How to Pitch an Idea for a Film

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Film and television writers sell their ideas to the studios through the process of "pitching." A pitch is roughly a ten to twenty minute period in which a writer will express the concept or world of their idea, the characters that inhabit it, and the basic storyline of the movie or pilot episode.

It's a nerve-wracking process because you simply don't know what type of reaction you're going to get until you've laid your idea (as well as your heart and soul) on the table for all to see.

That said, coming up with an idea that will make an executive jump out of their chairs is hard enough. The last thing you want to do is kill a great idea because you blew the pitching process.

Having been both a writer and a development executive, I've been lucky enough to have seen both sides of the table. There are a number of common mistakes that will kill your project, or at least hurt its chances for success. So, here are five tips that will help you dramatically improve your next pitch meeting:

Be Prepared

It amazes me the number of writers who come to a pitch meeting who are unprepared to pitch their own idea. They try to "wing it" by making stuff up in the meeting rather than having their idea fully fleshed out before entering the room.

Take the time to understand your concept fully. Know the world you intend to create as well as the characters you plan to have inhabit that world. Be clear on why you chose these particular people. What makes them interesting? Why would an audience want to watch them? These are questions you should already know the answers to well before going in.

Additionally, no one will judge you if you need to have a set of notes at your side when you're pitching. They can come in quite handy to make sure you're hitting all of your key points as well as not leaving out anything pertinent.

Know Your Audience

Where you're pitching is just as important as what you're pitching. Know the past projects of the places you're pitching to. If the company you're meeting with is mainly known for its horror movies, chances are they're not going to be all that receptive to your idea for a romantic comedy.

If you're pitching to a network (broadcast or cable), know what else they have on air. You should familiarize yourself with their line up so you can have a better idea of the "tone" of their shows as well as the demographic they are targeting.

Don't Oversell

Depending on your idea, your pitch should be reasonably short and sweet. Keep it under fifteen minutes if possible saving the rest of the time to go over a few other details about your concept as well as to answer any questions that the potential buyers might have.

Hit your target points: concept, characters, story. That's it. Anything more than that and you're likely overselling your idea and boring your audience. Realize as well that more is not always better. If the executives like your idea, they'll make the deal no matter how much swag you leave them.

Be Respectful

Few things annoy executives more than writers who are disrespectful (and obviously, vice versa -- but that's for another article). It can include anything from showing up late, being arrogant about the concept you're pitching, or ignoring, or worse, mocking projects they have developed in the past. Keep your opinions to yourself -- or at least until you're in the parking lot.

Practice Your Pitch

It technically falls under 'Be Prepared,' but it deserves its own heading because there are so few writers who take the advice. Practice your pitch. Yes, this means create your pitch and then run it by a few friends, co-workers, relatives, the family pet, whomever. It's essential that you have a structured speech that will allow you to get out everything about your idea that you need to in a reasonable amount of time.

By practicing, you'll also be able to identify those areas where your pitch drags, gets confusing, or simply fails to sufficiently sell your concept. Find a group of friends that might be willing to give you some constructive criticism. Realize that if they can't follow your pitch, it's highly unlikely an executive will either. Selling your ideas in Hollywood is no easy task. But if you follow the tips outlined above, your chances for success will greatly improve.

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