How Not To Pitch

Hello you. Now, I never previously thought of this blog as the kind of place where you'll read screenwriting-centric advice. Journalistic advice I can give, after 19 years of doing it. Screenwriting? Relatively-speaking, it's a new world to me. Done it for over a decade, but only 100% seriously since January 2006.

Clearly, though, I was wrong about not giving screenwriterly advice. Because I can give it when I fuck up. And after last night's well-organised Stellar Network's Pitch Up event I have advice to give. Oh yes. Believe.

I ended up in a circle of 15 people, presided over by Wall To Wall's chief executive Alex Graham. There were more people than perhaps anticipated, so pitches were assigned a two-minute limit. Which threw me into mental tailspin, as my pitch was five minutes long. Far too long for this kind of event. Rather than describe the cold-sweat hell of my pitch in detail, I'll give you the general idea via a series of 'do not's...

DO NOT Bring a mood board to this kind of event. It's fine for professional pitches, but at a public pitch-fest it makes you look mad. I quickly realised I was the only person with a board in the entire room of 80-or-so attendees, and was put in mind of seeing a woman carrying a guitar at the Pitchfest event of LA's Screenwriting Expo last year. How I chuckled at her, knowing that I'd never do anything so eccentric. Ahem. It was a good board, but it didn't belong here.

DO NOT Have a five-minute pitch ready for this kind of event.

DO NOT Edit the wrong things out of your five-minute pitch, in order to cut it down to two minutes. I threw the baby out with the bathwater, losing much of The Big Proposition and ending up with bare bones plot. Which leads me on to...

DO NOT Fall into the classic "and then this happens, and then this happens..." trap. As Alex sagely noted during our session, "The trick of pitching is to get ME saying, 'So then what happens?'." What he ideally wants to hear in a pitch is The Big Idea, which he 'gets' and can see the big picture. Then, once he's hooked, he wants you ready to take him on the journey of the actual story.

DO NOT Forget to mention a key character in your pitch. Then realise, and slip them into the pitch, too late. The word "Argh!" springs nimbly to mind here. Jesus.

Despite the lousy nature of my pitch, I did earn a round of applause - partly, I suspect, because I was the first to pitch and partly through collective relief that it was over. Alex didn't seem to hate the idea at all, but the pitch wasn't clear enough for him and he obviously wasn't keen on its story-heavy content. He wasn't sure if my 30-minute TV drama was in fact a TV drama, as it seemed too "dark and edgy". He was positive, though, and gave me some good feedback, based on my two minutes of babble. And he later agreed to read the script. So that's good stuff, given that I'm far more confident about writing than talking.

It was a great session, with only one irritation. Three members of the group, who were pitching together, were clearly only interested in their own two minutes. During almost everybody else's pitches, they yapped, chuckled and whispered amongst themselves. Call me harsh, but their apparent belief that there was nothing to learn from either other people's pitches or even Alex's feedback to those pitches, possibly accounted for their own pitch being pretty much incomprehensible.

Anyway, pitch-bitching aside: Andy Pillock was in my group - and he won! Fantastic stuff. Mr Pillock flew the flag for the Scribosphere, and if he tries telling you at over his place that Alex chose him out of sympathy for being the 14th person to pitch and therefore having less time, dismiss him like the modest charlatan that he is.

It was a fine event for networking, too. There was a fair assembly of writers and film-makers in the bar afterwards, including Piers and Christine. I made a couple of good new writing pals (hello Adam, hello Kulvinder) and enjoyed debating Piers over whether the words 'actor' and 'actress' really should be regulated to 'actor'. When the bar shut, he and I hit another booze-house for some whisky action, talking about being a writer and the neverending process of self-improvement and learning. A great night.

Earlier that day, too, I was driven to Pinewood Studios to interview the Dragons of TV's popular Dragons' Den show. I interviewed them in the Den studio, where they sat in a row, just like they are on the programme, with large piles of cash on side tables. While I can now see how intimidating it must be for the show's entrepreneurs, I'm also pleased to report that the Dragons are both witty and amusing.

Good day to you.

PS Preparing a pitch can, by itself, help the development of your script (which, in this case, is the one I'll be delivering to the Red Planet Prize competition). While putting the pitch together, I realised there was one supposedly pivotal scene which just seemed wishy-washy and blah when you attempted to verbally describe it. So that scene has now become much stronger as a result. Good day to you again.


Elinor said...

Good Day to you too Jason. Excellent notes by the way. Pitching is a skill in itself. I pitched in June to two execs who both said "I hate being pitched to-let's just chat about your script." So, it's clearly about tailoring your approach and winging it at the time I guess. Have you used the board anywhere else?

Jason Arnopp said...

Hello, fellow BSSC first-round person! :)

Yes, pitching certainly is a skill in itself. Your experience there is interesting: shows that everyone's different, as you'd expect. Funny thing is, I did pretty well at an LA pitch event. Just shows there's always loads more to learn.

The board was created for that event. And will most likely never see the light of day again! :)

Robin Kelly said...

Thanks for the notes. So a mood board has pictures on it relating to the film?

Elinor said...

Yes, what is a mood board? I'm intrigued...

Jason Arnopp said...

Robin: In this case, my board bore photographs cut from heat magazine, to set the tone for the subject matter. While some more 'production design'-like mood boards seem to gather fairly abstract images which jointly convey a feel, this one was more specific. I think it would have hammered home the script's Big Idea pretty well, but it was ultimately non-essential. And, indeed, inappropriate at Pitch Up.

Pillock said...

Well done, and great to see you last night.

Helen Smith said...

Oh God! I'm sure you're too hard on yourself and whisky can be a depressant, leading you to remember things in a particularly poor light the next day.

At least they'll remember you as 'the mood board guy' so when you turn up without one in future, no-one will be any the wiser.

Jason Arnopp said...

Huh-huh. Huh-huh. Helen said "hard on". Huh-huh. Etc.

Helen Smith said...

Tut tut. You didn't like my rather sophisticated 'writer gay' comment on Facebook but you giggle at 'hard on' in my earnest commiseration here. I see I'll have to ensure that whenever you go out with Piers again, I'll have to come along and drink all the whisky before you get to it. That kept you all in order in Cheltenham. What was the name of that lovely fellow writer's Dad, who gave me a lift home? Was it Robin?

Jason Arnopp said...

I believe so, madam. The writer's name was Jon Peacey, I know that much!

Thankyou for your earnest commiseration. And I love it when you talk dirty. :-p

potdoll said...

Wow! Sounds like you learnt such a lot and it was well worth going to.

And good for you for pitching first!

I've have decked those three twats.


Jon Peacey said...

Definitely called Robin.

Commiserations indeed on the pitch problem: blame the time cut. But at least you can recall the pitch and learn from it: my last pitch blocked itself so successfully from my mind that I'll probably end up like Homer from when he found the Smithers skeleton in the quarry!

The 12 of you should have clobbered those talky fellers... and possibly left them in the above mentioned quarry.