The anatomy of a perfect pitch meeting
You’ve done your research, tightened your pitch document, and even created a fun animatic that can stand on its own.
Now, it’s time to dance. And by dance, I mean pitch.
Pitch meetings are typically 30-45 minutes. That sounds like plenty of time, but know that the buyers have made up their minds in the first five minutes. You’ve got to wow them early!
Here’s what typically happens upon your (early) arrival to the studio:
You’ll check in with the receptionist. You may be offered a drink while you wait. Now would be a great time to hit the restroom and make sure you don’t have any mysterious colonies growing on your teeth.
Check out your surroundings. Most studios have trophy cases, posters displaying their hit shows and signature characters. You might see some artists milling around on their way to the snacks. You can learn a lot about a studio from their lobby.
Notice I’m not saying you should be cramming for your pitch. By this point, you should already know your project by heart.
Soon, an assistant will come by and escort you to the pitch room. Make nice with the assistant! (Hopefully you did the same with the receptionist.) Thank him for bringing you to the room, and be sure to write down her name. I cannot stress this enough. One day, you might be pitching to him.
Take note of the surroundings, the décor, and the energy of the place. Do they have arcade games? A breakfast bar? An exotic office pet roaming around? An impressive assortment of artwork or branded merchandise on display? Does the lobby resemble a ski lodge? Do the cubicles and offices look like a toy store? Do the employees look happy? These observations make great fodder for small talk, which is important for your first two minutes of your pitch. Why?
The last thing you want to do is get down to business too early. Unless directed to do so by the exec, you’ve first got to build rapport and try to bond with the buyer. The primary reason is that execs tend to buy shows from people they like, and can see themselves working with. Wouldn’t you?
Spend a couple minutes of chatting—hopefully you’ve become comfortable talking to the exec. Bonus points if you’ve succeeded in making them laugh with some brilliant story or observation.
It wouldn’t hurt to ask about the network. Of course, you’ve already done your research and know what their hit show is at the moment, but you’ll be able to speak intelligently about it.
This is a major plus because it shows that you are intelligent, and know how to turn on a computer.
After that conversation, you may have a great segue into pitching your idea. Set up the world, share the initial summary of your idea, and then hand out the pitch document. If you’ve got a killer piece of art, that should be on the front cover. Gauge the exec’s reaction and feed off of it.
Launch into the story of your project from your main character’s point of view. This will create a connection between the buyer and your star. Start from the beginning. Remember, while you’ve lived with this idea for a long time, this is the exec’s first time hearing about it.
They don’t know the back-story like you do. Don’t bore them with the history of the universe; just tell them the important bits that actually impact your characters.
Next, sell them on the main characters. What makes them great? Why do should anyone care about them? What do they want, who’s trying to stop them, who are their friends? Give brief, simile-filled descriptions of the cast.
Bring up example scenarios that paint a picture of what an episode might look like. If it’s a comedy you’re pitching, make sure it’s actually funny. If it’s an action show, share the art, or otherwise describe how fast and fierce the action is. Share your vision, and make the exec eager to share your show with the bosses.
You don’t have to pitch every single character, nor every single detail about your main character. No one cares that your character got an F on a science fair project…unless that’s the defining moment she created a talking hat…with attitude.
Droning on and on about too many characters is a sure-fire way to never get called back.
Even toy companies—who you’d think want more items to sell– don’t want too many characters. At least not until season three.
Don’t forget to share a few episode ideas. They’ll be in the pitch document you’ve prepared, but be sure you can rattle off some of them easily. Be ready to answer any questions.
If they say something like, “this is great, I’ll just need some time to digest it all,” bust out that sizzle reel or animatic you brought. If it’s done its job, the exec will ask if they can keep a copy to share internally. “Of course,” you’ll say.
You can either send them a link where you have it online, or give them a thumb drive. Remember, the exec won’t have the authority to option your show right there in the room. They need to pitch it internally and get their boss’ approval.
Your animatic is your golden ticket. It will pitch your show better than the exec ever will after you’ve left the building. Make it great.
You’re selling yourself as well as your show. This is people business after all. You’re forming a relationship. Preferably a positive one. The exec on the other side of the table is a person too. (Preferably a positive one.) Even if they don’t pick up this project, you want to be invited back to pitch again.
Be enthusiastic! Show your passion for your idea!
