RSW ’13: “The pitch is the message”

Experts on sizzle reels on the network, production company and agent side doled out advice in the 'Sizzle or Fizzle' session at Realscreen West in Santa Monica.
June 6, 2013

Experts on sizzle reels on the network, production company and agent side doled out advice in the ‘Sizzle or Fizzle’ session at Realscreen West in Santa Monica.

It goes without saying that tape can be essential when pitching a show to a U.S. network, particularly with story and character-driven shows, and Gurney Productions co-founder Scott Gurney advised that it is very important to keep it short.

“If it’s a minute long and as tight as you can get it, and you can make them laugh, that’s great, but if you’re going with a five-minute tape and the characters aren’t as strong, you’ve created doubt,” he said, before his sizzle for Duck Dynasty ran for the audience.

TruTV’s seniorVP of programming, production and development Darren Campo told delegates that, however strong a sizzle is, it’s only one part of the pitch. A tape can drum up interest with a network, but a logline and elevator pitch are essential.

“My advice to clients is that the pitch is the message,” added WME agent Amir Shahkhalili. “The tape is the signal that goes out to all the networks.”

As for character-driven sizzles, Campo advised that the tape has to clearly show that the characters are smart and good at what they do. “If you look at a channel and can’t tell who the boss or subordinate is in a few seconds, you’re asking the audience to do the work, which you don’t want to do,” he said.

A pitching producer also has to know where their story is going to go beyond the pitch. “I’m often surprised when I ask  ‘what can happen in episode 10′ and they don’t have an answer,” said Rita Mullin, exec VP of programming and development at OWN.

On the same note, Eric Schotz, LMNO’s president and CEO, said it can be easy to get lost in three page write-ups, but it is a waste of time when you don’t have a format or can’t answer the question ‘what’s the show?’

He added that when pitching a sizzle, it helps to follow-up with the network about the write-up, instead of  asking the question, “Did you pass yet?”

“The tape is not the hard part, the hard part is understanding storytelling,” Campo summed up.

About The Author
Managing editor with realscreen publication, an international print and online magazine that covers the non-fiction film and television industries. Darah is an award-winning journalist who has spent over two decades covering a wide range of issues from real estate and urban development to immigration, politics and human rights, primarily with The Vancouver Sun. Prior to joining realscreen, she was editor of Stream Daily, realscreen's sister publication covering the dynamic global digital video industry. She also served a stint as a war reporter in Afghanistan for television and print, and was a national business blogger with Yahoo Canada.