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"PITCHING" IS A HOT TOPIC (LEARN ABOUT THE DREADED ART!!!

By Craig Kellem

It seems that pitching (ie: a verbal sales presentation of your project) has become yet another needed skill for writers trying to break into the industry. Often this kind of salesmanship is required when the writer has his or her first contact with an interested party ("so tell me all about your screenplay") or when she/he plunks down blood money to attend one of those pitch sessions that seem to be cropping up. While writers squawk over the sweat and tears of script revisions and the like, when it comes to pitching many would rather face a surgeon's scalpel. The idea of confronting "the man" with the stakes on the moon, and cleverly rendering the consummate sales pitch can be so traumatic that one might even consider a new career and leave town.

Wait!

Pitching will probably never be easy, but it can be very manageable.

Hear me, I know what I'm talking about!

The greatest enemy of pitching is the notion (often generated in the "how to" culture) that there is a TECHNIQUE to be learned. This notion implies that one must somehow capture the art of contrivance and "salesmanship," practice it to the max and then dole it out like a Shakespearean Sonnet.

Forget about technique, it's usually death on the Nile.

The only rule for good pitching is BEING YOURSELF and COMMUNICATING THE TRUTH.

In this regard, all styles are welcome. The enthusiastic artisan on the edge of his/her seat, passionately chatting up their beloved project can be very winning, but so can the quiet, stoic-faced waif, earnestly making his/her case.

Another cardinal rule for effective pitching is this: prepare all you want but NEVER, EVER READ YOUR PITCH. It just doesn't work.

My suggestion is that you create a "beat sheet" (like a crib sheet) touching upon the main points of your pitch. A smorgasbord of the highlights. While preparing, keep in mind to pitch like you write: have a beginning, middle and end. Then get the gist of it set in your mind (you can keep an index card with your cues handy) but, when the big moment comes, kill the teleprompter, shoot from the hip and trust in your own spontaneity and well directed fear. Your passion and extemporaneous energy, will provide more spunk, sparkle and splash to your presentation than any scripted spiel could possibly do. And even if it's speckled with imperfections, it'll be a thousand times more enchanting and dynamic than some over prepared, memorized diatribe.

When I used to pitch TV projects at the networks, I was always confronted by that moment of terror, usually on the car ride over, when it would suddenly seem like I had "nothing to say." I would scribble copious, last minute notes, while feeling paralyzed in banality and dullness. But, I finally learned how to interrupt this insanity.

Instead of scrambling to get my "part right," panicking that I'd forget my lines, I would start back-tracking, remembering my love of creative work. And I'd ask myself the following questions:

*What do I like about my project?

*Why did I get involved with this thing to begin with?

*I'm enthused, right? How come? Spit it out boy!

As if by magic, I would wake up to the genuine, vital me and remember how excited I was when I got the idea (or when I heard the idea from the writer and why I thought it would be entertaining, touching, relevant etc). All this flooded me with a whiff of my original enthusiasm which included an ambitious vision that America might someday share in my delight.

Suddenly I had lots to talk about!

By the time I reached the network, I'd be bursting. I'D BE PREPARED FROM THE INSIDE OUT!

I found it helpful when I began my pitch by explaining the genesis of the project, then I'd segway into the creative realization that ensued after inception(introducing examples of story lines, descriptions of characters, etc.)

My pitch was also supported by reminding myself of the fundamentals of salesmanship

*TRY TO ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE

*MAKE CONTACT WITH PEOPLE IN THE ROOM

*LISTEN WHEN THEY SPEAK

*REMEMBER (ALTHOUGH IT MAY NOT SEEM THAT WAY), YOU NEED THE GIG BUT THEY NEED THE MATERIAL, THAT'S WHY THEY ARE THERE. YOU HAVE SOMETHING OF VALUE TO OFFER!

It's ironic that many of the principles of pitching are similar to the principles of writing itself. Contrived, formulaic writing is as boring as contrived, formulaic pitching. On the other hand, spontaneous, bold and "from the gut" writing and pitching has endless potential.

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