One of the major problems screenwriters face is a fear of pitching. Your screenplay, crafted and honed over months or years is now at the mercy of your ability to stand in a room and make it sound irresistible to producers/agents/friends/writer’s group members/random people. That’s a lot of pressure!
Last week I attended the Northwest Screenwriters Guild “Script Tease and Pitching Demo” event at the Seattle International Film Festival as one of the pitchers. I wrote and rewrote my pitch, practiced beforehand and tried to memorize each beat of my screenplay in order to deliver a flawless patter.
Despite all this preparation, when my time came to take the stage my heart pounded so hard I was concerned for my health. Whilst watching Betty Kim demonstrate her witty and engaging “perfect pitch” of “Legally Blonde,” all I could think was: “I will never be that good.” And I was right. My pitch was rushed, long, slightly rambling and, to top it off, I was obliged to hold the microphone with both hands so that no one could see me tremble.
Now, put me in front of a group of academics and ask me to talk about my favorite research topics and I will not miss a step. I’ll field questions, defend research and effusively bring each and every person into my research stories.
Why does pitching my own creative work turn me into a bumbling bundle of nerves?
I think the answer is twofold.
Firstly, I usually know my research with an intimacy that’s missing in my screenplays. Research is a long, slow process with multiple stages that have to be stepped through methodically. My screenplays take less that a year to write, compared to my Ph.D., which took 12 years. Believe me, I know that thesis inside out.
Second is the issue of confidence. When I come to present research I am certain of my findings because I am sure of my methodology. If anyone wants to unpick my results their input will only improve my work. A screenplay is totally different. The value of my work is unknown. One person may love it, another may hate it and, to make things more complicated, I have no real idea whether it’s any good at all! I am throwing everything into the deep end and hoping my characters can swim.
Is that any reason not to pitch? No, of course not. I truly believe that the only way to get better at pitching is to do it over and over until it feels right. Yes, you can read books, learn from those more experienced but nothing beats standing on that stage because, no matter how much of a fool you might feel, everyone looks at you at sees one thing: a screenwriter.
How do you deal with the nerves and stress of live pitching? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.