Personalize the publicity pitch.

November 28, 2007

When you’re trying to get some attention for your project by pitching it to the traditional press, or bloggers, or film review sites, or whomever, it really helps to personalize the pitch.  Canned pitches are at best,  given a cursory glance; at worst, seen as a turn off. 

Case in point:  As the end of the fall college semester draws near, I’ve been receiving e-mails from college students inquiring about internship opportunities.  (For the record, I’m not taking on interns at this time, but if you’re a college student with a cool blog that covers the entertainment industry or reviews films, let’s talk.  I may be interested in connecting with you on the next film I’m repping.)  These e-mails I get are basically pitches.  The students attempt to pitch themselves to me,  their skills, enthusiasm, talent, their fantastic work ethic, and so on.  Some of them do a pretty good job of personalizing the pitch. I can tell, when I read their cover letter, that they’ve taken the time to read on my website, learn a little about what we do, maybe even do some reading on my blog,  and then tailor their pitch accordingly.  They address the letter to me, by name.  They personalize it.

Then there are the cover letters that arrive addressed to “Whom it may concern.”  Are you kidding me? They’ve gotten my e-mail address and the name of my agency (which happens to include my name)  and yet they don’t know to whom their pitch may concern?  Come on.  That’s just a lazy, canned pitch.  My response?  I hit the delete key.

The same principles apply to publicity pitches for film.  It pays to make the investment of time and effort to learn a little about who you’re going to pitch your film to for coverage.  Chris Thilk of Movie Marketing Madness very eloquently makes this point in his pitching guidelines:

Drop me a line and introduce yourself personally before pitching me. I think it’s just polite. You don’t go up to people on the street and immediately launch into the middle of a conversation. You say hello first. Same rules apply.

Making a personal connection with the person or organization you’re pitching is vital.  You want them to feel that you understand something about them, where they’re coming from, what their interests and priorities are.  What you don’t want them to feel is that you’ve bought an e-mail address database from some direct-marketing company.  Canned pitches that read like spam are treated like spam. 

So even if you have bought a list of 500 journalists, bloggers, critics, and reviewers (and personally, I can think of several other ways to more effectively spend your money), make the effort to figure out which ones are the better fit for the project you’re pitching, and then take some time to personalize your pitch to each one.  Introduce yourself.  Say hello.

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“What is your film about?” “Um….” The perfect pitch (not)

July 26, 2007

 I haven’t ever seen a film that’s about “Um…”, but there must be a whole slew of them being made by emerging filmmakers today.

 “Um….”  —  When this is the first word a filmmaker says in response to my asking them “What is your film about?”  I inwardly cringe, I prepare myself for the long, rambling, sometimes scene-by-scene monologue I hear, and I  listen patiently and attentively. 

Two, ten, 20 minutes later, when they’ve finally finished, I tell the filmmaker, as gently as I can, to be glad I’m not a distributor or a studio exec, or an agent, or broker.  Why?  Because hardly anybody in one of those positions would have listened to such a long speech.  The filmmaker would have lost most of them at “Um….”.

30 seconds!

That’s the most time it should take to describe a film.  Use a stop watch and click off the time,  count out loud as you watch the second hand or the digital numbers.  That’s really not as short as it initially seems, right?   It’s really all the time you need, and it may very well be all the time you get to speak to a busy person in the industry.  More importantly,  if you don’t immediately capture and hold the attention of the person to whom you’re speaking, you’ll start to lose them after 30 seconds.  They’ll tune you out. 

Read, write, edit, rehearse.

Visit film websites, visit IMDb.com, read the taglines and the synopses of films.  Read some of them out loud so you can time yourself to ascertain how many words you can comfortably say (without “Um”s) in 30 seconds.

Then sit down and write your film’s synopsis.  Your goal is to craft something that immediately captures and holds your listener’s attention, accurately portrays your film’s story/message/world, and ultimately, makes the listener want to learn more about it.

Rehearse your pitch by timing yourself as you read it out loud.  Rehearse it in front of a friend, colleague, family member, the person behind the counter at the dry cleaners. Ask yourself, and ask them:   Do the words sound natural as you say them?  Does it sound too stilted?  Is it too long?  Have you left out something important? Does it sound interesting?  Edit as many times as necessary.  You know this drill, you did the same thing with re-writes to your screenplay, editing until you got it right.

When you think it’s the best you can make it, try rehearsing it to a perfect stranger.  I’m serious.  Choose someone who looks like they might be a friendly person, and who looks like they’re not particularly busy at the moment, walk up to them and say “Hey. You know, I’ve just completed my first film.”  Hopefully, they’ll smile and say “Really, what’s it about?”.    Then do your pitch.  Watch how they react.  Use their reaction (positive or negative, or total disinterest),  to help you further hone your pitch to perfection.

Tip:   Be able to pitch your film in 30 seconds or less.

Talk:  Have a pitch?  Post it in comments  and I’ll take a look at it and give you feedback.