Passionate pitching: finding your secret sauce

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Today’s article was written by our co-founder, comic artist, marketing expert, and film producer Peter Zale. It’s about his experience pitching, and how passion is the “secret sauce” that producers and investors are looking for.

My first pitch wasn’t for a film; it was for a comic strip. It was back in 1999. I was pitching the Tribune Media Syndicate to put my online comic strip “Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet” into newspapers worldwide.

I knew basically how to pitch because I knew marketing communications having worked for years in advertising. I didn’t particularly like advertising (no one does) but knowing how to sell something turned out to be very important. I succeeded in my pitch using all the skills and technology (PowerPoint) I’d learned, and “Helen” debuted several months later.

It is hugely important for script writers to know how to pitch a script because you will never sell it without the pitch. It’s just a fact of life.

So, a pitch seems a hateful thing to do because it forces you to condense this marvelous, brilliant and personal thing you’ve done into a product while at the same time keeping it and your soul intact. It seems a fool’s errand and a suicidal fool’s errand at that. 

But that’s not so.

The problem is really in the word “pitch”. It’s an industry word, a marketing word. It doesn’t really describe what you’re doing, only what the industry wants to name what you’re doing. 

What you’re actually doing is adoring yourself and your work.

A pitch is really you becoming completely invested and passionate about both your project and yourself.  It is you connecting so completely to what you’re doing that strangers take notice. If what you did comes across as part of you, close to you, out of you. If people sense that your soul is in it, then you will get their attention. If they then feel at least enough of your soul also likes movies and TV that makes money, you’re in. 

What I mean by that last sentence is that the belief you have in your project is also the belief you have that what you’re doing is entertaining to the world because it’s already entertained you; it’s entertained you the way the TV shows or movies you’ve seen and love have.  In your mind you’ve written something as funny or poignant as something you’ve experienced. You’ve been entertained in creating it. You love the world you’ve made. It sings to you. You thus pitch a movie by telling the people you’re pitching this great movie you just saw in your mind: your own. They will get that. They will see it’s great because you see it as great just the way you saw greatness in “Chinatown”, “Seven” or “Moonstruck”.

When you know your story so well; when it feels so real and so alive, you can describe it simply. Your world will have depth because of the depth of your attachment to it.

 I’ve written scripts with characters based on real people, but these characters are also based on character types I’ve seen on TV or in the theaters. A movie or TV show is a model, or perhaps better put an instrument that’s been played many, many times before by many other writers. It’s an instrument you’ve enjoyed enough to want to play yourself. In fact, one way of looking at writing scripts is you writing music for the instrument you love to play.

If I were to pitch the comedy that I’m writing right now, I would say it’s based on my life. I would also say it’s based on frustration, youth and confusion. I would say it’s based on loving a girl; feeling ten feet tall, having a secret and thinking there’s way too much dreck in the world that gets in the way of all the stuff that feels exciting and fulfilling to you. It’s about finding yourself and not necessarily liking what you find but loving it in an almost evil way. It’s about feeling powerful and weak. It’s about fear, hatred, stupidity and the fact that nothing really works out the way you want it to and that life is meaningless. 

But as meaningless experiences go, it’s not half bad.

Pitching makes you a better storyteller because it invests you completely in the story you’re telling. Imagine Hans Christian Anderson reading his story “The Little Match Girl” without emotion, without pitching it to us as he reads. It’s impossible. The story has to mean something because if it’s just a line of events, it’s pointless (or too pointful – which is not a word). Ray Bradbury once said “plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before.” The incredible destination, the love, the fear, the horror, the laugh and surprise is what means something. It’s why you’re doing this. It’s why this is a story and not a math problem. It’s meant to enrapture you. A pitch is just enrapturing edited down to what’s possible in fifteen minutes. 

It’s hard, too, because it’s you. You have to present yourself in as honest a way as possible. You have to live and die with what you have done. You have to be vulnerable while being incredibly strong. You have to be crazy enough to believe what you have and what you are is just as good as anything and anyone who came before you, any of the writers you love and the films you cherish. 

When I pitched my comic strip to Tribune Media in 1999, I was already pretty sure I’d succeed because I’d already accomplished something pretty damned amazing. I’d taken my online comic strip and grown it to a regular audience of 30,000+ people. I’d also gotten write ups in The New York Times and many other newspapers and magazines, not to hundreds (or thousands) of web sites. I’d even been interviewed on NPR! I was a star.

But sadly, by the time I came to pitch to Tribune Media, my heart was gone from the project. Oh, I didn’t know it at the time, but after five years of doing the strip online, playing with this new tech world as it grew to become the real world, I’d really done all I’d wanted to do. Tech wasn’t new and different anymore. 

My soul in that pitch was in what I’d already accomplished, what I’d done, rather than in what I wanted to do.  It wasn’t an adoration. It was a memorial. 

“Helen” ran for five years and did well, but I barely enjoyed any of it and when my contract ended, I closed up shop happily.

I bring this up to reinforce the point that a pitch is just as much an act of love as the piece you’re pitching. It has to be. Because if you don’t really love what you’re doing during every minute of doing it, thinking about it and (most importantly for this article) talking about it, you don’t really have what you think you have. 

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Molly Stein-Seroussi

Author

Molly is an author, screenwriter, blogger, and brand manager for New 32 Productions. They are passionate about sharing content that helps filmmakers live a more productive, informed, and well-balanced life. They live in North Carolina with their spouse and way too many dogs.

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