Some writers are great at coming up with ideas. Some are great at selling ideas. And some are great at realizing ideas. Very few writers are great at all three.
No one can teach you how to come up with great ideas. And I am of the opinion that while good writers can hone their craft and become great writers, no amount of fine tuning is going to make a bad writer good. But pitching is a skill that can be mastered and wielded to great effect.
I’ll be honest with you. I know a lot of great writers who don’t work that much, and a lot of bad writers who do. And most of the time, the variance in their success rates can be attributed to one thing: their ability to pitch and sell, not only their ideas, but themselves. If you can get a buyer excited about you or your idea (hopefully, both), your chances of landing that sale dramatically improve.
So here’s some advice on developing the perfect pitch…
STRUCTURING YOUR PITCH
There are innumerable ways to structure a pitch. I prefer a variation of the WB format…
INTRO – On the off chance the executive you’re meeting hasn’t had a chance to check out your imdb page, I would suggest kicking things off with a brief introduction – to you and the series you’re about to pitch.
THE TEASE – Set the tone and hook them with a detailed description of your pilot’s opening tease.
THE WORLD – Establish the setting. Is it modern day New York or 18th century London? Fantasy or far future? Build your world!
THE CHARACTERS – Brief descriptions of your main players, a paragraph or two, followed by a couple of lines for any supporting players you deem important enough to include.
THE PILOT – Complete your summary of the show’s pilot episode. Unlike the detailed tease, you’re going to want to broadstroke the story – and hopefully end on a great WTF?! moment that propels your series forward and, most importantly, ensures viewers are invested and curious to learn more. In the case of Dark Matter, it’s the revelation that our amnesiac “heroes” are actually cutthroats and criminals, the worst of the worst. It’s a WTF?! moment that simultaneously shocks the audience and establishes the theme of the series moving forward. Are people born bad or are they products of their environment? Can people truly change? Tune in and find out!
THE SERIES – At this point, I like to offer a summary of the series. In a nutshell, what is it about? What can we expect in terms of tone and themes?
SEASON 1 AND BEYOND – Having established the show, you now need to prove that it has legs and its central conceit capable of sustaining a multi-season run. Briefly arc out your first season, major storylines and character developments. Like your first episode, you’re going to want to end that first season on a huge turn, another big WTF?! moment that upends the status quo. In the case of Dark Matter, the mole within their ranks is finally revealed – and the crew is captured by the Galactic Authority.
CLOSE – You’re unlikely to make a sale in the room, but you should make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. I always like to conclude a pitch with a bookend closing that mirrors my intro. I remind them of my experience and why I am uniquely qualified to deliver this particular series. This is also where I like to answer the ubiquitous “Why now?” question. Of all the shows being pitched them, what makes this one special?
Factoring in the pre and post pitch chats, I like to aim for a lively and memorable 30-45 minute meeting.
Try to land a meeting with someone as high up the food chain as possible. You want to be pitching an exec who can green light your idea or, at very least, has the weight to champion your idea to the decision-maker.
Google-stalk the company and reps you’ll be meeting. Use any information gleamed to better position your pitch.
Prep the hell out of your pitch. There’s always a lot to cover, so consulting notes and reading is fine, but I’m at my best when I’m off-book and a little free-wheeling.
Get on with it already! I prefer to keep the opening chit chat to a minimum. A couple of minutes of introductions, and then roll right into it.
Enthusiasm is key. And infectious. If you truly love your project, that should come through in the pitch.
Once you’re done, follow up with a series overview (a written document that is, essentially, your fleshed-out pitch on paper with accompanying visuals if applicable) that they can review at their leisure.
Don’t be late. Plan your drive so that you can arrive 15 minutes early. Use that time to go over your pitch.
Don’t come across as needy. Desperation undermines the value of your product.
Don’t go long. The execs have probably set aside an hour to meet with you. Get it done in 45. Always leave them wanting more – instead of you gone.
Don’t drown them in details. At a certain point, they’ll stop listening.
Don’t be boring. Remember what I said about enthusiasm?
And – off the top of my head – that’s it. I am tempted to add “Don’t be nervous”, but I realize that’s easier said than done. Still, it may help to ask yourself “What’s the worst that can happen?”. The answer: “They say no.” So what? Remind yourself – there are plenty of possible homes for your project and, in the end, plenty of possible projects and pitches. Often, passing on a project will be less about the quality of your pitch as it will be all about the timing.
Which reminds me of one more. It’s good to be able to come up with great ideas, pitch them, and realize them. But it really helps to be lucky.