Pitching from head to toe: Selling your script to the producer
Pitching from head to toe: Selling your script to the producer
By Katlyn Tillman
Pitching is a very scary term to most screenwriters. We spend countless hours behind the safety of our computer screen writing our masterpiece and now… we have to go out and talk about it! Just to get some else (hopefully a producer) to read it! And what’s more scary is that not only do we have to verbally explain our story to this person and make them realize how amazing our story is, but normally we only have ONE SENTENCE to do it! Before we lose their attention.
I’ve pitched my script before. Several times before. To friendly people. To mean people. To people who were interested. And to people who weren’t.
Let me tell you something. The only thing that makes it scary is you.
If you prepare and if you know what you’re doing. It’s not scary, it’s only fun!
One of the most important things to remember when you’re going to pitch is don’t be nervous. I know this is easier said than done, but here‘s something to keep in your mind…
My old acting teacher use to tell us not to be nervous or scared when we go into an audition. He used to tell us that the casting director WANTS us to be the one that they are looking for. Can you believe that? They WANT us to be the one. That was kind of mind boggling. But it’s their job on the line if they don’t find the right person. So, yes they do want you to be the right person.
Pitching a script to a producer is a lot like auditioning for a part. The same principals apply. (This is one of the many reasons why writers should take classes in acting) The producer wants your script to be the right script for them. They’re not sitting there trying to find everything that’s wrong with your script. They WANT it to be the right script. The one that they can make and sell and actually make a profit off of. So don’t be nervous. They’re hoping you’ll sell them the script that will make them a million dollars. If they don’t have a script to produce; they have no job. Their job and their livelihoods, depends on you selling a script to them. They WANT you to do that. They want your script to be the best script they’ve ever had pitched to them.
But you need to know how to sell your script to them and get their attention.
I’m only going to tell you what I know has worked for me and what I’d recommend you at least try. When pitching there’s no exact science. There are only guidelines. That’s what I’m going to explain and lay out, but if you don’t agree with some of them. Then, that’s okay. Do what you think works best.
First off, before we go into how to present yourself during a pitch. Let’s get into how to present your script during your pitch.
And yes, you do have to know how to present yourself. Most screenwriters think they’re only there to sell their script. That’s not true. Most of the time it’s the opposite. You’re their to sell yourself, primarily. If they want buy your script as well, great. If they just want to keep in touch, or maybe a couple years down the line they want you to do a writing assignment, or if they’re interested in your next script when you write it; you did your job when you pitched to them. One script is not your whole career. And if you can sell a producer on yourself. Then you have been successful. Because now he’s interested in your whole career, not just the one script.
Because I don’t recommend just pitching yourself to a producer, you need to know what to pitch him. (You DO pitch yourself mostly to agents or managers. If they’re interested in you, then they’ll ask you to pitch them your story. But pitching to agents and managers is a lot different than pitching to a producer.)
At the most you’ll get FIVE MINUTES to pitch your script. Most of the time you’ll have two minutes. But let me tell you something VERY important. LISTEN CLOSELY! You DON’T want to take up the whole five minutes talking about your story. You don’t even want to take up two whole minutes talking about your story. You only want to say your ONE SENTENCE logline and then SHUT UP! I say that in a nice way.
My reason for this is a producer gets hundreds of query letters and phone pitches and people pitching to him in person everyday! If a producer has been listening to people pitch since 7am and it’s noon and he’s about to go to lunch and you’re the last person to pitch to him, do you think he’s listening to you? No. Producers aren’t listening most of the time. Yes they want your script to be the script they’re looking for. But this producer has listened to so many awful pitches that day, that he’s simply not listening.
So what are you going to do?
Tell him your logline and shut up.
He’ll be so stunned that you stopped talking after just ONE SENTENCE that no matter what your story is he’ll want to know more. He’ll think you’re a professional with your great logline and you not rambling on like most writers do. Your logline has to be a GREAT logline. That is what sells the script. That one sentence. Not whatever talking you do after that first sentence. THAT ONE SENTENCE SELLS YOUR SCRIPT! If you walk away from reading this article and get nothing more from it other than that ONE SENTENCE SELLS YOUR SCRIPT. You’ve earned a fortune. I didn’t realize this until I pitched my script several times. With your logline, don’t give any detail that isn’t necessary. Just enough to make the producer interested, which basically means, an interesting hero, an unusual goal, something standing in the way of that goal, and then the ending. Just say your ONE SENTENCE and SHUT UP! J
I stress the ONE SENTENCE part a lot and I’m going to continue to, because it’s important.
