Becoming One with Your Material

Before you can sell your project to anyone, you have to know it intimately yourself—the story, the characters, the setting. If it's based on reality, know the history behind the story. Do your research and be ready to answer questions that are bound to come your way.

Be able to explain what it is that makes this project unique and compelling. Be able to convey the irony, the humor, the conflict and the heart of the story. If you're not excited about what you're selling, how can you expect a buyer to be? Why does this story have special meaning to you? Who do you envision as your lead cast? What type of audience would it appeal to? What makes it commercial? How do you see it being marketed? One of your main goals is to be able to make your buyers see the movie poster in their minds by the time you've completed your pitch.

What other films could you equate your project to? This industry is big on high concept comparative descriptions, especially when you're comparing your project to others that have done big box office numbers. Examples would be Agent Cody Banks, which sold as a teenage James Bond, or Alien, which sold as Jaws on a spaceship.

A pitch should start with a succinct, compelling logline (the essence of your story in one sentence) that will grab someone's attention. You can't underestimate the significance of a catchy logline, because it's the first thing a buyer will hear (or read if you're writing a query letter) and could mean the difference between immediately grabbing someone's attention or losing that person's interest on the spot. My producer-writer-friend Graham Ludlow likes to give the example of what he thinks the perfect logline for Liar, Liar might be, which is: A lawyer suddenly discovers that he can no longer lie.

Your pitch should have a beginning, a middle and an end, although you don't have to compress the entire story into the pitch. The goal is to be able to convey the essence and heart of the project, just enough to entice the buyer to want to know more, to ask questions and to want to read the script.

Some experts will tell you that a pitch shouldn't last more than 15 minutes; others will tell you to get it down to five minutes. My feeling on this is that you should have a 30-second pitch, a one-minute, five-minute and 15-minute version. That way you're prepared, no matter what your time allotment or circumstances.

Memorize what you're going to say ahead of time, so you don't have to read from notes, and practice. Practice in front of friends and family members, in front of a mirror, in front of your dog; just keep practicing until what you have to say sounds natural!

Perfect your pitch to the point where your audience can visualize the action, the characters and the setting. If it's a comedy, you want them to laugh. If you're selling suspense, you want them holding their breath. If you're describing a battle, they should be ducking bullets and shrapnel. Make them see, feel and experience your story.

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