Once I’d done OODLES of research, reading, and conceptualizing for The Black Tail, I decided to pitch it. Yup, to 90 agents in Hollywood at a Screenwriter’s World Conference October 2012 in the Kodak Theater. In Hollywood, I learned that the industry considers writing a given. Authors and screenwriters start backwards by pitching first to as many agents as they can — and they normally pitch a few ideas, so that they can sit back and write knowing that someone is either funding the effort, or that it needs reworking because it isn’t ready yet for commercialization. I can’t emphasize enough, the importance of pitching, if you’re really passionate about an idea. What better way to get feedback on moving forwards?
At Storyworld, I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity for a 30-minute one-on-one coaching with Michael Hauge, from Storymastery.com. To quote his bio from his official website, “Michael Hauge is a story and script consultant, author and lecturer who works with writers and filmmakers on their screenplays, novels, movies and television projects. He has coached writers, producers, stars and directors on projects for Will Smith, Julia Roberts, Jennifer Lopez, Kirsten Dunst, Charlize Theron and Morgan Freeman, as well as for every major studio and network…He is on the Board of Directors of the American Screenwriters Association and the Advisory Board for Scriptwriter Magazine in London.”
So, I was in the Ray Dolby Ballroom, teeming with budding screenwriters, agents, and producers… and Michael sat me down at a corner table and recorded me as I pitched my idea to him for 10 minutes. In under 20 minutes, he then proceeded to give me feedback, which was exceedingly useful. I’m going to paraphrase: “stop saying you’re not a writer. Everyone is here to write, and writing is a serious business whether you’re making money doing it full time or whether you’re doing it on the side.” I sat up straight away, taking him seriously. He then went into the heart of my story. “Listen, this is clearly, obviously, a romance. You’ve got a great storyworld of monsters and themes from Greek mythology, but it is obviously a romance. And romance sells! It’s the largest selling genre in the world. Why wouldn’t you want to make this a bestselling romance? Why do you think it’s hard to write? You’ll have many resources at your fingertips with this genre…” and then he went on to put structure to my pitch, especially seeking out certain key elements that needed to be made explicit. (He wanted the 3 Labors I was putting my heroine through to be stated to the agents). When he was done, I went back and reshaped my whole pitch, and had something like the perfect back cover review for my book. This then served to structure the entire outlining process, that led to the process of building my novel scene by scene. Pitching is so important because the key elements that inform the structure of the story — plot, character, conflict —- has to be nailed in order to get it right.
Michael then went on to say that he’d be happy to work with me long-distance on the development of my story, and that is something I’d definitely recommend to those who have the time and resources. I am currently still learning a few tricks, through online courses at Writer’s Digest University, and still getting the first draft together. By the time I do, I’ll definitely work with Michael, because I see the potential in having my book also be a screenplay, and he’s definitely the go-to guy to get it right!!!
Without further ado, here are my notes from Michael Hauge’s “Screenwriter’s Pitch Perfect” lecture. He says that pitching is all about conveying an emotional experience.
8 Steps to the Process of Pitching
A. Review the story, identity and key elements of the story
- Who is the hero/protagonist of the story?
- What is the everyday life that character is living at the beginning of the story? (Before picture of the hero)
- Why will we empathize with this character? Why will the audience connect emotionally with this character? Eg. Avatar – we become Jake. Why we care (ways to develop empathy):
- We feel sorry for the person. Some undeserved misfortune.
- Character is in jeopardy. Someone who finds out she’s about to lose her job. Doesn’t have to be life-threatening.
- Make the hero likeable — tell us something in everyday life that shows he/she’s a kind, good-hearted, loving person
- What opportunity is presented to your hero at the 10% point in your script?
- e.g. Harry Potter learns he is the son of a wizard…
- New situation (character moves into~) something happens to create new desire in the person
- What is the hero’s outer motivation?
- Harry Potter has to find the Sorcerer’s Stone and stop it from falling into the hands of evil Lord Voldemort
- The outer motivation is the visible goal that takes the character to the end point of the movie (visible finish line that the character will cross)
- What makes that scene possible? What’s the conflict?
- What are the 2 antecedents for your movie? Example of movies in the same genre (similar tone), same audience, doesn’t have to be the same subject matter: Immortals, Clash of the Titans
B. You write. Take these elements, and compose that picture-perfect pitch
C. Rehearse. (Don’t read – can have note cards)
D. Research. Know as much as you can about the buyer.
- Go on Internet Movie DataBase and see what they produce, what’s in development
Create rapport – identify commonality with the person…
- Acknowledge the person for something they or their company have done
- Don’t bullshit – why did you love the movie? “I saw it with my daughter and we had the best conversations about it…”
- They’re here – They took the time to come here (Thank them). “I’m here from Malaysia… it means a lot to have the opportunity to talk to you…”
- Do not open with the title of the script or ____? Emotionally confusing
- Begin by telling the person about how you came up with this idea. HOW. Show originality. You want to draw the buyer into the pitch (get into it). If not listening 100%, it doesn’t matter. True, less nervous. The things about your story that generates passion and excitement…
- Good place to step in and link idea to the story; “I started thinking… WHAT IF”… (What movies you liked that led to this)
- Go into 8 elements
- Awkward moment #1: finish staying story… silent because buyer doesn’t know you’re finished.
- 1 short peek: summarize (title and log line) can be conveyed in 1 sentence)
- Silence again.
- Request feedback/next steps– “So, do you have any questions about my story or would you like me to send you a copy”?
- When someone asks a question, you must answer in 10 seconds. If they want to know more, they’ll ask.
- If someone was not interested in your pitch, 99% of the time, it had nothing to do with your pitch. No means their company is not interested in making that kind of movie right now (they already have stuff in development).
- “Got a couple of minutes left, can you give me some suggestions to sharpen my pitch?”
- If YES, see a copy – thank them, “great, I’ll get you a copy this week, I look forward to seeing what you have to say”
- Begin your pitch with a question
- In your pitch, don’t tell the buyer how the story ends. END your pitch with a CLIFFHANGER. … that’s why CONFLICT was the last of those 8 items…
- Don’t say if you want to know the ending, read the script
- If you’re pitching a true story, don’t tell the person it’s a true story. Just pitch it. Only in the end – the title is this, 1-sentence summary, and can you believe it, it’s actually true (hook at the end)
- Do not hype your story: this gets you nowhere – “this is really heartwarming, will appeal to children of all ages…”. Don’t tell them why or how good it will be – let them make the commercial conclusions of your story
- Don’t apologize for nervousness. Don’t apologize during the pitch.
- Don’t try to tell your whole story
- Do not worry about getting rejected