Sande Scoredos was the executive director of training and artist development at Sony Pictures Imageworks. She was committed to working with academia, serving on school advisory boards, guiding curriculum, participating on industry panels, and lecturing at school programs. She was instrumental in founding the Imageworks Professional Academic Excellence (IPAX) program in 2004. Sande chaired the SIGGRAPH 2001 Computer Animation Festival and was the curator chair for the SIGGRAPH 2008 Computer Animation Festival.
Sande produced Early Bloomer, a short film that was theatrically released. Her other credits include: Stuart Little, Hollow Man, Spider-Man, Stuart Little 2, I Spy, Spider-Man 2, Full Spectrum Warrior, The Polar Express, Open Season, Spider-Man 3, Surf’s Up, Beowulf, I Am Legend, and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Before the Pitch: Register Your Work
Before you pitch your idea to anyone, your family, friends, your uncle Joe that works at a studio, or even random strangers, protect everyone—and your idea—by finding out who owns the rights to your idea. Do not talk about your idea until you have gone through the registration process or have an agent. You never know who is listening at Starbucks. If you are pitching for a school project you may find that your school already owns the rights. Likewise, if you work in the entertainment industry, your company may own the rights to anything resembling intellectual property. Ask your career services advisor or legal department about ownership rights and be sure to read your deal memo and contract agreement.
Most studios will only take pitch meetings through an agent. That is to protect you and them against copyright claims. For information on copyright filings, check the United States Copyright Office website, http://www.copyright.gov/. Read the guidelines carefully and follow the procedures.
Know Who Will Hear Your Pitch
Now, prepare for that pitch.
Successful pitches are carefully designed and orchestrated. Many brilliant ideas have fallen by the wayside due to poor pitching skills.
Whether you are pitching a 30-second short to your animation professor or an epic to a studio executive, find out who is going to hear your pitch.
You have just a few seconds to grab their attention and convince everyone in the room that your story is worth telling. How you describe it, visualize it, sell it, and sell yourself will all work for you or against you.
First, be honest and decide if you are the best person to make the pitch. If you get flustered speaking to a group, then let someone else do the talking. Not everyone needs to be part of the formal presentation so play to your strengths.
Talk to the “gatekeeper,” the key contact who is setting up the meeting, and ask him or her to tell you who might attend. If you can, find out their titles and what influence they have on the process. Then do your homework.
The World Wide Web is a wealth of information. Check out the backgrounds of each person who may be in the meeting.
• Try to get a recent picture of each person. • What types of projects do they like? • What projects have they worked on? • Where did they grow up? • What college did they attend? • What projects are in their catalog? Do they already have an animated film about two talking zebras? Oops, your project is about two zebras so think about how your project fits into their plans. • Get your facts straight and then double check them. Just because it is on the web or IMDB does not make it true.
Why is this important? If you can find a relevant personal connection, then you can tap into that with a casual chat, discover mutual acquaintances or interests. But be careful. You want to stand out just a little more from the other pitches and be remembered in a good way. Your pitch should always be short and to the point, not too deep or detailed or it can get boring. You want a balance of wellrehearsed but not memorized, engaging and delivered with enthusiasm but not clownish, and delivered with confidence and passion for the project.
This business is all about relationships so you want to connect with the people in the room.
Preparing for the Pitch
Make sure you know your story. Research your idea and know what else is out there that remotely resembles it—is there a character, city, situation, movie or game that is similar to yours? You can bet that someone at the pitch will say this sounds like XYZ, the classic film from 1932 directed by some obscure foreign director. Assume that anyone in the pitch session has seen it and heard it all. Nothing is worse than the silence you hear that follows the comment, “What else have you got?” A potentially embarrassing moment can turn in your favor if you can intelligently discuss the other work, and its relationship to yours. You will look good if you not only know of this piece but can intelligently discuss this reference.
You also want to make sure you have the rights to the properties and characters. Say your story centers around a landmark building in downtown New York. Believe it or not, you may not be able to obtain or afford the rights to use that building. Same goes for characters and music. If your story cannot be made without that specific Beatles song, consider the reality and cost of acquiring the rights.
If your project requires getting the rights, be prepared to discuss the status of your negotiations in the meeting. If you do not have an original concept and cannot afford to obtain rights for existing properties, check out the properties in the public domain.
Read the industry trade publications to see what types of projects are going into production. If there is something similar to your proposal, then you should be able to address any concerns about copyright infringement upfront and explain what makes your idea better. Let the people hearing the pitch initiate talk about what actors or other talent would be good for the project.
Pitch the Entertainment Value
You can show you are looking at the whole package by suggesting the entertainment value, genre, audience age and appeal of your project. Describe the concept giving a general sense of the visuals for the characters, environments and style. Use sketches, color drawings, color palettes, reference material, special lighting, video clips—anything that will get the visuals across. Sometimes you can get into the room early to stage the pitch. This is another benefit to knowing the “gatekeeper.” Remember, you are pitching to people who hear dozens of ideas and you want them to remember your project. If you can entertain them, they will see you can entertain audiences too.
Be ready to answer questions about finances and marketability since there may be financial people at the pitch.
At the Pitch Remember that your pitch starts the minute you arrive—in the parking lot or in the elevator—you never know who you might run into so be nice to everyone. Once in the room, have a friendly handshake, thank them all for meeting with you and tell them you admire their work. Show them by your posture, body language and demeanor that you are enthusiastic and excited. Don’t be overly intense. Get everyone’s name in the room and try to identify the leader, but don’t forget to make eye contact with each of them.
You need to conquer the whole room. Dress appropriately and watch your language. Listen to all the ideas and suggestions with openness and encourage suggestions. Show them how you work with others.
After the Pitch
Have a closing prepared. Never end your pitch with “Well, that’s it.” or “So, what do you think?” End with a positive note and thank them again emphasizing how much you want to work with them. Ask them if they have any suggestions and show your willingness to make adjustments.
It helps to have some sort of “leave behind” object, something more creative than a business card or demo reel. For a story about dogs, maybe a small stuffed animal with a creative dog tag containing your contact information and the name of the project.
Within a week, follow up with the “gatekeeper” and see if you can get a pulse on interest in your project.
Hand-written thank you notes are welcome but emails are usually not. Keep track of everyone you pitch to with a journal tracking names, dates, titles, and contact information. Selling your idea is really about relationships and at the end of the pitch, you want everyone in the room wanting to work with you and confident your project is their next winner.
Excerpt from Ideas for the Animated Short, 2e by Karen Sullivan et al. © 2013 Focal Press an imprint of Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.