There are a lot of different fandoms represented at Comic-Con’s 50th anniversary, with everything from niche sci-fi novels to huge superhero programs to the CW having a place on the floor and in the programming schedule. One thing that all of these fictional worlds have in common: they all started with a simple pitch meeting. Even the best in the business still have to pitch their work to publishers and studios, so a group of talented writers, producers and actors assembled in San Diego for the annual “The Pitching Hour” panel to give their tips and insight to the audience.
Dan Evans III, the VP of Creative Affairs at DC Entertainment who served as moderator for the panel, started the event by asking people in the audience to raise their hand if they had seen the panel in the past. Unfortunately, all of those hands went down when asked if they had actually pitched anything since then, so don’t worry if you can’t actually attend Comic-Con. Just follow these directions and get pitching!
9. Accept That Your Stuff May Get Stolen
In addition to being a successful author, Valerie Alexander also has some experience on the legal side of the entertainment world. When it comes to keeping one’s new idea safe, Alexander has some bad news for safeguarding creatives: “Sorry, it’s going to be stolen and there’s literally nothing you can do about that.”
To embellish her point, Alexander referenced the lawsuits revolving around the Elizabeth Banks movie Walk of Shame. Screenwriter Dan Rosen, who wrote a screenplay called Darci’s Walk of Shame, claimed that he developed the film with Banks and her husband Max Handelman, a film producer, back in 2007 but that the project ultimately went nowhere. Well, years later, after the Banks led-film with a similar title ultimately came out, Rosen tried to claim the idea was stolen. He kept having bad luck in court, even having to pay Banks’ attorney fees at the end of everything.
For Alexander, the important thing is to keep creating and make sure you’re showing your stuff to people: “You’re never going to get anywhere without submitting stuff, so just submit freely and be seen.”
8. Remember the Essential Ingredient
Evans has received pitches and given pitches, so he knows a thing or two about keeping his cool in a meeting. Unfortunately, these lessons were as ingrained in his head early in his career, and he lost his cool while pitching a Transformers cartoon at Fox Kids. As a lifelong Transformers fan, Evans was prepared and knowledgeable, but the nerves hit him hard and he forgot Optimus Prime’s name.
After the meeting, and after he ultimately threw-up outside the meeting, Evans was approached and told by his boss that he had to remember one thing: “all you gotta do is sell to the person you’re talking to.” Your passion may be important to you, but don’t focus on how excited you are to potentially be working on a certain property; make sure you know how to connect with the people who are receiving your pitch. Self-confidence is key, and he recommends going over the project with other people and seeing what parts excite them most.
Evans said, “Don’t worry about the money or your dreams, just convince one person you have a good idea.”
7. Don’t Eat Up Others’ Time
While it’s good to go into a pitch with a fully fleshed out idea, there’s a real danger included in sharing too much with a pitch recipient. Derek Hughes (co-executive producer, Arrow) shared a story about a time earlier in his career when he and his writing partner entered a pitch meeting too eager to share their story with the executive.
He explained that “too much of a good idea is also bad” before detailing how he and his partner painstakingly broke down each act for an executive who was constantly checking their phone before finally breaking the meeting short and heading to lunch. Despite how prepared and passionate they were, Hughes said he and his partner never heard from the exec again.
Instead of following Hughes’ earlier example, he argues that you should try to keep your pitch as short and concise as possible. Instead of breaking down each plot point, explain the emotional themes and detail key moments that are essential to the story.
“Brevity is the key,” he said. “Keep it under 20 minutes at the most.”
6. Recognizing Symbols
Just like there is a hidden language that editors use when trying to politely reject someone’s idea, there are small, almost imperceptible symbols that people who receive pitches use to signal their interest. Body language is always key when communicating with someone in person but executive teams who work together a lot may also have hidden symbols they use to express their feelings about a presentation on the down low.
