Over the last six months, I’ve taken pitches through networking groups, online pitching sites, a film festival, a pitchfest and via direct emails. I’ve learned a lot about pitching—which is curious to me, because I have a lot of experience pitching as a screenwriter—but being able to witness the process from the other side of the table has been eyeopening; and the source of many of my Pitfall posts. I haven’t just seen stumbling blocks for screenwriters but gained insight into what producers, managers and Hollywood executives are looking for in a pitch. I stepped back recently and thought about all the pitches I’d heard and seen. Something new stood out to me, and it’s the focus of Screenwriting Pitfall #9: Overpitching.
Overpitching is when you go in with several projects and you pitch all of them in one meeting; whether face-to-face or in a long email. You overload a potential champion with EVERYTHING you’ve got! We’re not just talking about pitching a script or two, but also a slew of marketing material in addition to the script. I’ve seen blockbuster loglines, video trailers, slick handouts, sizzle reels and proof-of-concept shorts.
You might think: So, what? Sounds good to me.
In fact, I’ve considered doing all of the above at one point or another; however, it’s a fine line between allowing someone to envision your script and overloading your pitchee. While selling aides make sense, too many do not. What you need to ask yourself: are you splitting attention or focusing it? One is something you want to do, and the other, you do not.
I can remember going to the InkTip Pitch festival, now defunct, where you’d pitch to three executives at the same time. They’d group Hollywood executives by genre so everyone at the table would be interested in pretty much the same concepts. It was a great way to pitch to a lot of producers in one day. You could easily get in 30 pitches to 30 different production companies, (which is pretty high compared to pitchfests where you pitch one producer at a time.) If your scripts were in the main genres, like action and thrillers, you could really rack up a lot of pitches. (56 pitches was not uncommon.)
At InkTip, I’d always go in with three scripts to pitch, and I’d try to pitch them all in one sitting. In that situation, I felt like it worked, because I came away with a bunch of script requests. However, I only made two lasting connections out of all those requests. Maybe those numbers are normal, but maybe not. My current experiences have certainly made me rethink the strategy. In total, I’m talking about three years of pitching at InkTip, which would account for at least 90 pitches, giving out 45 one-pages on the spot, leading to roughly seven producers following up with script requests. And two of those turned into script options. One of those scripts was filmed, but it was low, low budget and I’m not sure if it ever made it to a movie theater or television screen, although it briefly appeared on the CanWest website. Those numbers always felt like the normal odds of success, in a pitchfest setting. Until now.
Now, I think that I over pitched. Ah… perspective, it makes the facts seem so obvious. I finally understand the subtext of some of the comments I used to get when I pitched three scripts at one time. Producers used to ask: “Which one do you think is the best?”
I’ve recently found myself wanting to ask the same question of screenwriters that overpitched to me. Of course, now I understand what that question really means. I’ll translate for you: “Of all these fine ideas, which one have you spent the most time working on? It’s probably the best, and I only want to read your best, not the ones that need more time.”
Back in the day, I should not have gone for quantity and pitched three scripts in rapid succession. I should have pitched my best script, got my foot in the door with a request and if they passed on it, offered to pitch another project.
It sends a message when you pitch like you’re throwing all your scripts at the producer hoping one sticks. The odds, however, are that it will overwhelm them and make them think all your scripts aren’t ready for production. Of course, that’s not what you’re thinking or what I was thinking. Since I liked all my scripts, I wanted them to decide which fit their needs. Thing is… it gave producers the impression that none of my scripts were special because no one believes a screenwriter has three equally amazing and fantastic screenplays. By not focusing on just one script, as if it were the holy grail, I blew my credibility with most producers. I had, unknowingly, made an amateur move. Only now, do I see the error of my pitching ways.
Sadly, that’s just one way to overpitch.
The second way to overpitching is a relatively new one because screenwriters aren’t just screenwriters anymore. You almost can’t be. Many screenwriters get out there and film proof of concepts, and/or invest in glossy, enticing marketing material. They show them off at a pitch, bringing along their own laptop for viewing, and end up leaving behind a ton of cool marketing material that lets producers “envision” their script. Some screenwriters build up quite a presentation. While this can be interesting in the moment, at a pitching or networking event, it’s overwhelming when all this stuff hits your email box, along with all the scripts for the various projects. And it really eats into your pitching time, when you could actually be talking to a producer, instead of watching them read/view your material.
Over the last six months, I’ve asked a lot of screenwriters to send me their one-pages. That’s probably unusual for the industry, but I heard a lot of great concepts and I wanted more time to evaluate them than the few minutes I had with the screenwriter. What I was sent, however, was more than I expected. (Not that I didn’t ask some screenwriters to send me their marketing material or short film links, but the percentage was very high for getting things I didn’t ask them to send.) Maybe I wasn’t clear enough or maybe it seemed like I wanted the extra material because it was part of the pitch, or maybe it’s not widely known: if you aren’t specifically asked to send a certain marketing tool to a producer or the script, just send your one-page. You can always mention that you have a short proof of concept film or a pitch deck, but if it’s not specifically requested just send your one-page. (And you should expect to sign a release form for the production company or agency if you send a script. I’ll talk about release forms in the extra material, along with a HUGE insider tip about how to get your project reviewed when you know the producer will be sent multiple scripts after a pitching event.)
What can you do about this? Don’t overpitch!!!
Seriously, keeping your pitch simple and focused on the concept is still the best plan, along with only pitching one script at a time like it’s the gem of your creative abilities. (This really works when it’s the truth—and you’ve put as much time and effort into creating a concept that grabs attention, as you’ve put into writing your script.)
It’s fine to let a producer know that you have other stuff, but you’re just pitching the one you think is the best—and give a reason that doesn’t devalue your other stuff. Maybe it’s earned an award or is more socially current, or is based on a true story that needs to be told right now. Whatever the reason, you need to know why this one, overall your other scripts, is your favorite. They might ask. You need an answer. If the producer wants to hear more pitches, they’ll ask. If they don’t ask, then stick to one script per pitch.
Next time I sit down with a screenwriter and find out they have multiple scripts, I’ll just ask them to pitch me their best one. And next time you sit down with a producer, you’ll already know how to handle it like an industry professional.