Too many writers over-prepare one big pitch, sure that it’s going to blow the town away. It’s fine to focus on one idea, practice it in front of the mirror, try it out on friends, etc… But remember, as soon as the producers give any indication that they aren’t interested, you have to drop it immediately and move on to another pitch.
The question then becomes: How many pitches can you prepare? After all, you can’t have an infinite number of equally good pitches…
I was first warned about this problem by Simon Kinberg. He told a story about being called in by Universal, who wanted to hear horror pitches. He had two weeks to prepare, so he carefully crafted a sure-fire million dollar horror idea, complete with a 30 minute pitch detailing every beat of the story. Just in case that somehow didn’t sell, he also worked up five minute pitches for two other ideas.
On the day of the meeting, Universal quickly dismissed the million-dollar idea, then waved away the two five minute pitches. At this point, all he had left was a list of seven more titles with no stories attached, but he started listing them off and coyly implying that he couldn’t say too much about them. Finally he got down to the last one: all he could tell them was that it would be a movie about a western ghost town called Ghost Town.
The executives said: “Stop right there! We love it! Sold!” Once the check was safely deposited, he asked what it was exactly they liked about it. They said that they were just looking for any horror movie that could launch a new attraction at the Universal Studios Theme Park. Ghost Town fit that bill. (Alas, it never got made.)
In your mind, have an imaginary pitch pyramid:Every time they look bored, slyly make your way down the pyramid. Guess what always piques their interest? Something from the bottom tier. You’ll be glad that you reviewed your master list of projects.
And don’t be afraid to literally bring in a cheat sheet. There’s a myth that says that writers can’t ever consult notes in a pitch, but that’s not true at all. Don’t read your pitch, of course, but don’t force them to watch you racking your brain either.
Next week: Don’t let them kill you with kindness.