Whenever you are pitching a project, be it to an production company, an investor, or a collaborator, you are not only selling the project, you’re selling yourself. After taking the time to prep your script, treatments, and other physical documents, the most important step is making sure YOU are prepared.
We’ve covered tips on crafting a successful pitch here. Now let’s take a look at five common pitfalls to avoid when pitching a project:
1. Being defensive
Pitching your “baby” can have you feeling pretty vulnerable. You may get asked questions that feel irrelevant or, even worse, completely change your vision. Don’t panic. When asked if X could be changed to Y, or if you could do A instead of B, take a deep breath and let them know that you’re open to suggestions. It’s always a work in progress until it hits theaters!
Don’t make any promises in the room, but let your potential partners know you are willing to collaborate creatively. If you are too insistent on the inviolability of your vision, you might derail the project before it even has a chance to start. There will be an opportunity to defend your choices later, but start off by giving every suggestion due consideration.
“Treat your career like a bad boyfriend… it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.” - Amy Poehler, Yes Please
2. Putting down other projects
Everyone knows everyone in Hollywood. People in the entertainment industry have experience working on a wide variety of projects. They have innumerable connections you don’t even know about. So, while it’s great to mention other movies as reference points, never bash another person or project. It’s not even worth referring to a book, film, television show, or web series as an example of what your project WILL NOT be, because you’ll risk offending the very person you’re trying to get on your side.
3. Looking too hungry
Enthusiasm is key in selling your project and yourself. But too much enthusiasm can come off as desperate, and desperation is a repellant. Confidence is the key. You’ve got to believe that you will get this project off the ground with or without them. If they want to come along for the ride, you’ve got room. Even if you don’t have other pitch meetings lined up, act like you do.
You might find yourself taking meetings with some heavy hitters; people whose body of work you respect and revere. Don’t get starstruck. Never make promises in the room, and never, ever sign anything without talking to a lawyer.
“Desperation is a repellant. Passion is a magnet” - Ava DuVernay
4. Being too vague…ish
The devil is in the details, and those details are what will get your potential partners as excited as you are. Never pitch a project without a name. Even if that name changes later, it’s important to come in with something strong. It shows you put the effort in and gives them something to remember, and hopefully cling to when they talk to others about it. Name all your important characters too, not just “the hero” or “the fat plumber character.” This will make them more relatable and your pitch easier to follow.
Also, suggest comparable movies (preferably successful ones) that are similar in genre, tone, or feel to help paint a picture of what you’ve envisioned. Remember, this is still marketing. You want to give them something they can see on a poster and that will stick in their heads long after the meeting is over. And don’t be too coy with plot twists or surprise endings. No sense in saving spoilers for a script they won’t care enough to read. If the big third act twist is a selling point, use it!
5. Giving far too many details
Of course, too many details is not a good idea either. It’s definitely a balancing act. Focusing on more than five characters will get confusing and you’ll lose your audience before you’ve even hooked them. Detailing the plot beat-by-beat from beginning to end or explaining all the subplots will also get tedious. Figure out what’s the most important part of your story and let that be what you focus on. Leave them wanting more.
The people you’re pitching have likely seen others that day and will probably see even more after you. You don’t want to lose their interest by going into too much detail. When in doubt, KISS.