About That Movie You Want to Pitch…

The other day I was talking to a client. Just for context, the client, while extremely talented, is, at this time, unrepped. Through Virtual Pitch Fest he was able to get a known production company interested in one of his screenplays. While there is no deal yet, there are talks of the production company optioning the material, packaging it, and potentially seeking financing for it come the new year. And so now, just as he should be, the writer is debating what he should work on next.

“I have this new concept I am interested in,” He told me, “Can I just take it out and pitch it, or do I have to write the whole screenplay?”

“Who would you be pitching it to?” I asked.

The answer was not an obvious one, as you might have guessed.

Don’t get me wrong: Pitching your screenplay to producers and industry execs sounds great. But, usually, for serious pitches to get out there, there needs to be some preexisting familiarity with the writer and his work in the professional space in order for a full-out pitch to be facilitated.

Now, when I’m talking about pitching, I am not talking about the sort of online pitches one could purchase on Roadmap Writers or Stage 32. What I have in mind is the completely scripted, fully broken 20- to 30-minute performative pitch dance, in which the scribe takes her listener through the full scope of the world, characters, theme and story, not to mention her personal connection to the work, complete with writerly jazz hands. Such pitches are carefully crafted and exhaustively rehearsed, to make sure the writer fully delivers on every unique character trait, major plot beat and exciting story turn.

And in order for a writer to be given that time and that attention – while the pitch itself should only run anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, pitch meetings are usually granted anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes in the listening exec’s calendar – the listener to the pitch is, in almost every scenario, already familiar with the writer and/or her previous work.

Therefore, in order for the writer to get to pitch her full story concept, she would have gotten some level of industry exposure in order to create the opportunity to sell the pitch prior to writing the screenplay. In most scenarios, the writer would have either built a reputation working her way up on the TV front, or have had a previous screenplay circled around the industry to good response by her agent or manager. Even if the exec or the company she wants to pitch to are not personally familiar with her, her reputation precedes her.

All of which is to say… those writers who are out on a pitch tour, doing a full pitch to more than one or two industry contacts, usually have representation in place, who is able to call and set up pitch meetings with prospective buyers and executives with whom the project would be a fit.

There are exceptions to the rule; one of the writers I worked with became friendly with a Warner Bros. executive through a mentoring program, and was invited to pitch her next movie once she had it ready to share. The writer went on to sell the pitch to the studio, and develop the screenplay with executives there. Eileen Jones (LINK) who was a working TV writer but unknown in the feature world, participated in Margot Robbie and Christina Hodson’s Lucky Exports Pitch Program (LINK), through which all the writers, who were largely unknown in the feature space, developed extensive pitches that went on to sell. So it does happen. But in most scenarios, pitches are powered by pre-existing industry interest and enthusiastic support from representation.

Once a writer has gotten some traction in the professional space, and begun developing relationships with producers and development execs, her agent or manager may become instrumental in setting up pitch meetings for her new feature project once she is ready to get it out there. Whether they go to executives who’ve read and met with her before and count themselves as fans, or approach producers and execs who know her by reputation only and who are pitch-curious because the material lands well within their own brand, the writer will get out there to perform her pitch to companies and individuals who come complete with some level of interest, be it in the concept or the writer herself.

In the best case scenarios, one party or more will come to the table to buy the pitch, after which the writer will be compensated to develop (in the very least) one full draft of the screenplay. Contracts will get drawn up and the involved parties will agree on steps, or requirements. Once the writer is “commenced” with a kick-off meeting involving executives in which story notes are solidified on the pitch and expectations are set, she will be sent off to begin the writing process in earnest from there.

All of this may sound great but… if you don’t have industry contacts, how do you get there? By starting to build relationships with people in the industry now – even those at assistant and coordinator level – you may, down the line, find yourself with friends and fans in high places. The more relationships you foster, the more opportunities you create for yourself.  And it’s those relationships that may ultimately help you move your screenwriting career forward.