One of the more outstanding elements of the London Screenwriters’ Festival is the Speed Pitching. Whether it’s with agents, producers or both, speed pitching presents the golden opportunity to get your desperate face in front of the creative behemoths and life-changing giants who spend the rest of their year locked behind The Firewall of F*** Off.
There can often be a whisper of negativity and cynicism surrounding these kinds of sessions, especially from those who have participated in similar events and not had any success, but success really boils down to three massively important factors:
1. Have you got something that they want?
2. Can you present it to them in a way that makes them understand what you’re selling?
3. Have you got a snub-nosed .38 pointing at them under the desk when you slide them the “read my script or die” note?
I’ve speed pitched before. I pitched to three producers and it resulted in all requesting to read my work without me having to fire a single shot.
The guidelines are very straightforward: research who you’re pitching to, prepare the very best pitch you possibly can, and present it to the best of your ability without ******* your pants. Although the speed pitching sessions lasts five minutes, you really need to be pitching your project in 30 seconds, definitely in under a minute, allowing enough time to chat about your script and work. If you give a confident and succinct pitch, you are more likely to have a confident discussion about that script in the time remaining. If you don’t think you can pitch your project in under a minute, then you won’t be able to pitch it in five. I pitched two projects in each five-minute session and had a relaxed chat about both of them. Two producers requested to read one, the other wanted to read both. It is doable.
You need to strip your story back to basics to cater for the event and also for small attention spans. I guarantee it’s much better to have a brief pitch that leaves questions than a rambling pitch that creates doubt, plus, no matter how well rehearsed you are, the moment you sit in front of Scary Person Who Can Change Your Life, it’s understandable that you will most definitely, unquestionably, without shadow of a doubt, break down and start weeping uncontrollably, so creating a short pitch gives you less words to get wrong and less time to make a complete arse of yourself.
Introduce yourself, include any credits and awards (but leave out criminal records and diseases), thank them for their time and set the scene for your pitch. I said something like, “I’d like to pitch you a low-budget screwball comedy set in contemporary England.” Once you establish those basics they instantly know how to listen to your pitch. You’ve now got under one minute to briefly explain your story plus any business the script has been involved in (placed in any competitions, significant development, etc).
The session is immediately easier once you’ve got over that pants-soiling first hurdle, because then you’ll be fielding questions about a story and characters you should know inside out. Just don’t ramble. Have another longer and looser pitch prepared that expands your opening salvo into a half-page/one-page synopsis. Learn that in the same way and use it to riff back and forth while discussing your film.
Always have back-up pitches. Were they to apologise and say comedy isn’t really their thing, you can calmly respond with, “I have a creature-feature horror set in the Scottish Highlands at the turn of the century. Would you mind if I pitched that to you?” Hopefully this is less likely to happen because you’ll have researched who you’re pitching to in order to cater your pitch and projects to their preferences. Try saying that drunk.
Don’t take along scripts or USBs to thrust into their hands, but do take along carefully prepared one-page pitches and business cards. Your one-pager should include logline, synopsis, any script business and your details. Ask before you produce either of them. The producers who requested to read my work were not interested in my one-pagers, but other folk I met during the festival were interested in them (okay, so it was for a paper aeroplane competition in the car park, but I’ll take whatever I can).
Plan your pitch like you would when writing dialogue in a script. You need to hone it by reading it out, by performing it, to iron out any word combinations that don’t feel or sound right coming out of your mouth. Once you’ve got your pitch down, print off several copies to take with you and keep reading and rehearsing.
Remember the recipients of your pitch are not in your head (at least not until you follow them home and eat their brains), so make sure you explain your story as simply, clearly and calmly as possible without overselling yourself. Do not tell them your comedy is “hilarious” or your horror is “really scary”, that’s up to them to decide when they read it later that weekend at gunpoint.
It’s important not to confuse speed pitching with speed dating. Also, do not eat whilst pitching. I made the honest mistake of buying a baked potato with tuna, cheese and beans just before I was due to pitch. Not wanting to wait (cold beans? I don’t think so) I brought it to the pitching table. Turns out me going to all the effort of providing an extra fork for the producer is somehow not considered thoughtful. Neither is using that fork to stab the security guard. Basically, if you want to eat a baked potato during the pitching session, simply buy extra ones to give to each of the producers and agents when you sit down.
Good luck with your speed pitching and your writing and try to enjoy the experience!