From a Producer's Perspective: Pitching Your Story

by David Kaufmann on September 13, 2019

Ideas are a dime a dozen. The first step in ensuring that yours elevates itself from the crowd and begins to gain steam towards becoming a reality is to develop and execute a well-built pitch.  

Before you take your pitch to the town, be sure that it’s an idea worth sharing. In The Producers Brain, I discussed my core thesis that the single most important thing that you need to find success is an undeniable idea. It’s got to be great to garner attention and the first person you need to convince of this is yourself. 

David Kaufmann goes even deeper in his book, The Producer's Brain. Get it on Amazon now.

Developing your pitch and gaining traction for your idea is a game of coalition building. You convince yourself that you’ve got something great, then a second person, a third, a fourth… then the world. You need to do this strategically and bring in people that will add specific value in elevating your project and creating a shared creative vision. 

The high-level producers, agents, directors, financiers and studio executives that you’ll need to sell on your vision are busy people. It is difficult to grab their attention. To do so, you’ll need to build critical momentum for your project and turn it into an idea that can’t be ignored. So how do you get a potential partner excited about your project?  

Step One: Build A Relationship

Before you approach someone with a creative idea, you need to get to know them.  This is an industry built on trust. The first thing many people evaluate is whether or not you are the type of person they want to start a creative relationship with. Even when things go well, it takes a long time to get from idea to reality and it is never a smooth process. A good working relationship is critical to a great partnership. 

Cold calling to pitch is extremely difficult. The only real way to enter into a warm room with someone that you’ve never met before is to have a meeting set by a representative or mutual friend that can transfer elements of trust to you. 

Before you approach a potential partner with your pitch, think about why it makes sense to work together on it. Most importantly, think about your project from their perspective. Why is this an idea/partnership that will be beneficial and add value for them? Know specifically how they can help and have an understanding of where you hope the partnership will take you both before you pick up the phone. 

Step Two: Deliver Your Elevator Pitch 

Once you’ve built a set of great relationships, it is important to be respectful of others’ time. With that in mind, before you ask for a read of your screenplay, treatment, or pitch deck, you should quickly evaluate if your idea is even a fit. The best way to do this is with a short phone call where you can deliver an elevator pitch (a 2-3 minute overview of your project) and see if it’s something that’s worth exploring further together. 

Be sure to mention the core elements of the story, whether there is intellectual property involved, and provide a couple of existing movie or television comparisons so they can start to envision the tone/style that you are going for. 

If your elevator pitch goes well, it will open the door for further discussion and you can feel comfortable in progressing the conversation. You’ll also gain the added benefit of building excitement about your idea before you ask for a read of anything. 

Learn how to write great movie dialogue with this free guide.

Step Three: Provide a Visual Pitch 

Once you’ve delivered your elevator pitch and started to build excitement for your idea, keep the momentum going by providing a visual pitch deck to help your potential partner wrap their head around your vision. 

It’s one thing to discuss an idea, it’s another to provide a visual manifestation of it.  Everything becomes more real and it gives you an opportunity to show rather than tell. Film is a visual medium, so it makes sense that early on you should provide some visual cues.  This also allows your partner to further understand your project without taking more than 15 additional minutes of their time. 

Step Four: Deliver a Full Pitch/Send Your Script

Once you’ve delivered an elevator pitch and provided a visual deck, you’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not there is real interest in your idea. If excitement is still building, you are in a great position to dive into the details of your story. If you have a finished script, now is the time to send it over. 

You are likely to get a much faster and engaged read at this point because you’ll already have sold them on the core elements of why it is a good story. Even if your script or verbal pitch isn’t perfect, if your potential partner is sold on the overall concept you’ll likely get constructive feedback rather than a pass. 

If you don’t have a script, this is when you’d look to schedule a verbal pitch where you can dive into the details of why the story matters to you and your proposed three-act structure. 

Step Five: Collectively Develop  

Once you’ve worked your way through the first four steps, it’s time to determine if there is a creative fit on both sides. If you decide to proceed together, build a creative relationship based on mutual respect. Make sure that you allow your partner to take collective ownership over the idea. You are a team now and it’s time to put your heads together to think about the next steps in making your project a reality. 

The deeper you get into pitching your project in these stages and the more great partners you bring on, the closer you’ll become to seeing your vision up on screen. 

In the coming weeks, I’ll dive into more detail about how to perfect each of these steps, so stay tuned! 

David Kaufmann is an independent film and television producer living in Los Angeles. He began his career as an NBC Page at Saturday Night Live. He spent over nine years handling film and television licensing and development at Major League Baseball where he helped create critically acclaimed films like Moneyball and 42. He has an undergraduate degree in Journalism from the University of Richmond and holds an MBA from NYU Stern with a focus on the media business and creative producing. He is an active member of the Producers Guild of America. For more on David, please visit his IMDB or LinkedIn.

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