Sell, don't tell
Some do’s and don’ts if you want to sell a script
If you want to turn your book, dream or idea into a performance script for film, stage or radio, it is going to be a very tough pitch. There are some pretty strict ‘rules’ which you need to follow if you are to maximise your chance of success. This article is a distillation of the consistent message that is expounded every time an agent, producer or, rarely, a successful writer writes or says something about the business.
Their message is ‘Sell, don’t’ tell’. The fact that the process is called ‘pitching’ should give you a clue that you are participating in a bit of a game.
When the moment for your pitch comes you need to be well prepared. You can never be sure when or where you will encounter somebody who is willing to listen. The advice is to have a 60 second presentation ready. You need to appreciate that you can only impart a single idea. That single idea is ‘my project is just what you want’. Note the use of the word ‘want’. The person you plan to address is the one with the power so don’t try to tell them you have what they need.
You will need some help to ensure you apply the ‘sell don’t tell’ rule - you are selling your project not telling your story.
Try this sequence for honing your pitch:
This is your pitch: You should know the pitch-script and be ready to perform whenever the opportunity presents itself.
You can of course apply the same process to the telling of your story, because you might be asked, or get an opportunity, to tell the tale. But before you launch into this, make sure you are prepared to give the story away. There are only a limited number of storylines, so you need to explain what makes your version so special. Then ask yourself ‘if your story is so simple, is it really going to be worth telling?’ This thought process should quickly lead you back to the premise of this piece – sell, don’t tell. The story is only the canvas. It is the characters in your story that your audience wants to meet.
When you have produced the minimalist 60 seconds, it is time to think a little bit about the presentation itself:
Forming a team of co-writers might be worthwhile, as a team looks as if you are serious and also shows that you have probably critiqued your work.
Questions are a very important part of the pitching process. They also serve to extend those precious 60 seconds you were granted to sell your project. End your presentation by calling for questions, perhaps even asking a leading question. This is not the time to be shy. A number of producers allegedly ask: ‘How did you like my movie?’
But the other point about question time is to listen very carefully to what your audience is saying. They might talk about moving your story to the future while you have it set in a historical context. You need to pick up the clues. Your adaptability and ability to listen will be a great selling point.
This is a job interview so don't be afraid to ask them questions. If you are one of a team then think about the stage management so that the right person can step up to address any questions you get.
You need to take criticism. Don't react badly because if you are going to be involved with them and become a part of the team then criticism and rejection of ideas is going to come your way. If you can react enthusiastically to a new perspective it will be a big plus. If you make a little note of these points without destroying eye contact and continuity, it shows that you are seriously interested. The notes will also be useful when you come to talk afterwards as you should do a debrief of the pitch with your friends.
The questions might actually give you a chance to tell some of your story! So it is worth preparing it, but do not mix up the selling and the telling.
Making the pitch
If you do find yourself standing up to make the pitch this is the advice you should note:
You need to get these points right, as you are dealing with experts in the field of body language. It’s not fair, but presentation matters.
So you need to practice until you are extremely confident. If you are confident, you are going to communicate that and there is a chance that your audience will be excited with you. To reach this point you probably require a lot of embarrassing practicing, first in front of a mirror and then in front of your friends.
The second article deals with preparation, the language to use, what’s left for the writer and getting your foot in the door.
© Chas Jones 2009