Pitching Projects: 10 Things Writers Do that Drive Executives Crazy
Guest Post by Angela Silak, Co-Founder, Hollywood Resumes
The job search is pretty straightforward when you’re sending in resumes and going in for interviews. But as a writer, getting a job is even more difficult because you also have to sell an idea. The reality is that most ideas will get passed on for any number of reasons, but that doesn’t mean you should give up. If you’re talented and have a story to tell, someone’s eventually going to be interested . . . that is, if you know how to present the project correctly. The submission and pitching process is a tough one to navigate, and there are many mistakes that could be causing your great ideas to be dismissed. Here are a few bad habits to avoid when pitching:
Sending loglines and pitches on Friday afternoons
It’s 6pm on Friday, and you’re just finishing up your work for the week. You’ve gotten to a good stopping place with your spec script and have thought up a few loglines based on the general you had at a network earlier that week. You type them up in an email, hit send, and start your weekend. While you might feel good about closing out your week without any outstanding items on your to-do list, you’ve inadvertently created outstanding items on the network executives’ lists, forcing them to think about something new when they’re also trying to wrap up their weeks. Not the best way to make a great impression. Don’t start the submission process off on the wrong foot — wait until Monday, or even better, Tuesday (when executives aren’t catching up on the weekend’s email backlog), to send in your loglines and get them the consideration they deserve.
Sending 20 loglines at a time
Equally as bad as submitting loglines late on a Friday is sending too many at once. Two or three is appropriate, and you should never submit more than four loglines at a time, or an executive is not likely to carefully consider each one. Even if you have 20 ideas, find a way to space the pitches out. It will show the network you aren’t a quitter and will make the review process much more manageable on their end.
Reading the pitch
Once you’re in the room pitching, it’s critical to keep your audience engaged. This is tough, especially if you’ve scheduled a meeting during that post-lunch slump (hint: avoid 3PM pitches if possible!). One of the worst things a writer can do is read the pitch from a piece of paper. It’s 100% okay to have notes or even a full write out of your pitch, but try not to stare at it the whole time. Look up, use a conversational tone, and only glance down at your notes when necessary.
Pitching for an hour
Even if you’ve come up with the most brilliant story ever, it’s very hard to hold someone’s attention during a verbal pitch. Keep your pitches to 20 minutes or less. If you think you need more time, re-evaluate your pitch — are you sharing secondary story points that don’t impact the overall plot that much? Or, perhaps the concept is too complicated in the first place. If your pitch is an hour long, you’ve probably included too many details, and the story is going to be very hard to follow in a pitch (or in a script).
Only pitching Act I
Underdeveloped pitches are just as bad as over-complicated and lengthy ones. If you’ve only worked out Act I in your mind (or just a logline!), you’re not ready to present. No one likes a pitch that sets up a story and ends with, “and then chaos ensues.” What is this “chaos?” By skipping over Act II, you’re implying that you haven’t figured out where you want the story to go, and buyers may be skeptical of your ability to piece it together later.
Starting your pitch with a list of 10 character descriptions
Setting up a story can be tricky, and it’s key that you get your characters across during a pitch. However, it’s not smart to open your pitch with a list of character descriptions. It’s very hard to remember names and personality traits when they’re not placed in context. Instead, weave the introductions into your story, so your audience meets the characters as they’d be encountered in the movie.
Only making eye contact with one person in the room
Be cognizant of where you’re looking when you’re in the room pitching. As in any great presentation, you want to make eye contact with all your audience members, so if you’re pitching to a team, make sure you’re not focusing all your energy on one person. Some writers have a habit of only pitching to the most senior executive in the room, but this is a mistake. It comes across as rude and will make the other executives less likely to want to work with you.
Reminding the executives that “we can change it”
When you’re done pitching, you don’t need to tell executives, “we can change anything you don’t like.” First of all, it’s redundant — they know. No pitch is going to be developed exactly as presented, but the key is telling an exciting story that has the bones for a great script. Throughout the pitch, your audience will be making mental notes about parts of the story that could be changed, and if you get the gig, you’ll hear their thoughts. So don’t backtrack at the end of a pitch. Stick with your original story, and you’ll appear more confident and polished.
Including pushy producers or agents
Be careful about who you bring with you to a pitch. When developing a story, buyers are looking for a writer with great potential and a unique perspective. So when pushy agents or producers butt in and add commentary during pitches, it takes away from the experience and makes you seem amateur. It’s not unusual for a producer or agent to join a pitch, but they should be there to help facilitate an introduction and then let you take the reins. If they come across as too pushy, you risk the pitch getting rejected out of fear of working with a difficult team.
Arguing against a pass
If you receive a pass after a pitch, don’t try to fight it. Your project is being passed on because the network has determined that even with changes, it’s too far off the mark. Additionally, it’s possible that the development team simply doesn’t vibe with your writing style or feel your voice is right for the brand. In most cases, they’ll find a more polite reason to pass, but don’t force them to continue coming up with excuses for not buying your project when they’ve already told you no. Accepting rejection gracefully keeps the door open for future projects that might be a better match.
Angela Silak is a scripted development executive and also the co-founder of Hollywood Resumes, a resume writing service dedicated to entertainment industry job applicants. For more career advice, sign up for the Hollywood Resumes newsletter, and get free tips delivered to your inbox every Wednesday.