I never thought I’d be pitching my million dollar film idea like a YouTuber starting their newest vlog, but then again, the past 15 months have been full of surprises. With industries searching for talent across the globe, and virtual opportunities becoming more prevalent, we storytellers must learn how to nail a pitch without actually being in ‘the room where it happens.’ Not standing before the scary executives might be even more terrifying, as there is no room to read, and you can’t tell if your crowd enjoys corny jokes, sarcasm, or just simply doesn’t have a sense of humor. Based on my personal experiences, I will be providing tips that I learned while discovering how to pitch my ideas while only having a camera to look at.
I entered the Rising Storytellers Search held by Sony Pictures Television in September of 2020. Instead of being in-person like in previous years, they required each participant to record and send their story pitch. Everything I ever learned about pitching required feeding off the vibes of the people sitting in front of me. I had nothing but a camera now. I had to wrack my brain, something we creatives know how to do very well, and figure out how to get this done and get it done well. These were the most helpful things I gained during the process.
The first and most important thing to do is to get your ideas down on paper. Once you get everything down, organize it based on how you want to address each topic. If given a list of questions and/or concepts to address, answer each one individually, then use those amazing transition sentences you learned in middle school to weave everything together. I also spoke with several people, including one of my professors, regarding my ideas, which helped me further cultivate them and work through organizing my pitch.
The best thing about being able to record your pitch is that you can do it whenever you want, as long as it’s before the deadline. This allows you the freedom to work and record early in the morning, late at night, or at whatever hour you work best (or when you know the dog won’t be barking in the background). That being said, having this kind of freedom can result in procrastination. Pick a time that works best for you, and put it into your schedule like a real meeting. This leads me to my next point, which is…
Like remote interviewing, having a simple backdrop and dressing appropriately from head to toe will appear more professional and help you get ‘in the zone.’ It is also essential to check for technical problems before recording. You don’t want to get through the entire pitch correctly and then realize there was static or the camera was out of focus. If you record your pitch with a DSLR, make sure the battery is charged before starting. Take it from me, you do not want to be in the middle of your best take and then have the battery die on you. (This definitely was not my brightest moment.)
One of the best qualities of a pitch is the ability to reach out to the audience and help them really connect and feel the characters and the story. Pulling from a truthful place becomes even more critical if that’s even possible when your audience will not be watching you in real-time. You will need to be able to reach through the camera to demonstrate your genuine love for your story, your characters, and further convince your audience that this is the story they should pursue. Wear your passion on your sleeve, and remember that several seconds of phenomenal work is better than five minutes of mediocre work. Despite being behind your computer, do not hide behind it. Let yourself, your gestures, and your facial expressions be seen.
I was not allowed to have supplemental materials, such as a script or storyboards during my experience. If this is the case, providing context, using voices, and adding sound effects is especially important to create a vivid image of the story or scene in your audience’s minds. However, there is a balance, and providing too much context can distract your audience from things that matter. Focus on your character’s actions, not what their sweatshirt looks like. Ensure that whatever voices or sound effects you decide to use translate well through your audio. You do not want a car horn to sound like a fart or the other way around.
I was very conflicted regarding this point, as I was unsure if my audience would appreciate an informal, awkward conclusion to my pitch. This is similar to jokes, which I mentioned earlier; will they appreciate an awkward joke about the whole virtual pitching process? However, I realized that I could not be the only one who feels this way, and it provides a more truthful image of who I am (let’s not forget point 4). There are no hands to shake, no eye contact to make, just you talking into the camera and hoping you read the metaphorical room correctly. We might as well admit that.
Despite things being different due to COVID-19, remember that there is a place for your stories, and they deserve to be heard. The creative industries are looking, their scope broader than ever before; you no longer have to be in California to get your idea in the door. I hope these tips will help your journeys and that you’re able to NAIL your next pitch, whether virtual, recorded, or in-person. Keep creating everyone! We got this!