Evans, a big fan of Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman, used to have a wrap-around coffee mug that displayed the character Death on one side and the word “death” on the other. He told the audience that he would take the mug into pitch meetings and after a while, when he felt the pitch was potentially floundering or his interest finally ran out, he would turn the mug so “death” showed to his fellow executives. This sly move, something the pitcher likely wouldn’t notice, signaled to Evans’ colleagues that they should try to end the meeting as soon as possible.
“It turns out other execs have tricks like these, so if you are pitching, watch what they’re doing!” he said.
5. Always Have an Anecdote Handy
As a new actor in Los Angeles, Malcolm Barret found himself attending a lot of meetings. So execs can establish relationships with potential future stars, actors are often ferried around to different agencies, given a bottle of water, and spoken with for a few minutes. In order to survive those meetings, Berret says he relied on his deep well of anecdotes.
“You always need to be confident,” Berret said, explaining that people often shoot themselves in the foot when they let their insecurities control their voice in meetings.
Keeping the conversation going with a lively narrative you control helps you feel more confident and keeps people interested in what you have to say. In an industry where “the gatekeepers aren’t necessarily your audience,” the actor explains that it’s important to know how to converse with executives in a way that opens the door for future communication.
Barret’s go-to story? A quick recap of the time he peed next to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson during a table read earlier in his career.
4. Everyone Has Needs
In most circumstances, the person giving the presentation is the one who’s more nervous before a pitch, but it’s important to remember that everyone has needs. An agent needs to find talent to fill his roster and ultimately his own pockets. A studio or network executive has to fill certain content slots and show their investors they can create juicy content. And you, as a writer, artist or actor, need the executives to think you’re the best person to fulfill those needs.
Alexander, who calls the water-bottle meetings “Generals,” said it’s important to attend any meeting with something of value. Whether it’s a new script or a self-tape, make sure to represent yourself exceptionally well because Alexander insists you never know exactly what your meeting partner is looking for: “You’re walking in there for a general, but you’re really coming to fill their need.”
3. Have Your Backup Ideas Ready
Let’s say the executive you meet with is in need of ideas, but the one you used to get your foot in the door just isn’t working. Getting the meeting is a chore in itself and it’s not always guaranteed that someone can open up their schedule for a future pitch. To make sure you always make the most of every pitching opportunity, come prepared with backup ideas you feel confident can catch someone’s attention.
Lamont Magee, someone Evans lovably nicknamed “The Pitch Machine,” is constantly coming up with new ideas. He explained that he has “this file in the back of [his] head” filled with story concepts that he can return to and mine at any time. This way, whether he’s asked to pitch an eccentric action project or something a bit more dramatic, he can share his ideas with eager ears.
“You always have to be ready; you get one swing,” he advised.
2. Don’t Dwell on the No’s
It can be hard to roll through an ocean of rejection, but in the entertainment industry it’s just part of the game. Whether you’re an actor going in for an audition or a writer trying to sell a script, you will be told no multiple times in your career. Even icons like J.K. Rowling and Brad Pitt have been told no, but that didn’t stop them from continuing forward and finding other, better opportunities.
According to Magee, having multiple ideas in the back-burner is a great way to circumvent the pain of hearing “No.” There’s no reason to completely disregard a project after being told no, but having something else that you’re passionate about to distract you for a little bit can help get the creative juices flowing again.
“The best baseball players ever get out 70% of the time, but they’re still in the Hall of Fame. You just have to believe in what you’re doing,” said Magee, who told the audience that a script he wrote in 2001 is finally starting filming next year.
1. Just Get Your Stuff Out There
In a world dominated by social media, Alphonso McAuley doesn’t think you have any excuses when it comes to actually getting your stuff in front of an audience. He believes that the industry is now organized in a way where “anyone can have a voice,” meaning the onus is actually on you to just create things and put it out in the world. With platforms like Tik Tok and Webtoon available, creators can reach people where they are. Now, it’s just up to you to make sure you can actually hold their attention if you catch their eyeballs.
“I have a lot of friends who have created content online, sometimes just six second videos, and now they have TV shows or they’re in movies and it’s just that their content was really good and it struck the attention of different people sharing it,” McAuley said.