There is no secret trick that will make an executive or commissioning editor want to buy your idea. However, there are a few essential principles that will set you apart from the crowd and increase your chances of success. And those principles come into play even before the big pitch; in fact, without them, you might not get that (potentially) golden opportunity.
The first and most important thing you need to sell your show is enthusiasm. The pitching process is never going to be easy and if you don’t believe in your idea, then trying to get someone else to believe in it is virtually impossible. No one is ever going to make your film just to be nice to you. However, once you believe in your idea and develop that enthusiasm for it, you realize that all you’re doing is inviting this other person into a creative partnership. You’re not begging for anything. You know that your idea is so good it will benefit your partner just as much it will you.
When you meet with an executive or buyer for the first time, it might well be someone you’ve never met before. Whatever the circumstance, you now only have a couple minutes to capture the buyer’s interest. How do you do that?
First, shake hands, make eye contact and introduce yourself. Be confident. Remember that this person needs you and your idea. Tell the exec the project’s genre and what you are pitching. Then get his or her attention by asking a question, and then giving time for an answer. Remember that a good pitch is never a hard sell. It’s a conversation in which you get the prospective buyer emotionally involved in your idea. You need to get the buyer focused on you.
Second, tell your audience how you came up with the idea. Recount a personal story. Then move on to the pitch itself but remember that no one has time to hear the whole story at this juncture. Just pitch the aspect of your film which is unique and which makes your proposal different from anything else.
Third, show photos, a newspaper article or any attention-grabbing ‘prop’ which will show your listener that you have verve and imagination.
When you’ve done those things, let the buyer know you have finished by saying something like, ‘May I give you this treatment to read?’ The goal of this whole first pitch is to get another meeting at a different time. It isn’t to make a sale. That usually won’t happen in the first meeting.
Sometimes, even when you have done your homework and are familiar with the channel’s programming, you’ll still get turned down. That’s fine. The goal of a good pitch is to conduct a conversation in such a way that even if you get turned down, the door is left wide open for you to return. The worst pitch is not where you get turned down, it’s where you unwittingly burn bridges by making a poor impression or by alienating the executive in some way.
There’s no guarantee that any given idea will sell, but if you can engage buyers and executives in conversation, show that you’re competent and enthusiastic, and get them emotionally involved in your ideas, then you are moving in the right direction. Building relationships with those who have the power to fund future film projects is, in the long-term, even more important than the pitch itself. Ultimately, you’re not pitching a specific idea, you’re pitching yourself.
Chris Palmer’s latest book, Shooting in the Wild: An Insider’s Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom (Sierra Club Books) will be released this spring.