10 Tips to Pitching Your Project and Yourself Like a Pro

Pitching Your Project, Suzanne Lyons, film producer

Inside the Producer’s Corner with Suzanne Lyons

This is a series of articles that film producer and best-selling author Suzanne Lyons (listen to her interview here) will be writing over the next 6 months. I personally asked Suzanne to share her knowledge, experience, and motivation with you the IFH Tribe. Whether you are a director, producer, cinematographer, screenwriter or editor I think you’ll get a ton out of this series. Check back every week for a new post that will help you on your journey as an indie filmmaker.


10 TIPS TO PITCHING YOUR PROJECTS AND YOURSELF 

I’ve been on many panels on “Pitching” over the years, heard pitches in my office and heard tons of pitches at various PitchFest events.  I am always amazed at how many pitches are unclear, confusing, too long and too generic.

I am not trying to be critical here… I know first-hand just how hard it is to pitch your projects and yourself.  I’ve been on both sides of the table 100s of times.  In fact, I use to love watching “Dragon’s Den” because it is fascinating to watch people pitch.  I always learn so much.

As a film producer, I have been hearing pitches for years and I think what people don’t realize is the fact that they are pitching all the time.  It starts when you walk in the room or get on the phone or the email.  I’ve seen people at networking events, film markets, festivals, interviews and auditions and for the most part they are completely unconscious as to how they come across.  They just don’t get it!  You aren’t just pitching while you’re pitching… you’re pitching all the time!  Your speaking, who you’re being, how you’re occurring… it’s all pitching!

Then, so often, when it comes to the actual pitch, we freeze.  When I asked my students in a Flash Forward workshop over the years “what comes up for you when I say “pitching?”, one student shouted out “my lunch!”.  That pretty much sums it up.  The emotional reaction is panic and fear.  Somewhere along the way we have become convinced that pitching is about coercing and manipulating someone into buying something they don’t want.  I am not just talking about writer’s here.  I mean everyone in every facet of our industry… actors, make-up artists, directors, casting directors, cinematographers, costume designers… everyone!

I am committed to giving you a whole new way to look at pitching.  From now on it will be fun and exciting.  Trust me, as I mentioned earlier, I’ve been on both sides of the table many times.

Here are 10 Tips to help you master the art of pitching and have fun while you’re doing it.

1) A FANTASTIC NEW WAY TO LOOK AT PITCHING

If we view pitching as convincing and cohering someone, how can we possibly relax, enjoy, feel comfortable and confident while we’re pitching.  I promise you that when you were 5 years old you had absolutely no problems pitching.  If you got a new Barbie doll or bright red dump truck for Christmas you couldn’t wait to call your friends and have them come over and play.

You were brilliant enrollers!  There was no convincing or manipulating.  You were having fun and wanted others to have fun with you.  It’s no different now!  What if pitching is simply a conversation that enrolls someone into playing with you… enrolls someone into your vision in such a way that they want to play.  That’s all pitching is.  Easy and natural!

If we view pitching as convincing and cohering someone, how can we possibly relax, enjoy, feel comfortable and confident while we’re pitching.  I promise you that when you were 5 years old you had absolutely no problems pitching.  If you got a new Barbie doll or bright red dump truck for Christmas you couldn’t wait to call your friends and have them come over and play.

You were brilliant enrollers!  There was no convincing or manipulating.  You were having fun and wanted others to have fun with you.  It’s no different now!  What if pitching is simply a conversation that enrolls someone into playing with you… enrolls someone into your vision in such a way that they want to play.  That’s all pitching is.  Easy and natural!

2) THEY NEED YOU

While teaching the Flash Forward workshop years ago I would spend an entire morning on pitching and one of the things I always stressed was the fact that “they need you”.  We called it the “Golden Rule” of pitching.  We often forget this and it’s why we get so nervous and crazy when it comes to pitching ourselves or our projects.  We forget that they need us.  Your script could help win that producer an Oscar!  Your music could win them a BAFTA!  Your acting performance could win them a Golden Globe!  THEY NEED YOU!

When I spoke with Rosalinda Morales, the Casting Director of one of my favorite films, “Under the Same Moon,” about this aspect of pitching she said that “As a Casting Director, nothing makes me happier than when that perfect actor walks in the door.  It is thrilling and it makes my job a whole lot easier.  It is an amazing thing when I get the chance to discover new talent. An actors’ success equals my success.  It’s a win/win all around.”

3) PREPARATION

Research who you are going to be pitching to.  These days that is easy.  The internet tells us everything.  Or call the assistant and get more information if you need to, but do your research.  Find out about the person, the company, their credits, what they are working on, their interests.   Also, research the other projects that have been done that are similar to yours.

So many people don’t do it and yet it will make a gigantic difference to your pitch.  Then take some time to rehearse.  I don’t care if it’s in the mirror or in front of your dog, just do it!  When you get on the phone or in front of the person to do the pitch, please tell them the purpose of the call/meeting.  They no doubt have had another 50 meetings in the two weeks since you booked yours and they have completely forgotten.  Remind them of the purpose and once you’ve accomplished your purpose, end the meeting!  Don’t oversell.

4) CREATE A RELATIONSHIP

My personal favorite is Relationship and it’s probably the most important and most certainly the one that everyone forgets to do.  It makes me crazy when people in the industry just approach me and say, “I’ve heard you’re a producer”, “here’s my acting demo, or composer demo, DP demo, or screenplay”, etc.  Absolutely no relationship present at all.

