Depending on who you ask, pitching is one of the most stressful parts of being a screenwriter. You spend months, sometimes even years of your life crafting the perfect screenplay, only to have its future hinge on 10 minutes or less. Just thinking about the word “pitch” used to give me a panic attack, so you can imagine my utter shock when I won ‘The Pitch" at the Chicago International Film Festival and was the first runner-up at the ScreenCraft Virtual Pitch Competition in the same year.
I’ve been lucky enough to place in and win several screenwriting contests. My web series, THE RIGHT SWIPE, has screened at prestigious festivals like Austin Film Festival and Urbanworld. However, my ability to pitch has opened far more doors for me than any of those accolades. Thanks to my pitches, I’ve had meetings with managers, built long-term relationships with execs, and even secured a Sundance award-winning executive producer for my feature, GO TO THE BODY.
These tips can help you make a lasting impression on professionals in the industry, whether you’re pitching in a competition, selling your script to a producer or manager, looking to attach talent and investors to your project, or even just having a casual conversation about your writing.
Make It Personal
Your pitch is so much more than just a verbal synopsis of your script. You’re not only selling the screenplay, you’re also selling yourself. After every pitch I’ve done, I’ve been told that my personal tie to the story was the hook. Open your pitch with your connection to the script and what compelled you to write it.
Tell them why you’re the perfect person to tell this story. If it’s based on your experience or that of someone you know, share that anecdote. Even if your screenplay isn’t autobiographical, there is still a piece of you somewhere in it, or else you wouldn’t have written it. You love sci-fi because you and your dad bonded over episodes of Star Trek? Say that! You’re wrote a queer, Black rom-com because you’ve never seen your ideal love story represented in that genre? Put that in your pitch! Be vulnerable and share who you are.
Infuse Your Genre
If you are pitching a comedy and you never make any jokes, what are you even doing? This seems like it would be obvious, but according to many execs, writers miss the mark on this constantly.
You need to convey the feel of your script, not just the premise. Depending on the format and setting of your pitch, you can even incorporate photos, videos, or music that lives in the world of your story. Pitching is a performance. By that, I don’t mean you should pull out a soliloquy from Hamlet or learn to juggle, but you do have to engage your audience with your delivery. If that idea makes you nervous, taking an improv or acting class can help you feel more confident!
As writers, we get so used to putting our thoughts on paper that sometimes we forget how to convey them through our mouths, especially in a high-pressure situation.
Memorize your pitch or know as much of it as you can so that your eyes aren’t glued to your notes. Even though it’s contradictory, try not to sound too rehearsed. You don’t want to come off like a used car salesman or a robot. Record yourself doing your pitch and watch it back, or pitch to another writer friend and ask for feedback. Time yourself – you’ll likely notice that you’re going faster or slower than you thought. Try to make eye contact (or camera contact if you’re on Zoom). Even if you must glance at your notes, do it quickly.
Try to Make a Friend, Not a Deal
Some of my best pitching luck happened when I decided not to focus on my project, but on building a genuine connection with the person I’m pitching to.
When you have a general meeting or you happen to meet an exec at a party, you may be excited to tell them about your script right away. But remember, these folks hear pitches all day long, whether they want to or not. I even heard from one exec that her dating app matches tried to sell her screenplays so often that she had to start using a pseudonym.
Instead of jumping into a pitch, start a real conversation! Do your research before your meeting and see what you have in common with them. If they like you as a person, they’ll be much more interested in helping you. If they don’t have an opportunity for you at that moment, leave a good impression and you’ll be top of mind when the right one comes along. Remember, you’re not just selling your script. You’re selling yourself. Film and TV production is an inherently collaborative process. Make them want to work with you, not just your material.
Your work isn’t over once your pitch is done. You have to continue to cultivate the relationships you make through pitch competitions and meetings.
If the judges or execs give you their contact information, don’t be afraid to use it! Don’t pester them for jobs or send them unsolicited materials, but you should absolutely update them every few months when you have exciting career news to share. Congratulate them if you see they secured a dope new project. Invite them to a film festival that your work is screening at. If you have an ask to make of them, do so strategically and respectfully.
Through the combination of my “Make a Friend” method and follow-ups, I was recommended for my current job with Janelle Monae’s production company, Wondaland Pictures, and secured a meeting with Issa Rae’s ColorCreative; both over a year after my initial meetings. Look at your pitch as a “first date.” It’s the start of a relationship, so don’t ghost if it went well!
Kyra Jones is a Chicago-based Black queer screenwriter, filmmaker, and actor. She graduated from Northwestern University. She co-wrote, executive produced, and starred in the award-winning web series, THE RIGHT SWIPE (OTV). Her comedy pilot, GOOD VIBES ONLY, won the 2020 Nashville Film Festival screenwriting competition. She’s set to direct her first independent feature, GO TO THE BODY, which was one of the winners of the 2020 Screencraft Virtual Pitch Competition. You can follow her on Twitter @blkassfeminist and on IG @kyra.a.jones