Pitching: An Essential Skill For Screenwriters
Pitching is the process of verbally ‘selling’ your screenplay. It is a concise but persuasive summary that highlights the main themes, unique selling points, and your personal connection to the project. While it is true that a strong script is your real selling point as a writer, if you are unable to pitch effectively it may never get into the right hands.
Pitching may sound like an intimidating term at first because of the images it evokes. High pressure sales and public speaking may be one, and baseball might be another—in which pitching inevitably leads to the dizzy heights of a home run or an embarrassing strike out. It is important not to feel discouraged by these images and simply to acknowledge pitching for what it really is—talking about your screenplay in a way that shows it off to its full advantage.
The Point Of The Pitch
The initial goal after completing a screenplay is undoubtedly to get people to read it. Only then can it be considered for production and finally make it onto the big screen. The point of the pitch is to pique the interest of potential readers. In the same way that the back cover of a novel should entice a reader and the trailer of a film should entice a viewer, a pitch for a story, idea, or screenplay should capture the imagination of those who hear it. This is your opportunity to show passion and personality when it comes to your script, generating enough excitement or interest to get a request to read it.
Types of Pitch
Pitching often refers to the sixty second or “elevator pitch”, in which you summarise your idea as succinctly as possible in around three sentences, but may range from a five minute presentation to a forty-five minute conversation (or ‘pitch meeting’). It can be formal, informal, or in a competition setting such as The London Screenwriters’ Festival PitchFest or Screen Yorkshire’s Pitch Factor, in which screenwriters pitch their screenplay to a panel of industry executives.
Common to all of these contexts, however, is the need to be clear, confident, and passionate.
How to Write, Refine, and Enjoy Your Pitch
When writing your pitch, be ruthless with time constraints. You are likely to be stopped after the agreed amount of time—especially in a competition setting. It is never necessary to try to tell your whole story during a pitch. Think of it in terms of a highlight reel or trailer, in which the atmosphere, themes, key dilemma, and relationships are important. When writing your pitch, write, rewrite, and refine with the same intensity as you would a script. Check that every word is necessary and carries enough impact. It can also be positive to make it personal. What is interesting and memorable about you, and what is your specific connection to this story?
Rehearsing your pitch is an essential aspect of preparation. It can even be helpful to take an audio recording to identify objectively if any aspects sound rushed, hesitant, or unnatural.
Practising may seem as if it would make your pitch sound stilted and rehearsed, but if the preparation is thorough then the opposite will be true. Paradoxically, rehearsing will directly facilitate your ability to seem—and to be—natural and spontaneous. Do not be tempted to “wing it” on the day. You should be prepared to rehearse to the point that your pitch can be interrupted, added to, or sections skipped without compromising the overall ‘flow’.
During the pitch, make natural eye contact and try not to rely on notes. Notes can hinder taking visual cues from your audience, such as whether they are intrigued and excited or if their attention is waning.
Finally, try to relax. Feeling relaxed allows others to relax too. You can build rapport, gauge reactions, and enjoy the process overall.
Breathe deeply, do not rush, recall your passion for the story, and begin…
3 Quick Tips For Pitching Success
Write and rewrite your pitch, keeping it concise and powerful
Prepare effectively and time yourself
Breathe deeply, make a genuine connection, and enjoy yourself
Jessica Sinyard is an award-winning screenwriter and published sports journalist based in North Lincolnshire. Her feature screenplay Wild Dog Country won the Best Feature Screenplay Award at the Illinois International Film Festival in Chicago (2009), and her subsequent screenplay Follow Me was a finalist for Best Screenplay at the Queens International Film Festival in New York (2009). Her feature screenplays and television pilot scripts have been selected for several additional festivals including the Polar International Film Festival (Wild Dog Country, shortlist, Best International Feature Screenplay), the PAGE International Screenwriting Awards (Rook’s Parliament, Quarterfinalist Best Television Pilot, and White Nights, semi-finalist Best Television Pilot).