A hit team of Hollywood producers discussed the art of pitching at a SXSW (the Texas festival) session. Quotes are from the article by Liz Nord (2016) How Not to Pitch a Movie: Production Execs Tell All.
NB: the article contains an image which may be considered disturbing/NSFW (poor choice from a great site).I did learn a new term from this myself: sizzle reel! Read on [click the read more] to find out what that is!
Last year, Shaked Berenson's company got 28 scripts from agents, double that number from managers, and slightly more from producers. About ten times that number were unsolicited.
Epic Pictures Group made five films that year.SIZZLE REEL OR TEASER
Berenson and his fellow SXSW 2016 panelists, who have decades of Hollywood producing experience between them, gave a few pointers. The group included Gudrun Giddings, CEO of G4C Innovation; Travis Stevens, CEO of Snowfort Pictures (whose film Teenage Cocktail is playing at this year’s fest); and Winnie Kemp, Director of Development at Super Deluxe/Turner.
An animatic would be a 3rd option: the point is to clearly visually demonstrate your concept.
Kemp put it plainly: “Executives don’t have a lot of imagination, so if you can show them something, rather than tell them about it, it’s better.”
The good news is that we now have the tools to make teasers or sizzle reels from home, long before we’ve completed our projects. These should be very brief (the panel recommends no more than two minutes). They should be full of passion, and show what makes you and your idea unique.
Sizzles don’t necessarily have to be very involved or expensive. The point is just to get the execs’ attention long enough to have them agree to that coffee or lunch where you can pitch the project more fully.
RESEARCH + MAKE COMPARISONS WITH SIMILAR MOVIES
If you want to be taken seriously when pitching, be realistic about your project. Look into other, similar projects. Know what is out there already in your genre; know what’s in the works. Don’t blow up your own spot by trying to be something that you’re not.
As Berenson quipped, "Don’t try to tell me that your $200,000 zombie movie is going to do as well as World War Z just because they are both zombie movies. Compare yourself to another movie with a $200K budget."
Perhaps even more important than doing your homework about similar projects is to know the ins and outs of the companies you are pitching to. Do they make your type of film? How many films do they make each year, and what are their budgets? Are there specific producers within the company whom you might like to work with?
USP + STRONG CORE PLOT
All the sizzle reels in the world won’t save you from a bad story. When it comes down to it, you usually still need to give the people what they want: great relationships, a fascinating premise, conflict, and all that jazz.
Stevens, the most indie-leaning producer on the panel, said that they key to his success has been to throw a little extra hot sauce on these basic tenets. “If you don’t have the money for movie stars and big visual effects,” Stevens mused, “how do you make your movie stand out? We’ve done it by taking something that has a core commercial concept and pushing it out a little bit, making it wilder.”
The story of Coz Greenop (look for tag on British Cinema blog) is a great example you could take inspiration from.
Kemp pointed out that the average age of screenwriter when they sell their first script is 37. And chances are they didn’t start writing at 36.
So write, write, write! Keep writing and putting together a portfolio, because that’s what will ultimately get you an agent.
There are plenty of techniques out there to help kickstart your writing, like using the new Flowstate app, entering a screenplay contest that forces you to have a deadline, or simply carving out a set time each day to get offline and focus solely on getting words on the page.
There are lots of great, entertaining books about film production out there - I've read and enjoyed Art Linson's raucous tales of the crazy Hollyweird life (there's been a movie adaptation of one of these too), well worth a punt for a relaxed but informative read. From the leftfield, Alex Cox's book about his life as an Indie micro-budget filmmaker is very insightful.