Screenwriters are always told what they should do during a pitch — but what are the things they should not do?
Knowledge is power. You can learn a lot from discovering what you should do while pitching your screenplay to industry insiders. But you can learn even more by making sure that you're not making the common mistakes that most screenwriters make.
With that in mind, here we offer the ten most common things that screenwriters do wrong in their pitches, be it during in-person meetings, Zoom meetings, pitch sessions at writing conferences, or during those moments at film festivals or industry events when you find yourself at the right time, right place, with the right person.
You Know Nothing About the Person You're Pitching To
It should go without saying that you should only pitch to those that would likely be interested in your script. But you'd be surprised how many screenwriters know nothing about the person or company they are pitching to.
You need to do your research. And it starts with who you market your script to in the first place. That's the first step.
Do They Make the Types of Films You're Pitching?
Only market to production companies and studios that make the kinds of movies that you're pitching to them. Most companies have their niche. Know it.
Do They Work With Writers Like You?
Only market to managers and agents that represent writers like you. Some agents and managers only handle certain types of writers that are established. Others like to discover new talent. Some represent certain genre writers. Others are open to anything. Do your research and see if you can identify where you would fit best and who would be most responsive to your queries.
Learn About Who You're Pitching To
Once you surpass that step and are invited to pitch your script(s) to them, you should be scouring the internet for information on the individual(s) that you're pitching to, as well as the company that they are representing.
You do this for discussion points. When you go in knowing the person and knowing the company you're pitching to, you'll be able to intertwine your pitch with their project history.
And beyond that, small talk is key to break the ice. If you go in not knowing anything about their company and what they make, they'll know fairly quickly that you haven't done your homework. It can come off as disrespectful.
Know the person (and company) that you're pitching to.
You Haven't Considered All Possible Questions They Could Ask
Before we get to the actual pitch, we need to discuss one of the most common mistakes that screenwriters make when pitching — not being prepared to be challenged.
Most pitch meetings are really about getting to know you, the writer. You're going to be poked and prodded to see what your reactions are.
The industry wants informed and prepared screenwriters. There will be no time to baby you. That's not their job. Their job is to find screenwriters ready for the big leagues — ready for those assignments for projects that will cost millions to produce.
So they will challenge you by asking you a lot of questions.
- What successful movies are comparable to your script?
- What kind of actors do you see being cast?
- Why should you be the one to tell this story?
Look at your script — and the types of stories you write — and conjure any possible questions you think a producer, development executive, agent, or manager could have. And then have an answer for them in your head.
When you go in unprepared to answer the most likely questions they'll ask, it will lead to awkward moments in the discussion. And those awkward moments will halt any momentum you have going into that pitch.
You Have an Under-Prepared Pitch
It's not enough to have a logline and a synopsis memorized. That's not a pitch. Chances are they have all of that already.
A pitch is taking those marketing assets to the next level. Too many screenwriters go in thinking that pitching is about communicating the plot of the script. It's so much more than that.
Pitching is about getting them excited and emotionally invested in your screenplay. You accomplish that by going beyond the plot and hitting those emotional nerves that cause excitement, empathy, catharsis, and imagination.
As you pitch your plot points, be prepared to sprinkle them with genre beats, movie comparisons, exciting visuals, etc. And you should have that pitch build in anticipation by featuring the conflict beats that the characters are going through.
There's nothing more boring than walking someone through the plot points of a story. And as we've said before, they already know most of them.
You Have an Over-Prepared Pitch
With that said, you also want to make sure that you don't over-prepare your pitch.
Many screenwriters who have been through the pitching process on all levels will likely relate to the notion of industry insiders stopping them mid-pitch with questions. That's usually a sign that they are losing interest — usually because you've come over-prepared.
Pitches shouldn't take more than a few minutes when it comes to you communicating your story (hopefully in an entertaining and exciting way). The rest of the pitch encompasses the discussion points we've covered above.
So, don't go in with pages and pages of a presentation. If you need ten to thirty minutes to pitch your story, there's a problem. You've come over-prepared.
Focus on the broad strokes, the main plot points, and showcase as many twists and turns as possible. Get your story pitch down to a few minutes — but a few exciting minutes. Think of it like a movie trailer. They're generally two to two-and-a-half minutes and introduce the character, the world, the genre, the concept, the conflict, and some of the twists in the span of that short time. Give yourself an extra minute or two above that, and you'll be good.
You're Putting the Agent/Manager/Producer/Executive on a Pedestal
It doesn't matter if they are an agent, manager, executive, or producer. It doesn't matter what movie titles they have on their resume. It doesn't matter what clients they have on their Hollywood roster.
