At the weekend I was fortunate enough to be asked to attend the London Screenwriters Festival and sit on the Pitchfest panel and listen to the pitches of many a writer.
It’s a very unusual format. Essential it’s a small room of commissioners and producers, who all sit at a desk and screenwriters queue to pitch to you. Once they get to you, they have five minutes to pitch their idea before a bell rings and the next contestant gets their turn. It’s a bit like speed dating for filmmakers. It’s an opportunity for writers to potentially get their screenplay off the ground but even better an opportunity to get feedback on their idea and pitch style.
I learnt three important things from the weekend.
1) There are a lot of writers putting themselves out there and developing great ideas.
2) Mars definitely is flavour of the month – I think we can thank Matt Damon for the many pitches I got about Mars landings and space stations!
3) Practice really does make perfect when it comes to pitching.
Albeit odd, the format is a fascinating one to learn and develop your pitch. Short sharp pitches with quick immediate feedback – if only the rest of life could be like that, we’d get good at things very quickly. The key is to do one thing really well.
Listen to the feedback from the person you are pitching to. I don’t necessarily mean listen to the words coming out of their mouth; I mean listen to what they might or might not be saying to you with their body language. Are they actively engaged? Do they seem confused? Are they asking questions at the right time? This can be key to accessing whether your pitch is working and your idea is engaging.
Five minutes may feel like no time at all, though I think it was Spielberg who said you should be able to sum up your idea in fifteen words or less. The classic being “Jaws in Space” – Alien.
The thing that surprises me most is when pitchers don’t tell me the title of their script without being prompted and dive straight into a lengthy story of what happens in their script. I’ve had some great ideas pitched to me, but I’ve been lost in the rabbling nature of the lead character did this and then this happened to him and then he did that. On the flip side I’ve had average ideas, pitched in a really concise engaging format and I’ve really bought into what they are saying.
I’ve got a huge respect for anyone who writes, especially if you’re willing to put you and your ideas out there. It can be hugely challenging and daunting to put your script out there to take feedback and criticism, and I commend you if you are willing to do that – especially if you are able to engage in active listening, which is something we can all learn to do in life.
I leave you with my favourite film scene about a film pitch – the opening scene from The Player.