Crazy, Desperate, Unprepared: The Pitching Mistakes You Should Not Make
At Screenwriters World a few weeks back, I had the good fortune of being invited to sit on the Pitching panel. You know, the panel that starts out in good enough spirits, but ends up with audience members shifting in their seats, realizing all they’ve done wrong the day prior at the pitch slam, and every way in which they sabotaged themselves. While I found myself thinking about some of these common mistakes long after the pitching panel was over and I was back in a less writer-y world, the reality was that the mistakes I thought of were relevant to a lot more then just how writers might be screwing up at pitch events. They all had to do with the focus, awareness, and professionalism of how writers present themselves, be it in a pitch event, a networking event, or a pre-scheduled meeting.
So here now a few things you don’t want to do when going after the job, be it the sale of your script, a writing assignment, or a budding relationship with a rep or an entertainment executive that could one day become instrumental to your success.
1. Leading with your neurosis
While whatever comes of a meeting, scheduled or otherwise, is personal to you, it’s business to everyone else. Don’t lead with your need to have your script sold and therefore all the work you’ve been doing validated; Industry professionals are looking to bring other professionals, or in the very least aspiring professionals, into their fold. They don’t care if you’re about to lose your electricity, or if you’ve run out of money writing and now can’t pay rent. They care that you’re a professional with a strong voice and some potentially great work.
2. Coming unprepared
Sure, sometimes you run into someone in the elevator for whom you didn’t have a chance to prepare. There will be times when you have to wing it, and hopefully you get in the habit of winging it well. You should always be able to speak to your material in an informed fashion, and be able to doll out an enticing log line and an elevator pitch without too much effort. When you are invited for a meeting or participate in a pitch event, study the people sitting across from you, and be sure to know what you need to know about them. If they just produced a RomCom flop with Actress X, you don’t pitch to them something similar to a project with which they just failed. If they are a production company that specialized in horror, don’t pitch them a buddy comedy. Know your buyer, and know the person sitting across the way. That is the first thing you can do to appear professional
3. Not having the work to back up your words
Don’t ever lead with a project which you’ve not written yet. Unless you’re having a vague conversation about what you’ll be working on next. If you’re pitching someone a project, you should be able to ship it to the listener should you be so lucky to get a request. I don’t know any writer who can turn out a polished, finished script in 3 weeks. Don’t set yourself up to try and be the first.
4. Extending a clammy hand
Nervousness can be off-putting in the most subtle ways. If you know you are prone to perspiration, keep an extra shirt and a stick of deodorant in the car just in case, and a pack of tissues in your pocket. They may come in handy some day.
5. Talking about your 18 finished scripts, every last one of which is great
While industry execs want to know that your voice is developed and that your skills go far beyond those of a one-trick-pony, they also want to know that you’ve been diligent about trying to get your work out there. A writer who tells them that there are 18 scripts sitting somewhere implies two things: The first, is that you are not prone to self editing, and are probably quite precious about your work. Eighteen great scripts imply that the writer naturally assumes that everything they do is great. Which is, if you consider Akiva Goldsman writing Lost in Space, is never the case. The second is that if there are 18 great scripts sitting somewhere unproduced, something is wrong with the writer. Either the writer has social issues and can’t get over them long enough to get the work out there, or the writer is a challenging personality, one that doesn’t often play well. Either way, neither one of these options will lead Executive X to think that you’re the sort of writer with whom they want to get into bed.
6. Lacking enthusiasm about your work
You are your work’s best champion. The person who should always believe in it more than anyone else. You will have to fight for it, sacrifice for it, make concessions that will keep you up night after night. And in time, this championing of the work will serve you well. Enthusiasm is contagious – if others see you jazzed about the work, there is that much more of a chance they will jump on the bandwagon as well.
7. Having wayyyy too much enthusiasm about your work
Honest enthusiasm is great. Blind passion? That can get a bit whacky. Remember, whether in a social or professional setting, any type of meeting is a professional exchange. Don’t be the crazy writer happy to be listening to themselves going on and on and on about the brilliance of their work. Pretty soon you’ll find yourself standing on your own, preaching to no one but yourself.
8. Leave the costumes at home
Don’t walk in in full civil war regalia, or having written a clever wrap about your screenplay. Leave the shticks behind, and let the work speak for itself. Walking in with costumes and make up and endless props and your home-made soundtrack implies to the executive that you don’t believe that the work can speak for itself, and are therefore trying to over-compensate.
9. Nobody except Woody Allen does Woody Allen well
Self-effacing is much more appealing when written by someone else and lit well. In real life, Self-effacing can quickly be misconstrued as insecurity, neurosis, a low self esteem, and maybe even incompetence. What if they actually believe you that you are as incompetent as your missed-humor claims? Leave your neurosis at the door, and treat every meeting like a professional exchange.
10. Pitching to trend
When meeting an industry executive, don’t try to figure out what they would respond to, or what sort of material they might be looking for that day based on whatever is hot in the box office or in the trades. Practice your pitches, and pitch them well. If your material is strong and your ideas unique, they will pique interest and easily rise beyond the passing trends.