don’t like the ending but we can change it.” No. Don’t ever do that. If you tell them something is bad before they get a chance to decide for themselves, they’ll probably agree with you.

You have no idea what they’ll like or not, so don’t put them off. Just confidently tell them the title/plot/ending and keep going. If they hate the title or any part of it, *then* you can say it’s a temporary fix and that you’re happy to change it. This will make you seem more flexible and easygoing.

And finally, possibly the most important one:

Audiences don’t care about you

This one isn’t necessarily to do with the pitch itself, more the story, but it’s a way to avoid certain pitch-death: don’t make your main character a movie writer/director/producer. And it’s not because people don’t understand stories about the inner workings of the movie industry. They do. They just don’t care.

Tough-love time, folks: Audiences do NOT give a shit about you. Or anyone in the film industry. They literally could not care less. Hey, I get it, you know that world and have some hilarious/dramatic/surprising insights about it. Look how hard it is to get movies made! Look how we struggle! Look at all the crazy stuff we have to deal with! Nobody cares. Nobody. Cares.

When someone decides to go to the cinema, paying inflated prices out of their hard-earned salary, they will be looking for someone to root for, or identify with. That person is not you. “Oh, the main character might not get his movie made? Wow. Don’t care. Don’t care, hope he dies at the end.” Same goes for people in PR, or magazine publishing. Lovely people in real life, but audiences aren’t interested in their “difficult” lives.

“But what about The Player?” What about it? You’re not Michael Tolkin or Robert Altman. “What about Saving Mr Banks?” You’re not Kelly Marcel, and your main characters aren’t the creator of Mickey Mouse or Peter Pan. “But what about Ed Wood?” You’re not Alexander & Karaszewski, or Tim Burton, and your main character isn’t Ed Wood. “But what about--“ Stop. You’re not the Coen brothers, Charlie Kaufman, Paul Thomas Anderson, or Fellini. Sorry. Just because there are amazing exceptions, it doesn’t mean you are one of them.

Weirdly, this doesn’t seem to matter in prose fiction. People will accept a filmmaker protagonist in a book or short story far more readily than in a film. I don’t know why. If you’re desperate to tell movie/TV stories, write a book. Or a blog.