On a whim, I decided to sign up for the pitches at the ScreenCraft Writers Summit. It was something I hadn’t formally tried, and this was an opportunity. I’m pretty comfortable pitching one-on-one, and I’m usually the one to kick off informal pitches at the Black List Happy Hour in Atlanta. I’m confident in my writing skills and thought that pitching might be a natural fit.
Some context on my anxiety. My stress has been sky high for two days straight of working at the festival. I have a voice in my head – the clinical term is the monkey mind – and it tells me that I’m worthless when I am not completely perfect. So, this has been a glorious weekend, with incredibly kind, talented people all around. I’m chock full of inspiration and delighted to be here. But my monkey mind is loud, rattling around and playing the cymbals. I’ve been talking so fast I don’t think they’re words anymore, just noises. I know this sounds over-dramatic, but it’s how I feel. I’m scared that I’ll let some work slip this weekend, looking at my emails at every opportunity.
Last night, I was exhausted, so I went home for a chill night. This turned out to be four hours of failing to get to sleep, lying in bed, my heart beating wildly. I too a Zzzquil, did a meditation for insomnia, and read chapters of a mostly dull book.
SOME GUIDING WORDS
The morning before pitching I re-read Ken Miyamoto’s article “10 ways to Curb Your Screenplay Pitch Anxiety”. It felt reassuring, and I tried to use the lessons. Still, nerves got in the way and I missed some steps. Or, it was my first time doing something new, and I got a useful response. But, so here was my process along the way. Here’s how it went –
So in the morning, I wrote my pitch, working off a pitch document for a feature I’m writing now. I love the story and get good responses when I do short pitches in person, in casual settings. I’m a script reader, and I consider myself pretty great at summarizing a plot and making it quippy. I put in colorful adverbs and rewrote it until I had a 400-word pitch. After the logline, world, and tonal comparisons, most of the pitch was the plot, with emphasis on the character’s relationship and the big finale. On the page, it looks decent. Speaking my sentences, it’s wordy, and I didn’t leave myself enough time to breathe between each sentence. I recorded myself talking at an almost-normal speed, and it clocked at around two minutes.
I tried to memorize the pitch, repeating it and glancing at the page as little as possible. I got to about 70% off-page. I continued fiddling with the language while memorizing, which tripped me up any more. I could feel my face doing weird things, and I was over-enunciating.
THEN LET THAT PREPARATION GO
Near the venue, I read the page a few times, but didn’t talk to myself. So that almost counts as letting my preparation go? It doesn’t work if my mindset isn’t present though.
I forgot this one completely. I was really focused on being in the moment, noticing objects in the room, paying attention to my presence. I talked to strangers, and they were nice, and I think I came off as nice and confident there.
I got lost getting to the venue, I circled the building once and stumbled into another event. Turns out I was in the right place the first time, I was just the first person to pitch today so no one else was there early.
STAY OFF YOUR PHONE AND EMAIL
Oops. I did listen to an acupuncture video on mute and found out that I’d look weird if I did non-hand pressure points. So I kneaded my hand some more.
HIT THE BATHROOM
I felt okay, didn’t need to. No embarrassing bathroom story today. Yay!
HAVE CONFIDENT BODY LANGUAGE
So, I’m called into the room. I sat at a table, which I hadn’t expected. I was planning for shoulders-back power poses when standing up and pitching. I was relieved to see a table, but I think I hid behind it and didn’t think about my shoulders. I think this lead to my defensive pitch approach. I couldn’t keep my eyes off my page, reading off of it too quickly with a robotic voice. I only looked up a handful of times.
There’s a lesson here. I will never bring hold the page during the page again, I turned into an extra-awkward mode. I think eye contact, spontaneity, and the connection are worth anything you might forget when pitching off-book.
BREATHE AND FLIP THE SWITCH
I did! Kinda. Because I was there so early, I had more time to focus on this. I waited in a room by myself where I paid attention to my breathing, tried to slow myself down, and pressed that acupuncture point beside my thumb. My heart was still wild, but when people joined me, I felt closer to molasses, which was my goal.
MAKE IT A CONVERSATION
Whoops forgot this one. I like it though, my favorite pitches from the finalists were conversational.
MENTALLY BRING THEM DOWN TO YOUR LEVEL
I was good with this one! I liked the judges, but I didn’t know enough about them to be intimidated.
EMBRACE WHAT THE FATES DECIDE
The good part! I got great notes. The first one was that my story was effing original, which was delightful to hear. They were confused about the main character. I interrupted, asking if I should state that it’s a two-hander. (I already didn’t follow my humble lesson from yesterday. I will do better next time. Also, I will be nicer to myself.) This character note turned into a suggestion that was genius. I’m going to incorporate it. I got another compliment on the film’s end and philosophy. I hope I said thank you, the judges were awesome.
The 10 finalists were spectacular. Most of them were charismatic people with clever plots and managed to make something well-rehearsed look natural. It was delightful to watch them connect with the judges and audience. I especially enjoyed a pitch by Carrie Schrader, where she told a charming story and made it look effortless. She mentioned after that she had been shaking, and I hadn’t noticed. The winners were fabulous, and told stories I hadn’t heard before. Congrats to the winners and finalists! They were so much fun to watch, I’ve decided that pitching is officially a skill I admire, and I’m going to work harder at it.
More lessons. The best pitches were shorter, so I’ll cut mine in half, and I’ll make it looser and not so plot-driven.
So I have pitched officially for the first time! I’m planning on making it a habit, get better, and have fun around the way. I chilled out immediately after pitching, I feel a lot better now. I didn’t know that was such a major stressor compared to the other swirl of things going on. One more day of ScreenCraft to go! Whoa.
Charlotte Stauffer is an Atlanta-born screenwriter. She’s currently working at the Georgia Film Academy, and running a table read series called The Page On Stage with the Atlanta Film Society.