Script Pitching in a Remote World

Ben Mehlman

It isn’t breaking new ground to say the pandemic has upended almost every aspect of the entertainment industry. One element it has not disrupted is a screenwriter’s ability to write, but what they do after their script/pitch/treatment is finished certainly looks different. In the world of remote pitching, there are plenty of awkward hurdles to overcome. Whether it’s the inevitable moment when you stumble over who should speak next, anxiety over internet connectivity, or not being able to feel the energy of the room. Not to mention other distractions like losing your train of thought due to a disruptive pet, child, roommate, or significant other. While the world of pitching exclusively through video chat has taken some time to adjust to, there are also some real upsides. 

It's Not All Bad

Lisa Nishimura, Vice President of independent film and documentary features at Netflix, told Fast Company, “…this process has really helped to buttress the thing that we already knew, which is that technology can really be an incredible tool when it comes to access: access into the conversation, access into the collaborative experience.

So, let’s look at a few upsides that will hopefully stay with us post-pandemic:

GEOGRAPHY: Video chat technology, like Evercast, helps tear down geographic and socio-economic barriers. The preconceived notion of having to live in Hollywood or New York City to be considered is no longer tenable. Video chat will continue to lead the way towards more diverse voices getting a chance to present their stories. Can you imagine the hurdles we would have had to overcome if someone needed to do a multi-continent video chat 10 years ago?

PHONE CALLS: Normalizing video chats being an option over phone calls has been a godsend for both executives and writers. Seeing someone, knowing they’re paying attention and being able to play off their body language is irreplaceable. 

COMMUTE: Imagine reducing your commute time, cost of travel, and carbon emissions because you are working remotely. 

NOTES: Video chat also allows writers to reference notes without looking like a stand-up comedian stumbling through a new routine. 

But What About the Actual Pitch?

Similarly to pitching in person, being concise, agile, and knowing your story inside out is of utmost importance. It’s always good to gauge how much material they’ve read or at least how much of the story they already know as to not waste time. Some producers and executives like to have a dialogue while others will sit back and want to silently take everything in, but being flexible given either circumstance is vital. 

Screenwriter John August boiled down the art of the pitch quite elegantly on an early episode of his podcast Scriptnotes: “I always describe a pitch as imagining you just saw a great movie and you wanted to tell your best friend they had to see the movie… A pitch isn’t going to lay out every beat that happens, exactly how it happens. You’re sort of going to give them the highlight reel. It’s sort of almost like a trailer for what your project is.

Great, but what about pitching remotely? Well, if you’re curious about the process of pitching or looking to shop around your own script, we pulled some highlights from the WGA West

  • ENGAGE YOUR AUDIENCE: Engaging in some small talk and trying to build a quick connection before jumping into your pitch can create a collaborative environment. Whomever you are pitching to should feel comfortable in your presence; make them enjoy the idea of collaborating with you over the next few months.
  • SHOW YOUR PASSION: Don’t be shy about expressing your personal connection to the material. It is your job to show why you are the perfect person to tell this story. Are there themes explored that connect to the culture at large? Is this the perfect balance of familiar yet different? The best case scenario can lead to someone spending MILLIONS of dollars to usher this project into fruition, so they need to feel that you and your project will be well worth the investment.
  • USE VISUALS CAREFULLY: Only use visuals if they really add to the pitch and make sure if you use them that you can flawlessly pull them up when needed. Having said that, there are some real advantages to using visuals if you’re screen sharing. Everyone can see them up close at the same time. 
  • EXPECT INTERRUPTIONS: Questions and interruptions are good because it means people are listening. Be ready to dive deeper into a storyline or character that your audience is connecting with and make sure you give space for other people to take the floor.
  • PLAN FOR THE WORST: As the past year has taught us, life happens. Prepare for the worst but hope for the best because your hardware may fail or your internet might crash, so have your phone or tablet nearby. Showing you can handle stressful situations is an asset.

A lot of these tips are good to know in general but grow even more important in a remote environment. So stay patient, vigilant, and go knock ‘em dead!

Ben Mehlman

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Ben Mehlman is a screenwriter, director, and a 2020 Black List Feature Lab alum (mentored by Beau Willimon and Jack Thorne). He is also a freelance cultural forecaster and brand consultant, analyzing everything in culture (be it pop, arts, politics, and more) in order to create insights.

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