Ahead of next week’s Screen Forever conference, Emmy & AACTA award-winning producer turned screen sector executive coach Ellenor Cox summarises her key pitching and networking tips.

There’s a famous saying about pitching projects: “Nobody wants to be the first in on a project, but everyone wants to get on a train that’s moving.”

The most daunting and challenging time in a project’s life cycle is making initial pitches and development funding applications. As creatives, this is when we feel the most exposed. Our idea is in its nascent stage and while we’re seeking and need feedback, we’re dreading reactions that could derail it – or worst still, have it never leave the station.

There are two factors that are critical for gaining momentum at this stage. The first is passion and the second is structure.

Without a strong belief in your own project and why you’re the perfect person to make this film or series, you’ll never be able to effectively sell the idea to others. Business is personal and you need to sell yourself first before you can sell your idea. Your passion is communicated not just through each individual project on your slate but by via personal brand and what you stand for.

Similarly, without all the right elements of a perfect pitch you’ll never be able to effectively convey all the key information that a buyer or commissioner needs in order to keep the conversation alive.

The 30-second project pitch 

You suddenly find yourself in an elevator with the key person you want to meet to tell them about your idea. You’ve got 30 seconds. Along with your name (first and surname!) these are the crucial point to cover:

“(Title) is a (genre) about (hero) who wants (goal) despite (obstacle).”

The 2-minute pitch

You’ve got their attention and now they’re open to hearing more about your project. Use this structure in this order to cover all the crucial aspects of the information they need.

  • Introduce yourself with your full name and the project’s genre
  • Lead by revealing how you came up with the idea then segue into the key elements of your story
    Who is your HERO or protagonist? Make them feel real.
    What is your hero’s EVERYDAY LIFE at the beginning of the film? Name the time and place.
    Why will we feel EMPATHY towards your hero? As in, what is their plight?
    What OPPORTUNITY is presented to your hero at the 10 per cent mark that will get the story going?
    Into what NEW SITUATION does this opportunity take your hero? What is the hero’s journey?
    What GOAL or OUTER MOTIVATION do we want your hero to accomplish?
    What CONFLICT will the hero face that makes achieving that goal seem impossible?
    What are two recent, successful ANTECEDENTS with the same genre, tone, and potential market as your project? 
  • Never try to tell the whole story but rather focus on the themes and goals of your film. In other words, what you’ll teach or communicate to your audience and more importantly, who this audience actually is!
  • Summarise the conflict or the setback but don’t reveal the outcome. A pitch that ends in intrigue is a perfect pitch.
  • Don’t refer to more than three characters by name. Instead mention how they relate to the main character, e.g. Judith’s best friend.
  • Finish your description with the title and logline once the essence of your story is clear.
  • Follow the logline with a question i.e. “Can I send you a script?”
  • Be prepared with succinct answers to probable questions.

Nailing networking

To some this is seen as a necessary evil. Others relish in the chance to meet new people. Nevertheless, networking and the opportunity to present your personal brand are unavoidable aspects of getting our projects made. Consider these key tips:

  • Be prepared! Research the people you’re planning to meet with; the genre and tone of the projects they make, their recent successes, etc.
  • Introduce yourself with your full name, your company and where you live.
  • Build rapport first rather than ‘getting down to business’. Remember that business is personal. Sell yourself first and your project second.
  • Maintain eye contact, speak clearly and stand up straight! Only 8 per cent of memorable communication comes from the actual words spoken.
  • Be clear on why you’re here and what you have to offer.
  • Do not talk about who has been attached, was considering or has been interested in your project. Focus on the project’s future, not on who has already passed on it.
  • Be optimistic and excited about your project (or slate), career and the state of the industry in general. Enthusiasm is contagious!
  • Explain your passion for your project (or slate) and why you’re the perfect person to make it. Exude confidence, passion and expertise.
  • Clearly articulate what your Unique Selling Point (USP) is and why you’re passionate about this.
  • What is the one ‘sticky’ feature of your project? As in, the memorable thing you want them to recall. Practise saying this until it’s effortless.
  • Prepare for likely questions and don’t argue if you get feedback you don’t like.
  • Adapt to patterns of feedback to discover ways to improve your pitch or project.
  • Make notes on all the people you meet and your conversations.
  • Follow up is critical. Send a thank you email and ideally your script!

Screen Forever runs November 12-14 in Melbourne. Ellenor Cox will present session ‘The Art of the Hustle’ November 12. Attendees will hear tips and tactics for pitching, networking and negotiating, along with strategies for ensuring their personal brand and projects create a lasting impression.

Ellenor Cox Coaching & Consultancy www.ellenorcox.com

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