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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Chris writes:
Q. I read through some of your entries from last year about your pitching at Banff and I have a few questions. I'm considering entering the PitchIt! dealie and wanted to know what makes a winning pitch. What's the difference between a winning pitch and a not-winning pitch, is it theatrics? Quality of the show? A clever balance of both? What are some pitch do's and don'ts? How long do pitches usually run and is their running time mandated? How should I structure my pitch? What would you have done differently in your pitch?
The PitchIt! program is an event at Banff where creators (including creator teams) pitch their idea to an audience of 150+ people. To pitch, you submit 750 words on your idea, and 300 words on you or your team, and the best five are selected. At the pitch, you get 4 minutes to say or do whatever you like, and then a few more minutes to answer questions from the panel of judges, who are network execs.

Needless to say, not how pitching usually happens.

I submitted four pitches last year, and one got into the program. I didn't win, so I can't claim any special brilliance there.

What gets you into the program, I have to imagine, is a good 750 word pitch. To me that means about 300 words on what your show is; 250 words on who your characters are; and 200 possibly story ideas. They don't have to be in sections like that, but for most shows that's the simplest and cleanest presentation.

I memorized a four-minute pitch down the word, honing it constantly, and pitching it to anyone who would give me four minutes. I thought it came off well. I did lousy at the Q & A, though. I didn't understand what one of the judges was asking, so instead of answering the question in two sentences, I rambled on incoherently.

That's okay. I eventually set up the project in development at a cable network here, with a 20 page pitch that answered pretty much every damn question anyone ever asked me when I pitched them, including the one I bobbled at PitchIt!

What were the others, lessee ... A comedy about a heavy metal band that performs for kids ... A comic procedural about health inspectors ... a comedy about two drunken louts who used to be the Hardy Boys and now solved mysteries about their missing beer can and the like ... can't remember the last one. I thought Sarah Timmins' health inspector show was the best pitch among the others (obviously I have no perspective on my own). The Hardy Boys guys did some schtick onstage and then showed a trailer they'd shot. The heavy metal guy seemed a little shaggy, and so did his pitch, but he won the prize and the audience prize, so there you go.

Personally I'd stay away from theatrics. I don't want to be judged on how well I bring off the theatrics. I want to be judged on the value of my idea. And if you have a great idea, all it needs is for your to explain it coherently and cleanly. If you don't, no amount of theatrics will rescue it.

My pitch was fairly complex, so I spent about two months moving bits around and trying them out over and over to see if they would go into people's brains better. I started with an image, then my main character, then her problem, and expanded from there. I ended on a mystery, and my theme. I was doing other things during those two months, but whenever I had a spare moment I worked on my pitch. I practiced it while I went running. I pitched it to absolute strangers. I pitched it to my (then) 10 year old son.

(As a side note, it is always a good idea to pitch your idea to a fifth grader. If there's anything he can't understand, the odds are excellent your story is too complicated.)

The biggest question you need to answer in any pitch is, I think: how is this a series. An obvious question, you'd think, but not all of the pitches answered it well. Some of the ideas seemed good for a show, or maybe even five shows. But 100 shows? If you can't explain out how you're going to come up with ideas for at least three seasons, then maybe your idea isn't a tv show.

I'll be submitting a couple of things to PitchIt! this year too. Whether or not your pitch wins, you get a lot of exposure pitching in front of a huge crowd like that, and it structures your visit to the Rockies. It might help you get the show set up, but expect for it to take six months to a year to get anything solid out of your Banff trip.

Good luck, and hope to see you at the podium!

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