The basics of a logline are this…
A logline is ONE SENTENCE about THE WHOLE OF YOUR STORY! I know it sounds impossible to put all of your story in one sentence. But it’s been done hundreds of times.
The basic way to put it is:
(My hero) wants (something of value to him/her) but (something is stopping him), so he must (do something unusual and heroic) to get it, (but in the end)
That’s not word for word how I’d put it. I’d spice it up a bit. But for starters let’s fill out this logline sample by putting the parts of my story in the parenthesis.
I’ll just write a quick example.
A clumsy knight in shining armor (My hero) wants the princess that the whole country is competing with each other to get her attention (his want/goal), but the princess is forced into an arranged marriage (Obstacle) and now the clumsy knight must dress up as the princess’ soon to be bridegroom in order to be the one the princess marries (does something unusual and heroic) , but when the royal family finds out they threaten to kill the knight (another obstacle), but he bargains for his life and pleads not to tell anyone it was him. Touched by his love and compassion for her the princess refuses this offer and stays married to him. (happy ending)
See that’s the whole of my story. It’s way too long, but here’s a starting point. I’ll cut this logline down and I’ll show you what I’d actually use for a logline.
A clumsy knight in shining armor who competes with the whole country for the princess’ attention, but before he gets her to agree to marry him, she’s forced into an arranged marriage where now the knight’s only hope of having her is if he dresses up as the soon-to-be prince, but can he pull it off without goofing up? No.
Does this not get the same story across, but in fewer words? Can you not imagine the whole story from just this one sentence? I can. That’s what you want in your logline. This is still a bit long for my personal taste. But it works. I wouldn’t go longer for a logline, you can go shorter. Some people have a movie logline which is Major movie meets another Major Movie. Or something like this…
Die hard on a bus. (Which would be SPEED)
Whether you have a movie logline or a regular logline that fine. I recommend having both, though.
Now, on presenting yourself.
When you first enter the room. Enter with a smile. If you’re smiling it makes the producer want to smile and it lightens things up a bit. This isn’t just a business meeting; it’s a social meeting, too.
DON’T shake his hand unless he extends it first. Some people have germ issues. If the producer you are pitching to is germ phobic and you shake his hand, that’s starting the meeting off on a bad note.
After you sit down, say your name, whether you have been optioned or sold or produced. It adds creditability to your name. But be prepared to answer any questions or provide proof of it if you have been. Just in case.
After you tell him your name and any professional experience, tell him the genre, what major movie it’s like (if you know) and then say the title of your film.
Then, say your logline AND SHUT UP! J
If you have more than one script you are pitching at this point then after telling him your professional experience, tell him what genres are your stories and ask him which one he wants to hear. Then say the title, what major movie it’s like and then the logline.
For example: One script to pitch:
Hi, I’m Katlyn Tillman. I’m an optioned writer. I have a romantic comedy, that’s like Sherk but in the Camelot Era. It’s called ‘Knight or Klutz’. It’s about… A clumsy knight in shining armor who competes with the whole country for the princess’ attention, but before he gets her to agree to marry him, she’s forced into an arranged marriage where now the knight’s only hope of having her is if he dresses up as the soon-to-be prince, but can he pull it off without goofing up? No.
Then, I’d shut up.
More than one script:
Hi, I’m Katlyn Tillman. I’m an optioned writer. I have a romantic comedy, a dark comedy, and a horror film. Which one would you like to hear about?
Producer: The romantic comedy.
It’s like Sherk but in the Camelot Era. It’s called ‘Knight or Klutz’. It’s about… A clumsy knight in shining armor who competes with the whole country for the princess’ attention, but before he gets her to agree to marry him, she’s forced into an arranged marriage where now the knight’s only hope of having her is if he dresses up as the soon-to-be prince, but can he pull it off without goofing up? No.
Both of those are simple, right? Nothing too scary about saying all of that to someone, is there? That’s all you need to say.
It’s good to have more than one script ready to pitch in case they don’t like that particular genre or script, but they like you and your writing.
The three things a producer is looking for is, if they can work with that writer, if the script is a good story, and most importantly IF IT’S MARKETABLE.