Don’t just talk—LISTEN! Especially during the pre-pitch chitchat. The execs will drop hints about what’s working or not working for their network. They may reiterate what they’re looking for, their views on their competitors, their personal tastes, and more. You can learn quite a bit of useful information–all of which you can use to tailor your pitch on the fly.
Be confident, but not condescending. More than likely, the exec has never created a world, drawn an appealing character, or written a script like you.
But they know their network better than you. They also know their audience better than you. And they most certainly know their boss’ tastes better than you.
So don’t be an arrogant jerk and treat them like they don’t know what “true” art and entertainment is.
The execs have already heard ten or so pitches within the last 24 hours, and have more scheduled after you. You’ve got to give them something they haven’t heard before.
Depending on the individual, that can be difficult. More likely, you’ll be pitching them something they’re familiar with—which isn’t a bad thing—but you’ve got to present it with a bit of a twist.
No need to be nervous. Remember, the execs want you to bring in the next big hit for the network. Prior planning prevents poor performance. Your enthusiasm should mask your nervousness.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Or all of your best ideas into one pitch. Try to have at least one other well-thought out concept you can pitch. You can mention it during the last 5 minutes of your meeting and share the high-concept log line.
At this point, the exec will either want you to leave, or stick around and ask to hear more. You never know, that last-minute bonus pitch might be exactly what they’re looking for.
Don’t put too much focus on the toys or merchandise potential – excite them with the concept first. The studios have entire departments who handle consumer products. Cross that bridge when you get to it. You’ve got to get invited to it first!
Know your strengths. In other words, what would be your role in the everyday production if your pitch gets greenlit? By the way, if you get asked this question in the pitch meeting, that’s a great sign.
The obvious tips you should already know: Arrive early, turn off your phone, spit out your gum, dress appropriately, brush your teeth, and remember, deodorant is your friend! Nobody wants their office smelling like the convention floor on the 4th day of a comic convention.
I’ll conclude with this nugget: Perfect pitches are like astronaut mermaids—they don’t exist.
You can spend a lot of money on the latest animation software and 3D printers, and still not sell your series. Or, you might get three sentences into your pitch, and boom—it’s in development.
You never know for certain what tactic will work. You just have to have a fascinating concept that fits the network’s needs at the right time.
“Nice to meet you. Don’t bother sitting, here’s a bag of money!”
Imagine if that was the first thing the development exec said when you walked in the room.
Now, imagine if he sprouted a pair of wings and flew out the window, cackling like the Joker.
One of those scenarios is more likely to happen, and it’s not the first one.
In a perfect world, the path that your idea would travel in the minds of development execs in a pitch would go something like this:
UNAWARE of your concept – Unless they’re psychic, or you’re wearing a costume (don’t!), they have no idea what you’re about to pitch.
AWARE of your concept – Within the first two minutes of your pitch—after the small talk.
UNDERSTANDS your concept. By the five-minute mark, they should be nodding their heads and wrapping their brains around your concept.
INTERESTED in your concept. At this point, you want them smiling, nodding, asking questions, and hanging on to every word you say and picture you share.
EXCITED about your concept. Now they’re laughing and making comments like, “Whoa, that’s cool.” They’ll ask more questions too, trying to poke holes. You’ve done your research though, and know their questions before they even ask. This is a lovely frame of mind to have them, but this is not the end game.
WANT your concept – If you’ve reached this point, congratulations! The execs will tell you in the room that they’d like to take your materials (which you’ve carefully assembled), and share it with their colleagues and boss. They won’t have the authority to option the show right there in the room, but that is the best response you could hope for.
After your successful pitch, the remaining steps would go something like this:
SHARE your concept internally, hopefully convincing enough bosses to give the blessing to BUY (Option) your concept. You and your agent will get a call. Welcome to the Promised Land!
And after all that, (and after the lawyers get involved) comes the ACTIVE DEVELOPMENT phase of your concept. This is where your show idea will be poked at and pulled in different directions by well-meaning executives, looking to change (or as they believe, enhance) your concept to fit their network’s brand, or agenda.
If you presented yourself well–meaning your personality and sensibilities–they’ll ask you to come along for the ride. CONGRATULATIONS!
If not, well, at least you know your pitch was successful, and you got paid something for your show idea.
Now the real fun begins!