How not to Pitch

There's a Simpsons episode in which a very drunk Homer lurches into a room with some outsider art he's made, yelling: 'Wait, wait... I have to explain it.' That's what I'm reminded of sometimes when I watch producers pitch.
March 1, 2008

There’s a Simpsons episode in which a very drunk Homer lurches into a room with some outsider art he’s made, yelling: ‘Wait, wait… I have to explain it.’ That’s what I’m reminded of sometimes when I watch producers pitch.

And I can only imagine what it’s like for broadcasters. I’ve probably seen a few hundred pitches and thousands of clips, but it can’t begin to compare to what the average commissioning editor is exposed to.

So, in the interest of ongoing public service, I thought I would share what I’ve found to be three approaches guaranteed to not get you a sale to a broadcaster.

The Google Research Project
APT president and CEO, Cynthia Fenneman, alluded to this approach during the ‘We’ve Got that in Development…’ panel at the Realscreen Summit, so I know I’m not the only one thinking about it. We all have access to the Internet. It’s a cool place, and there are lots of interesting things on it. Even some naked people. A whole bunch of interesting facts make for a good Trivial Pursuit game, not a film or television pitch. Not even when it’s about naked people.

A film is a story, not just a collection of hooks.

The Encyclopedia
Demonstrating, ad nauseam, that your mastery of a topic is unparalleled is not a pitch. When the person you’re talking to looks glassy eyed, drools, or begins to look panicked, you’ve lost it. If at any point in your pitch you ask, ‘Where do I start?’ you’re not prepared and you need to stop pitching and go off to be by yourself for a while.

A good pitch isn’t a novel, it’s the write-up on the back of the dust cover.

The Seduction
Don’t ever leave me hanging. Sure, mystery is good, but if by two minutes into your clip I can’t find a story thread without a map and a Sherpa, you’ve lost me.

And at no point should I feel like you’re lording your knowledge over me, by the way. The question ‘Have you ever wondered what rainfall in the Amazon has to do with your car?’ better be immediately followed by a really interesting answer or I’m going to be distracted by the next shiny thing I see; or resent you for bringing it up in the first place, only to leave me hanging. Better yet, just never ask a question that can get you a quick ‘no.’ But most people learned that as a teenager when they started dating.

So, what’s the big secret? A good pitch is not just the explanation of an idea – it’s a story itself. If I want information about something, I have the Internet. Make me care about your idea and then tell me how you’re going to do it. Tell me a complete tale – with conflicts and characters and drama and resolutions, and highs and lows, rewards and failures – and do it in less than three minutes.

That’s about six times longer than you’re going to have with a North American viewing audience, so it shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, you should have almost three minutes to spare.

Brendan Christie,

About The Author
Jonathan Paul is a Toronto-based writer into creativity, content, advertising, tech, comics, video games, film, TV, time and space travel.