This series of questions literally built my career. If I could point to any one thing that had the biggest impact, it would be, asking myself these question and answering them with brutal honesty.
Pitching is where everything in your career is born. If you can’t pitch, there is no money, there is no project and there is no career. Distributors and content buyers say ‘yes’ for VERY specific reasons and they demand a certain set of information. But it’s not as easy as checking boxes on a list or filling out a form. It’s about creating a feeling that combines trust, ingenuity and just the right amount of magic. Get this stuff wrong and it’s going to be a long f’ing road for you as a filmmaker. Get it right and you’ll always have a seat at the pitch table.
My own experience pitching started out with me waiting in a distributor’s lobby for an hour only to see him come out of his office having ‘forgot’ he had a meeting with me… and leaving anyway (sound of sad clown horn). Then, when I did get a meeting, well… CUT TO: INT. NETWORK CONFERENCE ROOM - “That’s great. What else ya got?”, the woman said. Crickets. I had gone into a pitch at a major network thinking ‘yes’ was a foregone conclusion. Surely, they won’t be able to resist the white-hot brilliance of my idea.
Thirty seconds into my pitch, my enthusiasm and passion firing on all cylinders, I was stopped by the simple raise of a hand in the “I’ve heard enough” position. [Sound of tires squealing and glass breaking]. The woman who was leading the meeting stopped me and asked the simple question, “what else ya got”?.. a question I am now very accustomed to and very ready for. But on this day, I was stopped cold. My eyes went blurry, the flop sweat lying over me like a damp blanket. I had nothing and nowhere to go. Their stares began to melt my brain into a useless heap and words had already failed me moments earlier. “Thank you and good luck”, she said, in a way that was designed to let me know I had just wasted her time and the time of her team.
That never happened again. Now, I always come prepared with multiple, fleshed out ideas that I can talk about at length. For years, I have been pitching in conference rooms all over LA, Chicago, New York, London, Barcelona and anywhere else there are people who make, buy and sell content. The thing I’ve learned over those years is that selling content (film, TV, digital, written, etc.) is fucking hard. Why? Because it hasn’t been made yet, it’s gas, vapor, a mist of an idea and people have trouble giving you money when they don’t have a finished, concrete product to wrap their heads around. I’ve seen producers with fame, a proven track record and a great idea walk out of those very same conference rooms in defeat because they missed a small piece of the pitch puzzle. That’s why, when I did get a win, you can bet I memorized what I did that got me that ‘yes’.
What I’ve learned from selling content has helped me sell a ton of projects, projects I wanted to make and be known for. I’ve stuck to some pretty straightforward and steadfast tactics that have proven out time-and-time-again. But first, I had to ask myself some VERY specific questions that to this day allow me to handle any question in any pitch meeting I find myself in.
Below are 8 questions you can ask yourself today to get to ‘yes’ in your next pitch. Give yourself a few hours to answer these. Step away from them for a bit and come back with fresh eyes. Be brutally honest, don’t answer with what you think buyers/distribs want to hear, use this time to find out who you really are as a creator and what the buyer wants. To arrive at these specific questions, I’ve not only studied what I did to successfully sell millions of dollars of content but also what my peers and even some of the greats have done to build success in this ridiculously competitive industry. If you get this step right, you’ll become a down-right pitch beast…
Write the answers to these questions down in your favorite journal or create a spreadsheet. This will become a tool you’ll want to refer to and revisit before every pitch:
- Who are you?
- What do you want to be known for? (not for a single project, but overall, in the industry, today, tomorrow and in the future?)
- What audience does your work impact and how does it impact them?
- What 5 things do you as filmmaker deliver to the person/studio/distributor? (list the intangible: things like timelessness, revolution, heart, beauty, etc.)
- What do people buy when they buy your work? (leave out the time and effort, “I work hard” bullshit, instead what is it about your work that is difficult to achieve?)
- What does your work promise that a buyer could look forward to? (i.e. “The ending of my project is totally unexpected”, “The screenplay has a revolutionary structure”, etc)
- What does the person you are pitching to care about? (how do they want to be perceived by their boss, what do they THEY want to be recognized for?)
- What scares the buyer most about saying yes? (What will the buyer need to tell their boss to explain why they bought your project?)
Having answers to these questions has literally changed the way I sell and almost single-handedly been the one thing I’ve done that has dramatically increased my income. Again, answering these questions will set you apart from all the rest because now buyers will have a clear idea of who they’re doing business with. It’s an instant credibility builder.
**This post is pulled directly from a free 4-day mini-course on advance pitch techniques I’m launching through my website starting this Monday (4/2/18) and was part of a workshop I did in LA for some pretty legit filmmakers. If you’d like to go through the entire course, get on my mailing list before Monday and I’ll get it out to you. https://www.alexlemay.com