I sat down with my daughter to watch the premier episode of “On the Lot” the other night. This is the new reality contest show for filmmakers. 12,000 people entered short films. 50 were chosen to go to Hollywood. Their first task: the pitch.
This fascinated me. Each contestant was given a log line (a generic plot for a movie.) They had 24 hours to come up with a pitch for a movie. In other words, come up with characters, a setting, a plot and convey the essence of the story in just a few minutes. This is not unlike pitching a novel to an editor. But while I’ve listened to people talk about how to pitch and I’ve practiced my pitches, it was infinitely helpful to watch someone make a pitch. To watch not only the one pitching, but the ones being pitched to.
Here’s what I gleaned:
Excitement on the part of the one pitching is paramount. When the one pitching is unsure of the viability of their storyline, so are the ones listening. Eye contact and poise are a must. Even a bad or mundane idea impresses when presented with confidence—without wringing of hands or a facial expression that seeks approval from the listener. The pitcher has to believe in his story before the pitchee will take it seriously.
Only a well-thought-out storyline comes across without confusion. When the one pitching the story is unsure of the plot points, the pitch rambles, often becoming convoluted. The one hearing the pitch becomes confused and uninterested. Vague plot points become quite apparent.
Imagination and creativity in a storyline must still maintain a semblance of reality. Don’t take it too over the top. In other words, a completely wacko twist to a story, instead of lending interest, makes the one hearing the pitch question the experience—and sometimes the sanity—of the one pitching!
After this round, 14 contestants were asked to leave—about ¼. I’m sure in real life, the pitch weeds out more than that, be it in film or literary endeavors.
Pitching is one of my weaknesses. Watching these brave souls succeed and fail on national television made me determine to work harder on my pitch before attending my next writing conference. After all, the pitch is an editor’s first inkling that you have a story to tell and that you can tell it well.