Written by Jake Zim.
Everyone has a story they’d like to tell. As COO for digital media entertainment company Safran Digital, one of the best parts of my job is being pitched those stories, in the form of new web show ideas. The first step in getting your project off the ground is a successful pitch, so if you’re an artist looking to tell stories online and you need financing, here are a few suggestions on how to best construct — and deliver — one.
BEFORE THE PITCH
You only get one chance to make a first impression, so it’s best to get your meeting set through an agent, manager or a contact who’s done previous business with whomever you’re meeting. Let your reps do their job, warming up the room as much as possible by sending links to your work, writing samples, credits, etc. Once you’re in front of a legitimate financier or distributor, you don’t want to waste time self-promoting. And without representation or a warm lead, it could be difficult to get into the room at all.
Consider your story arc — does it work for digital? Think of your episode or segment trajectory as a slingshot. From the first frame, you’re introducing an inciting incident, pulling back to increase tension until the point at which you deliver your punch line, your button, or your reveal. Music and cinematography can help, but the pacing has to be evident in the script. No audience is more impatient than the one online. They’ll click away at the first yawn.
Think transmedia and stay away from gimmicks. While no one in the web video industry is lining their pockets right now, there’s every reason to believe that the next South Park will be incubated online. The most valuable properties, and those that are likely to get made, are the ones that can be leveraged across multiple platforms –- digital, gaming consoles, mobile, graphic novels, TV, film, home entertainment, music, international format rights, licensing and merchandise. Build evergreen characters and expandable worlds.
AT YOUR PITCH
Make it a conversation. It’s a chance to tell a story, but don’t be afraid to get the people to whom you’re presenting talking, too. Your goal is to get them excited about seeing your show, so it helps if you start off by identifying a shared experience. “Have you ever been in line at the grocery store when such and such happens…?”
Focus on what’s unique about your project, without losing sight of why it’s relatable to audiences. Remember: Digital content shouldn’t look or feel like anything you see on TV or at the movies. Remember, too, that the majority of digital screens provide less comfortable viewing environments than those of traditional media. Your show has to be so compelling that it will entice viewership despite being watched on a laptop in a dorm, at a desktop in a cubicle surrounded by nosey colleagues, or on an iPhone in bed next to a sleeping spouse. For example when we produced the Xbox series, Horror Meets Comedy, we went with a concept that traditional media had neglected, taking established horror directors and giving them a chance to show their comedy chops. We catered to the diehard horror fans, banking on the fact that they would want to see their favorite directors cross genres.
Don’t linger on technology; keep your focus on story and style. Don’t waste time in your pitch on the technology that wraps around the delivery platform. Let that aspect of the marketing and distribution be part of another discussion.
Use visuals –- scripts, stills, animatics, character design samples and video. Don’t leave anything to the imagination.
AFTER YOUR PITCH
Be sure to follow up, but when it comes to actually assessing the level of interest, let your reps do the heavy lifting. Keep in mind that you’re never pitching a single project, you’re always presenting yourself as someone with whom to collaborate down the line. More often than not, there are jobs on other projects that come through the pipe that need a rewrite, a director or a producer. Get your pitch down and eventually, you’ll be able to tell your story.
Jake Zim is Chief Operating Officer of Safran Digital Group (SDG), a digital media entertainment company that finances, develops and distributes entertainment programming and technologies for digital platforms.