Over the past 20 years I have been on the receiving end of many successful and some disastrous pitches from writers seeking to sell their ideas to the channel I was working for.
So I know a good pitch when it rolls into the room, and I have developed a sense of an impending bad one, as it edges through the door.
I have sat in a room listening to a writer get so wrapped up in his story that getting to the denouement, he burst into tears. This does not, in actual fact, convince me that the story is so emotional, so moving, that I too, (and indeed when we have made this drama and it is transmitting on BBC1) that our audiences are all in bits and reaching for the tissues, no, it meant the opposite. Having ascertained that he wasn’t actually ill, or bereaved, I came to the conclusion that he had got rather too taken up with his ending, (which would in screen time be approximately 5 minutes) and failed to deliver a genuinely engrossing storyline, apart from the (obviously tear jerking) ending.
Tears are not appropriate in a pitch – after it, in the pub, maybe, but not in situ.
Neither is having a few drinks before you pitch. I have been at a pitch (thankfully on the side-lines and not in the main firing line) when a writer actually threw up on a Producer’s shoes.
So here is my mini guide to doing it right, and my no please don’ts to avoid you doing it wrong.
And just before that: here are some easy to remember pointers:
Prepare for it.
Relax during it.
Listen to the reaction and also watch the reaction.
A Development Script Editor, Television Drama Producer, or Drama Commissioner, is looking for the same thing, no matter how high up the food chain they currently sit when you pitch to them.
They want a great story.
They also want to be able to package that story in a compelling sales pitch to their Producer, Executive Producer or Channel Controller, (depending again on where they sit in the hierarchy).
So you need to provide not only a must-have idea, that delivers an engaging story, with appealing characters, populating an entertaining, and/or challenging world, but you need to be able to present all these factors in a single, distilled, intense shot.
That is where preparation comes in.
If you have got to the stage where you are pitching your story, you most likely will have written a treatment that works for you; that you feel describes your idea and which covers all the territory you intend to cover in your script. By that I mean you will be clear about the following areas of your story:
The ‘World’ in which it is set
The Main Through-line – the narrative in broad strokes over the length
Now you need to get the essence of all this into a tasty paragraph that has the following elements in it:
What it is about
Who is/are the main protagonist/s
What/where is the jeopardy
How it resolves
Next you need to get that paragraph down to a couple of sentences and this will be your opening gambit at the pitch. It really helps, in my experience, to ask a question that points to the meat of your story as it’s answer. So, for example:
Q: What happens if your husband dies, leaving you with debt and a great big house to pay for? A: You open a B and B.
Welcome to the world of Full English. A 6 part drama serial set in Cornwall, which raises the net curtains on the cut and thrust industry of the Bed and Breakfast.
Being asked to pitch your ideas is a Drama Producer’s way of saying that you are interesting to them and want to learn more about your ideas and the sort of drama you want to write. So when you get to meet face to face, remember that this is both an informal and formal arrangement.
Pitching is the profession’s way of getting ideas aired, and the writer’s way of getting their voice heard, so in many ways it is a business meeting you are about to have. It is also an informal chat, a meeting of minds and definitely a time to have creative fun and relax.
There are many different reasons why a Producer may invite you to pitch and most, in my experience, are to do with a Producer’s need to know who is writing what out there, and whether they would benefit the show they are currently making, or suit another show. In some cases, Producers are looking for fresh and new ideas and for similarly, fresh, new voices to tell those stories.
The scenario for a Producer may be something along these lines:
* I have read/seen your work and I want to know more about what you are working on at the moment.
* I have not seen/read your work but you come recommended by my script editor and I am interested enough to meet you to find out more about you and your work.
* I have read a spec from you and am looking for writers for an established show that I think you may fit.
* I met you at a festival/gathering and enjoyed meeting you. I am doing this to follow up what I promised to do, and to find out if you can deliver the sort of script you talked to me about.
In all cases, whatever the scenario, remember, this is essentially an opportunity for you to open up the box on your exciting idea, the story that is engrossing you at the moment and your opportunity to share the reasons why this is such a consuming idea, and why you want to write it.
Be prepared for the following sorts of questions:
* Why do you want to tell this story?
* Why do you think this company/channel would want to make this?
(Research the demographic you know the channel caters for and research their output)
* Who do you think will watch it?
* What is the main appeal of this story?
* Why tell this story now, what makes it so right for current audiences?
Once you have done your pitch, had your say, done your best, let the Producer/Script Editor have the floor.
I have been on the receiving end of very passionate speeches delivered by writers totally not convinced that I have heard their pitch correctly, or fully understood it. Some writers make the mistake of going over territory already discussed; back-tracking, in an attempt to re-ignite a conversation about their idea that has already been had. Obviously, this is a big, fat no. no.
Do listen to the reaction – it will be what it is, and I obviously hope it will be a positive for you. If it isn’t, move on. You have other ideas and you will no doubt pitch them to this Producer, given the chance, but do not, under any circumstances, try to pitch another idea if you have not been asked to do so.
If the reaction is mixed, then say a cheery farewell, and rework your idea, following the lines suggested in the pitch meeting. It is important the Producer feels you are a collaborative, team player, albeit one who has an individual voice and is not afraid of using it.
And before I go, another morsel of advice to make your pitches go smoothly and without blood (or worse!) on the floor…..
Leave your ego at the door and let your idea have centre stage.
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