by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)
When your story is finally written and the final FADE TO BLACK has been executed, you need to be ready to pitch your story to someone that is not legally obligated to tell you they like it. It can be a shock to the system when the script that your mother claimed is the greatest story ever told doesn’t hold the attention of the listener you had hoped you would be so captivated.
Pitching a story is its own art form. Even the most finely crafted story can be poorly pitched and fail to gain any interest. So how do you communicate the essence of your story without misleading the listener or painting a picture of every scene you’ve written?
Here are five tips to remember when pitching your story.
1. Don’t keep writing your story while pitching.
It’s not uncommon for brilliance to strike while pitching your story. More than one storyteller has had a great idea in the middle of describing their story to someone else. It can be tempting to incorporate the idea on the fly, veering off track from the script you have available to send someone who might be interested. Without fail, you will immediately be asked for the script and have to fess up or make drastic surgery to your script in a panicked rush. Save yourself the trouble and DO NOT pitch something you have not already executed on the page.
2. Practice, practice, practice.
Looking like you are effortlessly pitching a story without any forethought and actually being able to do it are two WILDLY different skillsets. Most casual pitches that seem off the cuff are actually rehearsed to no end to appear that way. Don’t rely on your improv skills if you know you are going to have the opportunity to present your story to someone who may be interested. Practice until you know your pitch backwards and forwards. That will let you answer unexpected questions and feel improvisational when the opportunity arises.
3. Keep it short and aimed at provoking questions.
One of the most common mistakes newbies make when pitching their material is telling their listener FAR too much about their story. Skilled writers share just enough to arouse curiosity but not so much that the listener becomes bored. This can be a tough balance to strike when you are starting out. Your goal should be to get the listener to engage in your story so deeply they begin imagining it and asking questions that will help them paint the image they are imagining. Craft a five-minute version of your pitch, a two-minute version, a sixty second version, and even a one sentence pitch. The key is to hone these versions of your short pitch in a way that gains you the opportunity to later offer a longer version of the story.
4. Know the genre and/or family of films yours belongs in.
It’s jaw dropping how many writers complete an entire feature-length script without ever thinking about where their story fits in the larger family of films that a listener is already familiar with. Telling someone right away what genre or family of stories yours belongs in gives the listener handles that they will need in order to engage with you and your story. Remember, while you have spent hours and hours in the world of your story and thoroughly understand its nuances, the person you are pitching is coming to your pitch with a blank slate. They literally know NOTHING. Anything you can offer to orient them in your story will help them begin to engage in your pitch and avoid confusion.
Nerves have robbed more writers of a successful pitch than any other single factor. Letting nerves cause you to speak too quickly, become flustered, or cause you to forget your own material are all experiences that other writers have fallen victim to. Relax. Take three deep breaths before you pitch. Make eye contact. Speak slowly but not unnaturally. Smile and enjoy the reward of getting to share the fruits of your labor with someone else. And remember that the worst possible thing that can happen is that they say no, so you don’t have anything to lose.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.