“The Art Of Pitching” Panel In Los Angeles

I attended this panel on October 29, 2008 sponsored by the NYU Tisch “Writers’ Lab West” alumni group.  The panel offered a valuable range of opinion from members of different sectors of the business, all people who have heard many pitches…

  • Sean C. Covel, Independent Producer (Napoleon Dynamite, Beneath)
  • Maradith Frenkel, Creative Executive, Universal Pictures (Mamma Mia,Frost/Nixon)
  • Eddie Gamarra, Literary Manager & Producer, The Gotham Group (represents screenwriters, animators, novelists, and illustrators with an emphasis on animation, family and graphic novels.)
  • Chris Lawson, Executive, Creative Artists Agency (locates and develops source material to inspire new film and television projects for their clients.)
  • Ellen Sandler, Television Writer/Producer (Everybody Loves Raymond,Coach)

The following is my own collection of notes from the panel.  In some cases, I’ve identified the source of the comment.WHAT YOU NEED…

CAA: Raw enthusiasm over reputation.  Energy really stands out in the room.

Universal: a great writing sample to back up your pitch is a MUST.

Gotham Group: they view film as a flexible medium, so they look for projects that can perform cross-platform, as books, graphic novels, TV shows as well as feature films.

Make sure to focus on 3 MAJOR TALKING POINTS – this will be the concise, clear message that your audience will then deliver to their boss to get you the sale.  Remember, they must take your pitch and SELL IT UP to their superiors.

Most crucial bits to communicate: Major elements, genre, scope, tone, and finally, why you?

Performance skills and Personality are a must when pitching.  With that in mind…

Practice!  You wouldn’t believe how many writers come in unprepared or with their noses glued to their notecards.

Ellen Sandler: wants to know who about, who for and what’s your personal connection to the story.  She must sense you really care about the story and are not just stringing together rehashed elements to make something that seems “commercial.”

THE PITCH

Universal: Loves visuals!  Photographs to show potential locations, tone/atmosphere or production design concepts (in fact, they all agreed that visuals are a plus).

All: Storyboards can be very helpful and show the details that only you can bring to this story.

CAA: Appreciates when a writer has researched their subject.  They know the subject and have passion for it; this really makes it stand out.

CAA: Commit to the material before you know it will sell; don’t ever be tentative.  Make them embrace the idea.  Believe in it.

Gotham Group: Tell them “What’s the movie?”  Show the big picture, in simple, concise terms.

Ellen: get past the setup quickly to the conflict.  What is it about emotionally?  Don’t need the ending, knows it will be happy anyway!  Just give her what’s the big challenge in the climax.

Have great material with a fresh voice.

CAA: Be flexible, able to answer questions about possible changes.

Remember: You’re building a relationship, so they love you and not just your script so they will give you another job.

DONT’S (AKA PITCH KILLERS!)

Don’t “sell” it at the start of the meeting. E.g., “You’ll love this story!  This will be the best pitch you’ve heard all day!”

When they feel TRAPPED; stuck in the room for a long, rigid, plodding pitch with no openings for questions, no room for flexibility.

When the pitch is TOO polished, such that the writer is not engaging them.

When the writer is just reading from notes, not looking up, nothing practiced.

Attitude – don’t be arrogant or defensive.

Anger – never get mad, no matter how you’re treated or the atmosphere in which you have to pitch.

Don’t blanket-email your logline to tons of companies.  It doesn’t work.  Get to know people.

ACCESSORIES

Sean C. Covel : A “Director’s Lookbook” can help to interest investors and attach talent – this may include location shots, actor photos, concept art, etc.

Gotham Group:  they are big on graphic novels, books, other media — they will get you published first, then sell your book/graphic novel as a film, so you have multiple revenue streams and you establish your copyright/IP before selling the property to a studio.  (Two examples of this were The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Gossip Girl — both began as books and the authors held the rights and then leveraged the properties to the studios, owning part of the revenue stream.)

AFTER

Don’t leave behind more than a one-pager.  This should stress the one idea for them to sell up.  Keep it simple so the basic core idea will be easily passed on.

You should leave with:
1) Their business card.
2) Information about a possible next project?  Ask them what they’re developing.  Get an article or concept from them so you can give your “take” on it and maybe grab an assignment.

Universal: Don’t have your Rep call the minute the pitch is over!

Gotham Group: Send back a handwritten thank-you note!  It’s classy and professional.  A Facebook message is not enough!  And don’t send any packages!

Gotham Group: give it 3-4 weeks for follow-up; be patient, the average agent or exec looks at hundreds of things a year.

Plan your follow-up before you pitch.  Get to know the assistant.  Build that relationship as they are your gateway to the boss.

TIME

Ideal time for pitches:

Gotham Group: 25-30 minutes max – the actual pitch is only 15 minutes, the rest is conversation.

Universal: 30-40 minutes max; be conversational, mention act breaks, let them know where you’re at in the story.

IN CONCLUSION…

There’s no ONE pitch; think long-term.  There is no absolute make-or-break meeting.  This is the first in many over the course of your career.

They all attend meetings often where the studios talk about a writer whom they loved (but didn’t buy their material) and how to find an assignment for them.  So keep in touch because YOU could be that writer.

Be humane!  Make that human connection.  They’re people, too.

And finally, what’s that buzz word again…?

PRACTICE!

*special thanks to Patrick Brennan and the NYU Writers’ Lab West as well as the fantastic panelists.

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