Pitching Essentials Part 2

By Elliot Grove

This is an extract from his book: Raindance Writers Lab (Focal Press 2002)

Pitching Tools

The trick with pitching is to evoke a visual image in the recipient’s mind. There are several tools you can use to accomplish this. Practise them until you get comfortable with each one. Then you will be able to use the tools appropriate for the person you are pitching.

Hint Make the movie come to life so that everyone hearing your pitch can visualize your story.

The first few seconds of your pitch are really important. It is in these vital few seconds that you set up your pitch and engage the listener. Then you move them towards the last few seconds – the ending.

1.The camera angle

‘We see the park. It’s autumn. There’s a park bench. It’s cold. Leaves are falling. And over there is the body. Oh no! Both eyes have been gouged out!... Is this what you have been looking for?’

In this pitch we start with a wide shot, and then zoom into the eyes of the victim. By using the camera angle, we involve the person in the first few frames of your movie. Of course this takes a few seconds of time, but you also sneak in a rather ambiguous trial closing.

2. What if?

Pitching Skills Workshop‘What if everything you have heard about extra terrestrials is true and you find out that your husband/wife is from outer space?’

The advantage of the ‘what if’ is that it allows you to condense your premise into a few lines and test it out. If at the end of your ‘what if’ you can’t get any reaction from your target, then you are in trouble. Get ready for another line of attack.

3. The movie cross

Comparing your movie to one or two other movies is called a “movie cross”.

‘My story is a cross between Shawn of the Dead and Bee Movie.’

The advantage of this technique is that your target immediately gets a feel for the style of the movie. The disadvantages may be too risky to justify the use of this technique. If your target has not seen one of the movies you mention, then the movie cross is meaningless, and your target is flustered. Or your target may not agree that your movie has anything to do with the movies it has been compared to. Be careful with this one.

Perhaps a better strategy is to compare your movie to a movie of the same genre. Aliens was successfully pitched as ‘Jaws in space”.

4. Pop a question

When you ask a direct personal question of your target at the start of a pitch, you immediately focus the target’s attention on you and your story. And it becomes intensely personal. But you have to be careful not make it too personal, like this opening sprung on me and on a hundred other people at one of the Raindance Film Festival’s pitching events called Live!Ammunition!.

‘Have you heard of Death Watch? You haven’t? Well, that’s a shame, because it’s watching you!’

This was just a little too dark, the delivery was flat, and didn’t get people’s attention – they just squirmed, thinking to themselves ‘Shut up!’

Better perhaps, was this one:

‘Did you know there was, in fact, a fifth member of the British Royal Family? This is the story of Norma…’

This approach uses the question in a less direct or personal way. It still personalizes the story to the target, but in a more usable, less intense way.

5. The elevator pitch

Can you hook your entire story into a couple of lines and grab the attention of a producer or story executive you just happen to share an elevator with for a few floors?

‘It’s a rom-com, but also a God-com. Steve Guttenberg plays Jesus. Naomi Watts plays a nun. It’s sort of The Passion of the Christ for girls.’

They pause with their finger hovering over the open door button and you slide in with another line and, if you are really good, they are intrigued and beckon you on over to their office, and sign you up for a deal.

Tips For Pitching


1.Reading notes

The sure-fire way to bomb in a pitch meeting. Don’t read, ever. You cannot look passionate if you are reading from notes. Refer to a few notes made on an index card if you are worried about freezing in your pitch. But I know you won’t freeze, because you know your story inside out, backwards and forwards and are passionate about your story.

2. Be brief

Time is money. And you won’t have much time if you ramble on and on. Get straight to the point. Don’t waste time. Remember that lengthy introductions are either sophisticated excuses or the sign of a frustrated amateur lacking confidence.

3.Be Entertaining

Nik Powell is one of the world’s most successful practitioners of the art of the pitch. Having produced the Monty Python films, Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, Nik has had a hand in the launch of many new writers and directors in the British film scene. I asked him how many times he had pitched Back Beat – the story of the fifth Beatle – before he got the money. He said about four thousand times. I asked him if he could give me a sample pitch. He said he couldn’t because it was different every time. He tailored each pitch in order to entertain the person he was pitching to. Like being the best joke at the pub.

4.Sell the sizzle not the steak

Your pitch should describe the elements of the story with salesmanship in mind. When you call up a travel agent for details of a tropical holiday – what do they send you? The plumbing, wiring and electrical diagrams of the hotel they want you to stay in (the steak) – or the glossy photo of the hotel with the artist’s impression of the pool - yet to be built (the sizzle)?

The common error many writers make is that they pitch their story as ‘this happens, then this happens, and then that happens’ – a guaranteed snore.

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About Elliot Grove

Elliot GroveCanadian born Elliot Grove founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in 2007, the Raindance Postgraduate Film Degree in 2011 and Raindance Raw Talent in 2013.

He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films incuding his latest feature film, Deadly Virtues: Love.Honour.Obey. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe. Japan and America.

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008),  RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press 2013) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication next year.

Open University awarded Elliot and Honourary Doctorate for services to film education in 2009.
He is regularly interviewed. Here is an interview for Canadian television

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Pitching Essentials Part Two