This post is from the Toronto Screenwriting Conference: Part Deux (long overdue), all about how to give a successful pitch to a production company – before, during and after the pitch.
The tips are courtesy of Robin Gurney at Imagine Television and first hand experiences from Jana Sinyor (Being Erica), Greg Spottiswood (King), Martin Gero (LA Complex), Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern (Flashpoint).
While I am far from this stage, it was motivating to see what lies ahead and feel prepared for it. I believe the core of these tips can be applied if you are pitching a new business concept to investors or potential partners. Or if you are pitching yourself to take on a specific gig or specific client. Add your pitch and sales tips in the comments below!
Before the Pitch
- Some production companies will only see you if you are represented by an agent
- For your pitch, prepare a paragraph or single scene, rather than a full script; a verbal pitch has more potential
- Don’t overdevelop the concept: If a show is too far along in development, it becomes difficult for a production exec to influence core elements, which hinders their attachment to the project and ultimately their ability to sell it to networks
At the Pitch
- Be prepared to speak for 17 – 20 minutes (it is a conversation)
- Explain why your story is relevant, different and authentic
- Don’t be afraid to use visual aids i.e. a character board or props
- For a character driven series, have all character arcs for Season 1 mapped out
- During a pitch, resist leaving a one pager behind because you miss the opportunity of tailoring the one pager to the conversation with the producer
After the Pitch when there is interest
- Is the production company a match? What type of shows do they make? What network relationships do they have? Story style? Production value?
- If you are a novice writer, co-appoint someone with complementary skills and more experience to run your show so you don’t get removed from the production process or get matched with someone who does not share your vision
- When a deal is on the table, consult a lawyer and lay out very specific terms to ensure you get what you want. Know when to walk away.
On Taking Network Notes
- Network exec will consider how your show will be programmed (channel, genre, length)
- A sticking point with a network exec may seem like a minute detail (inconsequential)
- If you are going to throw a fit, make sure the right people are in the room
- No notes are typically a bad sign; indicates the network exec didn’t feel rewrites would be worth the effort
- Look for the subtext within notes, as opposed to the solution provided by the exec – they are usually onto something. If you feel defensive, they really are onto something.
Writing Update: After reading The Moral Premise, I’ve decided to spend more time re-working the inner motivations of my characters, changing some back story details, which will change existing scenes (some will be removed, others altered). While this will delay screenplay completion, I have to slog through the tough questions and decisions to pick a strong direction whereby all roads lead to Rome (everything connects).