Pitching Secrets from the Other Side of The Desk

As a producer, I’ve been in every pitching situation imaginable, on both sides of the desk.

I’ve heard thousands of pitches from writers.  I’ve brought pitches into every studio, often with A-list writers, directors and stars attached.  From swank studio conference rooms to a cramped office inside an aged production trailer, I‘ve been there, done that.  I’ve set up a cable film with a phone call and a newspaper clipping.  With a single submission, I’ve set up a studio project based on a few sentence description of a short-lived TV series from decades past.

I’ve had execs thank me profusely for bringing in such an impressive story – and then pass.  I’ve suffered through an exec who’ve failed to mask their dislike of a concept from the first minute, as well as an exec who failed to keep her eyes open in one of the most dynamic action dramas ever, until the arrestingly handsome writer jumped up and began acting it out.

I was listening to a pitch from a writing team, when the door to my office opened revealing – for my eyes only – a movie star clad only in his tidy whities.  Shocked as I was, he expected to find his costume designer on the other side.

I’ve taken these experiences, the good, bad and downright painful, and become a Pitch Doctor.  I specialize not in getting people to “Open up, stick out your tongue and say “Ah,” but to get them say “Ah-HA!” by helping them discover what to pitch, how to pitch and how to use pitching as a fast track to success.

Save the Cat by Blake Snyder

When I first began teaching the art of pitching, I turned to my friend, the late Blake Snyder of Save the Cat

® fame, and asked, “What do writers really want to know about pitching?”

Blake insisted that what he and all other writers wanted was what we – the execs – are thinking in a pitch meeting.  What’s going on in our heads? 

So here are some secrets from the other side of the desk – what executives won’t likely tell you in the room.  What really matters in a pitch and what simply shouldn’t be said.  Know the mistakes guaranteed to sink your pitch and the surefire ways to slam dunk it.


Pitching The Slam Dunk
Pitching perfection. Nothing but net!
  • A great hook – we can’t get it out of our minds.  What I call a “Hooky Idea.”
  • You surprise us.  We’ve heard it all, so actually fresh story, a twist we truly didn’t see coming, grabs us.  A completely new twist on something we’ve see before is a total turn on.
  • We can immediately think of Male Stars for the hero, or better yet, Two Male Stars for the two leads.
  • We see trailer moments and a one-sheet.
  • You pitch something somehow similar to whatever was a huge hit or surprise success at the box office last weekend – but different.
  • You have a potential Four Quadrant concept, meaning it hits all segments of the movie going audience.
  • We know how to sell it and who will buy it – the Number One way to succeed.

SEVEN WAYS YOU’RE SUNK                   

Your Pitch is Sunk!
  • It’s Execution Dependant!  The deliciousness is in the details, not the concept.  The Number One way to tank, as you simply cannot succeed.  This should not be pitched – EVER.  Go spec it.  Write something marvelous.  It may take you a hundred drafts, but ultimately it makes people passionate to bring it to the screen.  Even if it doesn’t get sold, execs will want to have a project with you.
  • TEN seconds in the wrong world – not the world of your story – and we’re gone.  If you don’t tell us the tone of your movie, we’ll start making it up in our heads.  And it’s not likely to be the movie in your head.  You will never get us back.  There’s a very old saying, “There’s a fine line between comedy and tragedy.”  And the reason it’s a very old saying is because it’s true.
  • We can’t follow your story.  Where are we in the world, if it’s not here and now?  Where are we in the story?  Is this Act Two or still Act One?  Take us by the hand and have your hero lead us into your world and your story.
  • We already have a project like it.  We’ll cut you off immediately.  We don’t want you to sue us for stealing your idea – an idea that we’re already developing.  Don’t take it personally.  If you don’t have something else ready to pitch, learn what we are looking for and get out.  Live to fight another day.
  • You hit the genre we just “don’t get.”  Everyone has them.  Perhaps it’s just not our cup of tea; a story we don’t respond to for personal reasons.  Be especially wary of black comedies and spoofs, which are very few people’s cup of tea.
  • Your idea does not fit our mandate.  Do your homework; know who you’re pitching to.  Don’t bring a girl’s coming of age story to Joel Silver’s company.  Don’t pitch a story about toys that come to life in the attic to Pixar.  Yes, that was a real pitch.  Can’t make this stuff up.
  • All hat and no cattle.  Academy Award® nominated writer Mark Fergus calls this, “All rocket, no bottle.”  It seems like a hook, but there’s nothing to support it.  The pieces don’t fit together.  It sounds cool, but it makes no sense, has no structure and lacks the Essential Elements of story.

AND ONE BONUS as I’m seeing this so much lately in pitches and queries:

Never, ever tell us how successful your project is going to be.  That there will be sequels, action figures and theme park rides.  Even top studio marketing execs can’t determine this, so it makes you look like an amateur.

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