GUIDING LIGHTS: PITCHING DAY
16 May 2016
Throughout our seventh Guiding Lights film mentoring programme, we're running a series of articles giving insight into the participants’ journeys and experiences.
Here, writer Jennifer Majka tells us about her experience of pitching her latest project to the other Guiding Lights 7 participants and leading feature film script editor Kate Leys – with a little help from Mad Men’s Don Draper.
Pitching. That thing that writers love doing the most. That thing where you have to stand up in a room full of people and tell your story. A story full of complex characters and profound themes, of elaborate plot and gentle nuance that you have been thinking about for weeks, months, possibly years on end, only to find that you’ve got just three-to-five minutes to convince someone who has heard-it-all-before of its greatness. To sell them on its commercial potential, its ability to connect with an audience and to make someone, somewhere, lots of money. That thing when you realise – it’s a business, baby.
So, when Guiding Lights announced that we were to have a Pitching Day with story editor Kate Leys, I was excited. Because despite the fact I have watched, with rapt admiration, the great Don Draper effortlessly pitch over and over again in Mad Men, I was none the wiser about how, exactly, I was supposed to do it.
To kick things off, Kate spoke a bit about what makes a good pitch, how to simplify the process in your head and organise the information you want to get across. She told us how practice – hearing yourself speak your pitch out loud… over and over again is key to finding out where you trip up, what isn’t working and at what moment in the story you forget what is coming next.
She said many other useful and important things, but as time moved on, a taunting little voice in my head took over, reminding me that we were getting closer and closer to having to pitch for ourselves. And then seemingly out of nowhere, I heard the terrifying question – “So, who wants to start?”
Silence. And then, because of being asked to write this blog and Draper and wanting to be brave, or at least, act out my belief in the phrase ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’, I volunteered – and promptly fluffed my lines.
Starting at a sprint, my tongue tripped over my words, leaving my brain struggling to keep track of the story I was supposed to be telling, my palms sweaty and my face flush. So I stopped. Took a breath. And apologised. I was going to have to start again.
Embarrassed, I looked around the room, expecting to see everybody staring at me with disapproval. But instead I saw kind, sympathetic eyes – I had done the thing everybody was afraid of doing. And now it wasn’t so scary. Kate pointed out that I did the right thing, the only thing you can do in that situation. Stop, breathe and start again.
She gave me notes on my pitch, on my story, and made me think about how I would do it next time. And then, just as quickly as it started it was over, and I could relax and listen to everybody else. Learning from how they did it, what stood out when it went right and how it could be improved when it went wrong.
That night, I watched another episode of Mad Men before bed. But just as I was drifting off I heard Don say, “Our worst fears lie in anticipation.” And suddenly I was reassured. He gets nervous too.
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