People tend to jump right into their pitch and yet it is so important to create a relationship first.  I’m not saying you have to tell your life story, but it’s essential to form a foundation of relationship before you launch into your pitch.  Acknowledging the person, mentioning a referral, a common interest, your personal relationship to the material for example… all great ways to start.

During a Flash Forward class, a writer was pitching his feature film project to everyone.  He was not doing a great job and putting everyone to sleep. When I asked him why he wanted to write this particular script he just lit up and told us that he had studied a rare martial art specializing in infiltration, espionage, and assassination since he was 5!  It was clearly something he was passionate about.  Immediately the room was alive and listening to him on the edge of their seats.  That personal share took less than a minute but it created a whole new listening for his story.

5) HOW ARE YOU OCCURRING?

You will hate this one, I certainly do, but it’s important.  How do you show up for people?  Most of the time we rarely have any idea of how we occur.  It’s a painful exercise but I suggest you ask 5 people (who will be honest with you) how you occur.  Even if you have a great script or a great demo reel I still have to work with YOU.   Who you are as a person makes different to me (and everyone).  Are you easy to work with and great to be around?  Life is short and I only want to work with people I like.  Like fish in water, for the most part, we are absolutely unconscious as to how we occur.  Find out.  Do the exercise!

6) KILLER LOGLINE

In Blake Snyder’s amazing book “Save the Cat” he said

“a logline is like the cover of a book; a good one makes you want to open it, right now, to find out what’s inside”.

A logline is a one or two-line statement of what you’re pitching… clear, concise, compelling.  If you have a script or specific project, I want to know what it’s about in a nutshell before I hear the whole story.  If I like the concept, I’ll want to hear more.  Be sure to mention the genre and make certain that the protagonist and the theme is clear as well.

Use vivid, colorful specific adjectives and characters.  Take time to create a killer logline and run it by 10 people to get their opinion.  It is 80% of the sale, so it’s worth the time.  If you are a composer, director, actor or anyone selling a service you need a bold statement that distinguishes you… that differentiates you from all the others.  You are the product.  What is your ad line?  What is your unique stamp?  Your particular type?  Your specialty?

7) STORY

If I like the logline I want to hear more.  If you’re pitching a project, divide the story into three acts… beginning, middle and end and keep it short.  I taught pitching workshops at the Leaning Annex for years and I would have everyone practice doing a 2 to 3-minute pitch of the story.  Of course, you can always go into more detail later, but give the person the logline and the shorter pitch first.

If you’re pitching your service, what you’re selling is you… the “story” is your story, background, anecdotes all focused on making the most powerful case possible that you are the right one for the job.  No matter if you are pitching you or your project one great exercise to do is come up with a list of 10 or 20 highlight, accomplishment, crowning moments of your career and personal life experiences.  That way you will have those highlights available to weave into your pitch.  NOTE: When you are pitching, please remember that there is someone else in the room with you.  Be present!

8) ACTION PLAN

What happens next?  Get a clear plan of action in place before you end the conversation.  Have it be something you can generate and control.

“May I call you next Thursday to get your response to my script”?

The key is to keep the ball in your court.  Don’t be waiting for them to call you.

This is where we get lazy, or nervous or scared.  I don’t know what it is, but we give our power away here and this is where you need to keep the power in your hands.  It is a business.  You are making a specific request and it is the language of business.  I don’t care if you’re an actor, costume designer, composer, etc. you are the President and CEO of your company.  Wear the business hat, speak the language and take the appropriate actions.

9) FOLLOW UP

Here is where we get sloppy and yet this part is so important.  Call when you said you’d call.  Do what you said you’d do.  Keep the conversation alive!  Write a follow-up note or email. Keep them apprised of your progress.  If you win a ‘best actor’ award, let them know.  If your script wins best screenplay, let them know.

10) GOLDEN RULE

One of my favorite sayings:

“You rarely loose by pitching badly, but you always loose by not pitching.”

Pick up the phone!  Set up the meeting!  Remember, Babe Ruth had 714 home runs but he had to strike out 1,330 times to get them.  Get up to bat.  Have fun.  You have something unique to offer and contribute, whether it’s yourself or your projects.  It’s a win-win situation every time.  They need you, so get out there and PITCH!

BONUS: One of our students in the FFI years ago loved this whole exercise on Pitching so much that she went out and got bumper stickers made for everyone in the class.  Here is what the bumper sticker said,  “Life’s a Pitch… and then they Buy”

Also, before you do your pitch, get centered in your commitment.  Remind yourself why you wrote that script, what it is about that story that just had to be told.  For those of you providing a service – actors, DPs, make-up artists, set designers, directors, etc. remember why you chose this particular profession.  What is it about set design that you love?  What is it about acting that you are so passionate about?  Stand in your passion and joy before every pitch, interview or audition and pitching will be a joy!

EXERCISE:  Make a point of doing a pitch to someone this week.  Whether you’re pitching your project or your service give it a go.  Practice on your friend first if it makes it easier, but make the commitment to do at least one pitch before the end of this week.  


Suzanne Lyons is President/Producer of Snowfall Films, Inc. having produced/exec produced 12 feature films to date. She co-founded the Flash Forward Institute which focused on teaching the tools of business needed to market oneself in the entertainment industry. She recently launched a game-changing online course called Indie Film Producing Masterclass with Suzanne Lyons. She’s the author of Indie Film Producing: The Craft of Low Budget Filmmaking published by Focal Press. She has also hosted over 125 informational videos on the film industry. When time permits she does private career and business coaching.  Suzanne is originally Canadian and lives with her husband in Los Angeles, CA.    

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