Nov 30, 2014
Pitching at AFM - Don't be Shutout
By Erik Sean McGiven & Philip Friedman
The American Film Market was founded in 1981 as a way to
circumvent the strangle hold the big studios had on marketing and distribution,
especially in foreign markets. The
answer has been to sell distribution rights directly to independent sales
agents, brokers and distributors. The
market also facilitates financing by bringing together filmmakers, product, and
financial sources. Held in early
November, nearly a billion dollars of production and distribution deals are
sealed every year on films in every stage of development, pre-production and
production. The Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel is converted into a busy market
place. Some 700 screenings are held at
various theatres on the Santa Monica Promenade and at near by hotel screening
rooms. With 8,000 attendees and the
industry's largest conferences, AFM is the must destination for independent
filmmaker and industry people.
This year, AFM held a Conference Series on topics that
included finance, pitching, production, and marketing and distribution. They also focused on crowd-funding,
crowd-sourcing audiences, film festivals, and video on demand. In this article, we are going to focus on the
pitch conference and pitch sessions.
Pitching your project is the initial step in getting a project rolling,
to obtaining finance, gathering a production team, and marketing and selling
the film to sales agents, brokers, and distributors. All these steps require some sort of pitching
activity. Thus, knowing and perfecting
solid techniques is vital to the success of any project.
Getting your script read in Hollywood is difficult. Most agents,
producers, and studios will not accept unsolicited work. One must stir up enough buzz to wake up the
industry and by doing pitches to anyone and everyone you create awareness. In this way, you create a water-cooler
talk-ability that gets you referrals, opens doors and obtains those
face-to-face meetings. Screenwriting is a very competitive profession and being
able to pitch your script effectively places you above the rank and file. Itís estimated that the Writers Guild of
America registered over 100,000 entities and the MPPA rated 708 movies in 2014. Thus being able to rise above the competition
and mingle with the 1,670 AFM buyers from 70 counties greatly ups your odds.
A pitch conference is a good place to learn about this
process. They say a good pitch can get a
bad film made and a bad pitch can leave a terrific project languishing on the
shelf. At this conference, attendees learn the essential rules and tools of
pitching from experts. These experts included Stephanie Palmer, former head of
creative affairs at MGM, Tobin
Armbrust, producer of "Begin Again" and Cassian Elwes, producer of
"Dallas Buyers Club."
I've included suggestions and tips provided by these
experts, along with those referenced in articles they wrote. The goal of your pitch is to generate enough
interest to entice further development or to have them read your script. Thus, your sell is much like a movie trailer,
providing the essence of the movie to create further involvement.
Open your presentation with some small talk that establishes
a common ground and builds rapport. By
doing so, this can be a major factor in selling your script. It cleanses the palate and you began on a
clean slate with no carry over from previous presentations. Before you begin
your pitch, provide context by defining the genre of your script or give a
brief background of your story before you begin your detailed pitch. For instance, this is a comedy that takes
place at an all girl boarding school outside of Boston.
Make the experience as if they were watching a trailer of
your completed movie. Pitches in the
comedy mode should be funny and those in the thriller genre should have moments
of surprise and suspense. Use precise
words to create a vivid visualization and avoid abstract themes and
generalizations. Likewise, provide
markers where you are in the script such as, "Moving into act two,"
or "In the final scene." This helps the listener know where they are
in the story and where the plot points and twists are located.
Use suspense to up interest.
Instead of telling the listener how the story evolves, plant the seeds
for the twists and surprising revelations to come. By using these set-ups and pay-offs to your
advantage, it illustrates your storytelling skills; a point often overlooked
when promoting your abilities as a screenwriter.
Expect to be interrupted.
Most meetings are conversational and interactive. So be prepared to expand on your pitch and
provide more details. Being too detailed
and describing every scene, character, or location bogs down the process. The more you say, the less they hear. Find descriptive and active words that quickly
bring life to the story. Being animated and emotional likewise enlivens your
pitch as it lets your enthusiasm shine.
It shows you believe in your project.
Using too many names also confuses the presentation. While it's okay for main characters, it's best
to identify supporting characters by their function or descriptive handle. In addition, don't be afraid of clarifying
your pitch. Interact and ask if they
have any questions at this point.
Respond to their questions and suggestions in a positive way. Disagreeing with them shows a lack of respect
for their input. Consider their
suggestions and then get back to them.
Besides the conference with experts, the market also
sponsors a pitch session. Here ten
participants selected based on their submitted video and get two minutes to
pitch their idea. Another ten are
selected from the audience and from these two groups judges select a
winner. A modest cash prize goes to the
winner along with industry awareness.
These pitching sessions are not for the weak. Critiques tend to be on the caustic side of
constructive. If it's boring, you'll
likely hear that assessment. Likewise,
you will hear questions about casting, budget, and marketability. Be ready with answers and comparisons to
other pictures with similar budgets that have done well.
Beside the pitch sessions, there are many opportunities to
pitch your script or project to people attending the market, people such as
producers, production companies, distributors, and sales agents. These people and their contact information
are listed in the marketís catalog. You
can also mingle with these people in the large hotel lobby or at screenings,
events and parties held during the market.
What you learn at this market will help improve your
pitching abilities. The networking
possibilities are endless and provide ample opportunities to connect. In
addition, thank you notes, query letters, and follow up meetings will help
strengthen these relationships. One
should likewise consider pitching at other venues, such as film festivals,
writer conferences, and pitch fests.
Each time you do a pitch session, you learn what grabs people's
attention. You become better at
describing and promoting your film.
Moreover, if you keep practicing your craft, it won't be a
strikeout, but a homerun deal.