So much more to say about my time at the Great American Pitchfest this year. To recap, I spent most of the day Saturday sitting at Danny Manus’s No BullScript booth happily talking to people about my experience as a script consulting client of his. To find out more about that read Pitch Over -Part 1.
Sunday, Danny was nice enough to let me sit at his table as he was taking pitches for his old company. I was super excited to see pitching from the other side. I had an appointment to go to so I couldn’t stay all day, but in the two and a half hours I sat there I learned a lot about how amateurs pitch.
The bell rang and among calls for “more cow bell” the first group gathered into the holding area. The bell rang again and the day began. Hopeful writers clutching cases, folders, notebooks, swarmed the tables. One stopped at our table, shook our hands, plopped down and introduced himself. That was the last thing I understood. His pitch was all over the place. I couldn’t keep up with the characters or the plot I stared harder at his lips thinking that would help. It didn’t. Fortunately, Danny has taken thousands of pitches and with a couple of well worded questions he was able to clear it up. Oh! That’s what it was about. Though it was a pass, Danny was really sweet and gave the guy an extra minute to help him find the focus of his pitch. I hope to hell the guy used his suggestions the rest of the day. I realized then how important it was to say your title and logline first. Take a breath, then go into the story. Danny Manus explains what this does for the person you’re pitching to better than I, so I’ll tell you what he told me. It lets the person know what they are going to be listening to so they can focus on the flow of the story instead of trying to figure out what the story is. Lesson one.
The next person that sat down was a woman. She had a good pitch until she wouldn’t stop talking after she got to the end of the story. She started rambling about little personality quirks of the characters that I couldn’t concentrate on or care about because I was still trying to process the information about her story. When you get to the end of your story shut up. Danny was still able to ask a couple of questions in the short time but there was about thirty seconds to a minute more that she could have had to be engaged with us if she had just stopped trying to sell. Lesson two.
The third person was a great conversationalist. She made a connection right away and I liked her. However, she had nothing to pitch except herself and her hope to one day write the remake of a classic film. What the heck? You are a new writer, well because you haven’t actually written anything you are a new wannabe writer, and you want a company to put time and money into you because you have a good personality. No. If I had an intern job to offer her I would have. That way she could have learned, gotten connected, and stopped asking for stupid things. Sorry, I’m grumpy about it, but for God’s sakes have something to pitch if you are at a pitchfest. There are plenty of other times to network and chat. You wouldn’t even have to pay for the privilege. Be smart with your money and the company’s time. Lesson three.
The fourth pitch was from a writing team. I could tell they had studied and practiced their pitch quite a bit. Having a writing partner that you want to share the pitching time with requires that. It was clear and snappy. However, they chose the least interesting part of their story to focus on. Hot celeb falls in love with a small town nobody girl. Now this is the first one I’ve mentioned what was pitched because I honestly don’t remember the others. Since I was there to study how people were pitching, and not what they were pitching, I took no story notes. Part of why I remember theirs was because of how clearly they presented the story and the other reason is because Danny pointed out to them that they buried the lead. They mentioned the twist to this horribly over done plot in passing but that was all I had questions about throughout the rest of their pitch. Though I remember the twist I won’t say what it was because it had potential. Danny told them to really emphasize the original part of the story in the rest of their pitches that day. No matter how good the pitch, if the story is boring and something we’ve seen a million times no one will care. Lesson four.
The next one was a man with a great story with a boring delivery. No, I don’t remember the story. All I wrote down was great story with a boring delivery. That’s really sad. I honestly have no idea what that great story was. If I had been there for the story I would have taken notes of course, but would I have remembered the writer who pitched it to me? I have no idea what to say about this. If you expect this may be your problem practice, and get some help from someone who will be honest enough to yawn in your face. Don’t be boring. That doesn’t mean have a circus act. Just be clear and personable. Lesson five.
Lesson six? Be prepared. A man who had seemed so professional throughout his pitch killed that perception when he was asked for a one sheet. He took out some scrap paper and scratched his name and number on it with some quick notes. Really? I’ll email you a one sheet later this week he says. Um, how long did he know he was going to be pitching today? Why couldn’t he stop by a Kinko’s and print out twenty copies real quick? It made me wonder about his honesty and his ability to deliver.
Lesson seven? If you say this is the most original idea you’ve ever heard, there will have been a TV movie about it at least once a year for the last ten years. If you say this will be short, you will ramble on until way over time. It was weird how consistent it was for someone who blurted something before they sat down to do the complete opposite. If you aren’t absolutely sure you can deliver don’t put expectations on your pitch. It’s annoying because it calls attention to that weakness in your pitch.
Bonus lesson. Don’t tell the names of every character when you pitch. Just tell their relationship to the protagonist. I can’t remember who’s who by name that quickly. I can barely remember your name.
I did learn a lot from my two and a half hours listening to pitches. Taking pitches is hard. You want to hear a great story but there is so much other stuff about the human being on the other side of the table that can prevent you from really hearing their story at all. It made me realize I still had a way to go in my own pitching and will be taking Danny Manus’s pitching webinar the next time it comes around.
Not naming all the characters is an excellent point. I shall remember that…