The person you are pitching to went to grade school, high school, and maybe college. They struggled to pay their bills. They struggled to get that industry job. They have families of their own. They spill coffee on their clothes, they stub their toes, and sometimes they have stuff hanging out of their nose — just like you.
They're people — ordinary people — in a somewhat extraordinary job. At least in your eyes.
Treat them with respect, but don't put them on any pedestal.
When you realize this truth, your anxiety levels will go down because you won't be facing this intimidating Hollywood beast — you'll be having a conversation with someone that loves movies and television just like you.
The worst thing that you can do is be overly formal, overly-prepared, and overly-wooden during your meeting. Open it with a smile and hello. Ask them how their week is going so far. Keep it loose, and just be yourself.
You're Mistaking Confidence with Ego
Confidence is not ego. Many screenwriters read stories about screenwriter Joe Eszterhas and his tales of how ego made him millions. Those screenwriters are misled, believing that Hollywood wants ego-driven personalities. It may seem counter-intuitive to think that Hollywood doesn't want egomaniacs (since Hollywood does have many), but it will be your worst mistake going into a meeting with the attitude that you and your script are the next big thing.
You have to remember that you're not the second coming of Quentin Tarantino, Aaron Sorkin, Diablo Cody, Nancy Meyers, Shane Black, or any other iconic screenwriter. Presenting an egotistical attitude does not make you a great screenwriter. Only great scripts do that.
Even if you have the work to back it up, ego means nothing more than:
- Difficult to work with
- Won't accept notes
- Probably best to go with the nice and appreciative screenwriter we met with yesterday.
You're Using Your Pitch to Educate Them About Their Own Industry
"Hollywood could use something like this right now."
"This genre is really hot."
"X movie made X amount of money."
"Studios really want..."
Avoid offering your own assumptions when discussing the needs and the wants of the very industry that your well-connected contacts work in. They know it better than you.
Even if what you are saying is true, you're telling them something that they already know. Furthermore, you likely only know half of the truth of any given topic anyway while they know the big picture — and your information is likely dated.
They know their own industry. They are living and breathing it 16 hours a day or more.
You're Delivering a Sales Pitch Instead of Having a Conversation
We've all experienced good and bad salespeople, whether they are selling us a car, a house, or a TV. The worst ones are clearly delivering an overly obvious rehearsed sales pitch — it's like nails on a chalkboard. They think you're a sucker. The best ones are those that don't try to sell you on anything. They just talk to you. They have a conversation. And within that conversation, they drop some details, ask some questions, and share their own likes and dislikes.
You know your story. You know your characters. You've done the prep work. Now you get to talk about all of that to someone that likely shares the same interests — movies and television.
You need to treat your pitch as less of a wooden and rehearsed sales presentation and more as a conversation with a like-minded individual. Give them the title and logline, accompanied by some additional elaboration, and inject some conversational beats within all of that, including questions you pose to them.
You're Overstaying Your Welcome
Hollywood may seem fast-paced, but it works at a turtle's speed.
Once your pitch has been made and the conversation comes to an end, offer your thanks and tell them that you appreciate their time. Later that day, drop them a quick Thank You email.
It was great meeting you. I appreciate the time. Let me know if you need anything more on my end. Have a great rest of the week.
After that, you need to be patient.
A majority of the time, two weeks would be a speedy turnaround. Three to four weeks is most likely the benchmark. Sometimes it goes beyond that. So, avoid emailing them for updates.
Be patient. Waiting to hear back is often a months-long affair. And sometimes silence is a clear sign that they're not interested.
You're Putting All of Your Eggs in One Basket
Look, it's great that you had an opportunity to pitch a script to an industry insider. That's a huge step. But don't fall into the trap of putting all of your hopes and dreams in this one call. You'll only be setting yourself up for multiple heartbreaking disappointments.
Some screenwriters had had upwards of eighty pitch meetings before anything resulted in a script sale or paid assignment.
So many screenwriters are left heartbroken because they've put so much into one single Hollywood opportunity.
- They go on social media and declare to the world that they've finally "made it" — because of a single pitch meeting.
- They exaggerate and say that their pitch went amazing and they're close to signing a deal.
- They wait by their phone and email inbox, halting any further writing and future projects.
This happens to every screenwriter at one time or another.
Save yourself the heartache and move on from that pitch meeting without looking back. Hope for the best, but assume that nothing is going to come from it. That's how you survive the screenwriting grind.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, and the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed starring Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O’Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies