Archive for January, 2010

Pitching with Power by Charles Harris

Some of you may know my friend Charles Harris as a writer and TV director, but you should also know he is also a master at getting his point across in a few sentences and runs Pitching Masterclasses. Here is an enlightening and useful article he has just written about Pitching. Although he is specfically talking about pitching in film and TV, it can also apply to Elevator Pitches and other pitching situations. Read and enjoy!

Can you imagine being able to grab the attention of industry professionals in just a few words?

Actually, that’s an essential if you want to succeed as a writer, director or producer in film or TV. The ability to pitch well is vital.

Don’t be too put off by all the mythology, though. Pitching is a skill that can be learned and practised like any other. And there are some basics that you need to know first.

1. Pitching is like talking

The word “pitch” gets people anxious. Think of it like having a conversation. You tell someone you meet about a film or TV programme you like. In the same way, you tell a producer, actor, director, colleague, about the film/programme you want to make. Rule one: make your pitch natural, informal and conversational.

2. Keep it short

Just like a conversation, you wouldn’t talk for ten minutes without pausing for breath or checking the other person is still alive. So don’t with a pitch. Start with no more than two to three sentences at most. Yes, you read that right. Two to three sentences will seem long when you come to practise properly.

The most famous pitch in the industry – the pitch for Alien – was just three words: “Jaws in Space.”

Nobody ever complained because a pitch was too short. Your second best outcome of all is if they say, “Tell me more.” (See here for more discussion of short pitches).

3. Know what you want

If you’re a writer then your best outcome would be for them to ask to read the script. (The truth is, unless you have a track record, you have almost no chance of getting a commission from a pitch). If a director or producer, then you’ll probably either be pitching for finance or because you want someone (star, distributor, director of photography) to commit to the project – most often, though, they too will first want to read the script.

4. Know what they want

Research the person you’re pitching to, if you have time. If not, just ask them. When I run my Pitching Masterclasses for Euroscript, I focus significant time on exploring what industry professionals are looking for when you pitch to them.

5. Get in the mood

Not just the mood for pitching, but also get in the mood of your story. If you know your genre (or genres) – and you absolutely must know that – then you know that each genre has an emotional effect on the audience. Comedy is supposed to make people laugh – though some scripts I see make me doubt that… Horror horrifies. Thrillers thrill, etc. Your pitch should convey some of that mood through the way you say it.

I’m not saying that to pitch a comedy you need to be do a stand-up routine, but if your pitch for a screwball comedy doesn’t have a hint of humour to it, then how’s the pitchee going to react? Put humour into your comedy pitch. Ensure your thriller pitch reflects some of the tension and fear.

6. Be clear

State what needs to be said up-front. Be clear about the genre – say what it is. Be clear who the protagonist is and what the main issue is that they face. Be clear what the point of the whole story is. I spend a good deal of my Pitching Masterclass in helping you learn what needs to be said, and how to say it clearly, succinctly and elegantly.

7. Put in the work

If you want to get powerful at pitching, you need to put in the work. Analyse as many pitches as you can. Short written pitches are everywhere, in adverts, in Radio Times blurbs, even in the body of film and TV reviews.

Also listen to people pitching – at network events or pitching workshops and Masterclasses or just friends talking about what they just saw.

8. Practice Makes Confident

Pitching is essentially simple, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Not at first. Practise, practise, practise. Pitch to everyone you meet. Pitch to a tape recorder. Pitch to others in the industry and get them to pitch back to you. Practise doesn’t make perfect, it makes confident. Also you’ll find as you work on your pitch you’ll also gain a much deeper understanding of your own project – you’ll spot things that need improving – and will improve the project in the process.

9. How to make your pitching even better?

  • You can book a personal session with a script consultant, and work on your pitch in person, on-line or on the phone.
  • You can work in a group of other writers, directors and/or producers – supporting each other.
  • You can go to Pitching Workshops and Masterclasses – there are many around but the quality can be variable so check them out first.

I do consultancy and facilitate groups and masterclasses when I have time and I also recommend you check out my colleagues at Euroscript
Charles Harris

Charles Harris is an experienced writer and director in TV, theatre and cinema who has worked with a number of the top names in cinema and TV, from James Stewart to Spike Milligan. A film editor for BBC and Channel Four, he moved on to direct TV and theatre, winning awards around the world.

His first professional feature script was optioned for production in Hollywood, and he has continued to write original and commissioned screenplays, and published acclaimed short stories. As script consultant, he has worked with professional writers from Britain, Europe, Asia and the USA, lectured at international film festivals and on MA courses at London University and London Film School.

To contact Charles to learn more, Click here to visit his blog or Euroscript

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