Have you ever watched Shark Tank and thought to yourself or, let’s be honest, yelled at your TV, “What are you doing?! That’s the worst pitch ever and I cannot believe you’re dressed like that. SO unprofessional!” OR, maybe you’re the type of person that finds themselves yelling, “That’s the dumbest idea I have ever seen in my LIFE! NO ONE is going to buy that!” If you fall into any of those categories, CONGRATULATIONS! You have lived the life of a Hollywood creative executive.
As a former executive myself, I’ve heard my fair share of pitches. Most of them were absolutely horrible and a few them were okay. A GREAT pitch is like finding a hundred dollar bill on a crowded sidewalk that no one else has seemed to have noticed.
I’ll be honest, pitching is a tough nut to crack for writers. They never can seem to wrap their head around the business side of things. In fact, whenever I’ve spoken at an event, it’s inevitable that SOMEONE will ask me how they can be a better pitcher.
Just remember that it’s a business deal.
When you sit down in a producer’s office or at an executive’s table at a pitchfest, you’re no longer an artist. You’re a small business owner. A small business owner who has created a product that you want a big chain store like Target or Wal-Mart to carry.
The business world calls this a presentation, we call it a pitch. Simple as that.
Unfortunately, most writers can’t get past the artistic side of things. Well, I've got news for you, you’re going to have to. The reality is, once your script is written, the hard part begins: selling it. It’s no longer your “artistic project,” it’s sellable intellectual property. Nothing more than a commodity.
Now that we know what mindset you need to be in, let’s look at some of the dos and don'ts of pitching:
DO Have Confidence!
Remember the golden rule of pitching: No one knows the script better than you. You thought it up, you wrote it out and you (hopefully) did your fair share of re-writing it. You’ve may have spent MONTHS working on this idea and should know every minute detail of the story, the characters and the dialogue.
So have confidence, because when you walk in that room, you are literally the SMARTEST person there. Sure, you might feel intimidated, but in that first meeting, you’re smarter than them.
Maybe they had a reader summarize your script. Maybe they read it a month before the meeting and have read several hundred other scripts since then. Maybe, they read it the night before, but skimmed it while watching Shark Tank and yelling at the screen.
Maybe, you’re at a pitchfest and the person you’re pitching to hasn’t read it at all!
Regardless of the situation, you have to remember that YOU are the SMARTEST person in that room, on that day. Be forewarned, that if you move forward on the project, this will probably be the LAST time you’re the smartest person in the room, so take advantage of it. Embrace it. Love it.
Go into the room confident. Not cocky or arrogant. Go in there standing tall, shoulders back and be ready to easily answer any questions they have for you.
DON’T Dress like a Slob!
Before you ever open your mouth, your first impression is how you look. I would love to say that this should be obvious because, you know, life… but you'd be amazed at how “artists” choose to dress for a business meeting. Because, again, this IS a business meeting. You walk into a major agency for the first time and the assistant answering the phone is in a three-piece suit, let alone what the agent is wearing when you meet with them.
This is NOT the time for you to wear your nasty ass sneakers, faded jeans, your favorite comic book hero T-Shirt and your “Federal Boobie Inspector” hat.
You might be saying, “who the hell would wear that?!” Well, you’d be surprised. I’ve been to my fair share of pitchfests in my day and have seen some of the worst dressed people on the planet. Writers who have spent HUNDREDS of dollars for their shot to pitch to me and a hundred other executives.
And you know what? We passed on their project as they walked up to the table. Without even hearing their pitch.
Wanna know why? Because it doesn’t matter how great their idea was, we’d have to take that person and put them in fronnt of someone that we wanted to write a very big check to fund this project. We’d have zero credibility if we walked in with a total scrub and WE’D be passed on without even hearing the pitch. Not only that, but we’d find it hard pressed to get another meeting with that studio or financier.
Credibility. It’s all we have.
DO Dress with some style!
Sure, it’s a business deal, but it’s still an artistic business deal. Yeah, I know that sounds contradictory, but it is what it is.
Yes, you can get away with jeans, but make sure they’re brand new jeans. Stylish jeans. Jeans from the Gap not from Sears. Nothing baggy, nothing with print or pictures on them. Stylish, straight leg jeans, the darker the better but not black.