You have to make sure the producer can see that the movie is marketable. In your logline you have to prove that. Not only do you have to put your whole story in ONE SENTENCE and SELL IT TO THE PRODUCER, but you have to show the producer that HE CAN SELL IT TO THE AUIDENCE. That’s a lot for the logline to do. So, make sure you put A LOT of work into your logline. It sells the script.
One tip about how to make your logline marketable is make sure you can see the whole movie play out, just through that one sentence. If that happens. Your script is marketable and so is your logline.
Now, after you say your ONE SENTENCE LOGLINE and then SHUT UP, the producer will be a bit surprised you stopped talking, but that’s good. It gets his attention. He might take a few moments to think about the logline and come up with some questions to ask you (if he was listening) if he wasn’t he’ll simply say “Go on” both of these are good signs. It means he was listening and now you have him thinking about how to sell the script or it means you now have him listening to you.
But hey, you still have four minutes left so no sweat if he wasn‘t listening.
If he asks you questions, be prepared to answer them. At the end, I’ll give you a list of questions to be prepared to answer.
But if he says “Go on”, have what I call a one minute pitch to give him.
This is about 4-5 sentences log. It’s more detailed then the logline, but it’s a more flushed out version of the logline.
I’ll give you an example from the same story we were talking about.
Our minute pitch would be something like this:
Harold, a clumsy knight in shining armor competes with the whole country for the mute princess’ attention and affection, but before he can get her to agree to marry him, she’s forced into an arranged marriage, by Harold’s brother who wants the crown. Now Harold’s only hope to have his princess is to dress up as his brother and marry her, himself, but can he pull it off without goofing up? No. The princess realizes it’s him halfway through the ceremony, but she puts up no protest and marries him anyway. When the royal family finds out, he’s threatened with his life, so Harold makes a deal to never tell anyone that it was him instead of his brother, but the princess refuses and stays married to Harold.
It adds more detail, more interest, more suspense, more drama and more romance. That’s what you want in a one minute pitch. I wouldn’t go longer than this for a one-minute pitch.
Once you get through your one minute pitch, that’s about all the pitching you’ll do. The producer will ask you questions from here and then when the producer is done with his questions. You are done.
Some things I would have prepared in case they want to see it are a synopsis (2 pages) or a one-page. I’d have the logline printed up as well, in case he wants to take it with him. You’d put the title and logline on all of those along with your contact info. I’d have lots of copies of each. I’d also have business cards ready to hand out at their request. I don’t recommend leaving anything behind, unless they ask. If they’re interested, they’ll ask. I’ve had people who were interested in me as a writer who just asked for my business card and then I’ve had people request a script. So if they want something. They’ll ask. That’s my opinion. Some people disagree. And that’s okay. Do what you think is best.
One more thing I’d have ready is an extra copy of your script in case they want it. Normally they won’t ask for a script right then and there. If they request a script, they want you to email it. But if they do want a script right there. Then you better have one.
If you have another script you’re pitching you’ll want all this for that script also.
Questions that they may ask you:
Does your structure line up well? They basically mean does is fit the format from ‘Save the Cat!’ by Blake Snyder‘. A lot of producers look back to this book as guidelines. So I’d recommend reading it.
How long is your script? They want the page number here.
Do you think this could be turned into a book? Most cases you want to say yes to this answer, because if it’s published as a book first; it’s more likely to get made. But you can say no, if you truly think it won’t work. (I’ve had a manager ask me this, but a producer might ask you this as well.)
How many scripts have you written? They don’t mean half written. They mean final drafts.
They might ask you, you’re price range also.
They might ask if anyone else has seen this script or made offers on it. This is a good sign. It means they’re most likely going to option it or sell it. They’re THAT interested if they ask this question.
They might ask you questions about a certain spot in the story or might ask more about a character or might even suggest changing the script. Be able to answer all questions on your toes. They have a short amount of time to get to know you and your script. Also if they suggest changing it. SAY YOU AGREE! Even if you don’t agree. You can ask questions about how he wants it changed, but never say ‘no, absolutely not’. If you don’t want to change your script, then stop trying to sell it. That’s a cold fact. It’s going to change. And if the producer, who is interested in buying it wants to know if it’s possible to change something in it, say yes. I’d recommend changing nothing in the script unless you’ve already signed the contract, but the producer wants to know if you are felxible. So don’t give him a hard time. The only time you would change something in your script a producer suggested without having a signed contract is when you agree with what he suggested and you think it’ll make the script better. Most of the time they know what they’re talking about. So be open to suggestions.
Remember, this is fun.