YOUR FIRST DATE
A production company exec has invited me in to meet. It’s my first meeting ever! I’m definitely nervous 'cause I know he wants to hear my ideas. What can I expect and how do I pitch?
The quiet, solitary and safe life of writing is turned upside down when the writer must meet potential buyers and employers.
However, your professional goal is to go out and meet as many people as you can and let them know who you are and what you do.
Most of these meetings are simply a way for the executive to get to know you, feel you out, hear your ideas and determine if you would be a writer he’d like to work with. In the early stages, it’s unlikely this sort of meeting will lead to an immediate job, but it’s still a positive and important step in forging a career.
My advice is simple.
First and foremost, be relaxed, confident and have fun. Try to show some personality (instead of the stereotypical dour and suicidal countenance of many scribes). Be prepared for some small talk at first. Always search for commonalities. Scan the room and look for clues. I have a poster of Altman’s THE PLAYER over my desk. If you’ve seen the movie, start off with a brief conversation about that. Get to know a little about the exec too. After all, you’re summing up this person as well. Is this someone you would want to work with?
Eventually, the conversation will segue into your sharing some ideas of projects you’ve been working on or concepts that are on the horizon.
Familiarize yourself with the pitch in advance, carefully choosing the structure of your presentation and the words you use. A haphazard presentation or distracting word can annihilate the pitch.
Make sure you know your story. Don’t pitch half-assed ideas to an executive and try to play it off as if it’s been fully realized. It only takes me one question (at most two) to stump a writer at his own story, if it hasn’t been well thought out.
Always start the pitch with the genre and logline. Let the exec hear the concept up front. Regardless of how complicated the story might be, introduce it with the most concise few sentences imaginable. Then you can open it up and go into detail.
“It’s a Capraesque dramedy about an astronaut who, in 1962, is lost in space. Forty-five years later, in his small hometown, a man appears, claiming to be the astronaut. His arrival causes dissention amongst the townspeople and changes their lives forever.”
Setting up the pitch with a clear vision of the concept gives the executive a “map” to your story; he’s less likely to get lost or dazed. You can now begin filling in the blanks – talking about, for instance, the protagonist or going into the plot with more detail.
Less is more. The more you say the more faults the executive will find with the story. On Wednesdays, I lead the Agent Trainee lunches at work. We recently spent weeks on pitching. One trainee started off with a great pitch that went something like, “We all remember Jackie Robinson and how he broke the color barrier when he played professional baseball. Well, this is a comedy based on a true story about the first white man to play in the All-Negro baseball league.” After a banner start, he dives into the story, giving us more details and does a great job. At the point when he should have stopped, however, he continued with a coda, and told us all how this tragic figure ended up a lonely, broken alcoholic.
He had gone too far. This image spoiled the convivial mood that had preceded it and created confusion. (Is this part of the movie?) This is a textbook example of not quitting while you’re ahead.
These are the most important basics.
The rest you’ll learn through trial and error. (I have written an in-depth article on “pitching” that you can find on the home page of http://www.twoadverbs.com/.)
Regardless of the outcome, your work has motivated the executive to make room for you on his calendar. This meeting will be a great experience for you. Remember to always enjoy these small victories.
Sometimes, it’s all there is.
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