No sneakers. You’re SAFEST bet is a pair of black leather shoes, freshly polished.
As for the top half of your body, there is only one option: a suit jacket, button up shirt and a tie. That’s it. Eventually you can wear the funny tee with a suit jacket like Dr. House, but until then, you need to look professional as hell.
No hats. No jewelry. Not too much cologne and no facial piercings.
You can also get away with jeans. Luckily, women’s jeans have a lot more style to them. You can get away with destructed skinnies, boot cut, boyfriend cut, etc. If you go the jeans route…keep ‘em blue, and keep ‘em dark.
In terms of tops, nothing too distracting. No outrageous patterns or something with a lot of words. No giant, distracting jewelry. As for hats, you’re lucky…you can actually pull those off. A friend of mine, who has had sales at major studios and is repped by one of the big agencies is rarely found without her driver’s cap on. She can pull it off.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but no flip-flops, no cargo shorts, no shorts, no tee’s, nothing obnoxious. Blacks, greys, navys. Keep it professional.
DON’T Be weird!
Yeah, I know this is a tough one, but try to follow me. This isn’t the time to bust out your comedy routine.
Don’t “case the joint,” meaning stay in your seat, drink the water they offer you and don’t scope out the office like you want to steal something.
If you know you get nervous and tap your foot or have some other nervous tick, do your best to control it.
If you’re super concerned, videotape yourself giving the pitch or grab a friend that will be 100% honest with you. Have them sit there and critique how you look and what you’re doing with your body and your eyes. A dress rehearsal is perfectly okay. Remember, you may only get one shot at this, let’s maximize the opportunity as much as we can.
Freshen up in the bathroom before you go in the room if you need to. If you know you get serious nervous sweat, then deodorant up and wear layers to protect any signs of wetness to the naked eye. Present a normal, confident self!
Talk and walk a good game and you’re already going to be a cut above the rest.
DO Be Prepared!
We’ve already established that you know your script. Now it’s time to establish your pitch. Get it down to a tight five minutes. Understand what you’re going to be walking into. Figure you’re going to be at your meeting for fifteen minutes. The first five will be idle chit-chat, “how do you know so and so” kinda stuff. The next five will be your pitch and then the final five will be questions.
Be prepared for ANY question. Know who you would cast in the roles. Think “up and comers” who are hot right now. Sure, everyone wants to write the next Die Hard and work with Bruce Willis because they “grew up loving that movie,” but the reality is he’s a well-known pain in the ass and might be a sour taste in the mouth of the person you’re pitching to. Think the Margot Robbie’s and the Scott Eastwood’s of the world.
STAY alert, read the trades. If you had NO idea what was going on in the world and walked in the room pitching “the perfect vehicle for Kevin Spacey,” guess who’s meeting just got cut short!?
Be able to answer ANY question about your script AND if there’s something you don’t know, never say “I don’t know.” Remember, it’s your job to know.
Also, make sure you also know what else you’re working on. Be able to pitch the next script you’re writing or the next idea you’re thinking about. Managers and agents aren’t going to sign you on ONE script. They want to know you’re going to be a writer that will bring them financial gain. They’re not there to do you a favor. This is business.
Lastly, READ THE ROOM… when they stand and say “thanks for coming in,” even if it’s abrupt, that’s your cue to jump out of your seat, shake their hand and thank them profusely for their time. That is NOT the time to ask a “couple of follow-up questions.”
Thank them, get out and hope you did a good enough job to get signed or to be asked back again.
WHELP, there you go folks, that should give you a keen understanding that screenwriting is a business and you need to act accordingly to succeed. I say this all the time, but it bears repeating: it’s hard enough to get your foot in the door, there’s no reason to shoot yourself in said foot before you even reach the door.
Manny Fonseca is an optioned screenwriter and author. With a master’s degree in screenwriting, he’s mainly worked in development during his time in Hollywood. He’s now a full-time writer. He’s currently working on his second book, which will be on the subjects of screenwriting and navigating Hollywood. His first book, Burst!, is the story of becoming a caregiver after his screenwriting partner suffered a ruptured aneurysm in her brain and nearly died.