Perfecting the Pitch with Stephanie Palmer

Greetings! I’m pleased to introduce you to former Hollywood executive turned popular pitching consultant Stephanie Palmer. She is the author of Good in a Room, which reveals Hollywood insider pitching techniques.

Pitching consultant and "Good in a Room" author Stephanie Palmer. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Palmer.

Pitching consultant and “Good in a Room” author Stephanie Palmer. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Palmer.

Let’s say you’ve written a stellar script. Or let’s say you have a brilliant, high-concept project. Either way, you’ll still need a pitch that wows buyers. That’s where Stephanie Palmer comes in.

For the past eight years, Stephanie has helped writers, directors, producers, and entrepreneurs learn to pitch and sell their projects.

Star-crossed lovers. The poster was fashioned ...

Poster for James Cameron’s “Titanic.” Artwork courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox and Paramount Pictures.

Stephanie started her Hollywood career as an unpaid intern on James Cameron’s Titanic. How’s that for paying your dues! From there, she became an assistant with Jerry Bruckheimer’s company on big testosterone films like Armageddon and Con-Air. She eventually landed a position as the Director of Creative Affairs at MGM.

Film poster for Michael Bay's "Armageddon."  Artwork courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.

Poster for Michael Bay’s “Armageddon.”
Artwork courtesy of Touchstone Pictures.

“MGM was unique, because if you were the exec who found the project, you followed it all the way through production,” Stephanie said. “I was the exec supervising the project, working with the writer, hiring the director, and bringing on the producer and casting director. I stayed with the project until the movie came out.”

Despite the very gratifying culture of MGM, Stephanie found herself unfulfilled. “I was really frustrated by the projects we were making. I knew there were better writers who had better projects, but they weren’t pitching their projects well.”

Stephanie had a watershed moment when she decided to coach a writer through the pitching process. “There was this one particular writer who was super-nervous, but he had this great idea,” Stephanie said. “I loved the concept of the project and wanted to buy it, but I knew if I put him in front of my boss, the head of the studio, this writer wouldn’t be considered professional enough. So I told the writer, ‘I’m going to work with you on the pitch.’”

And she did. “I worked with the writer,” Stephanie said. “When I felt like he was ready, I brought him in. He met with my boss and did a terrific job. My boss said, ‘Great, you’ve found a new writer!’ We hired him. Afterward, this writer told me that he’d been sleeping on his brother’s couch. He was going to have to leave LA and move back home any day if he didn’t sell something soon.”

Hollywood Sign beckons many hopefuls.  Photo courtesy of Sean Russell.

Hollywood Sign beckons many hopefuls.
Photo courtesy of Sean Russell.

I love this story. It demonstrates several truisms about Hollywood. There are a lot of talented people struggling to make it in this town. Some are at the end of their rope. Many are praying for a miracle. Often they’re very close to a deal that could change their lives. However, they lack the polish or business savvy to actually convert. This story illustrates how important it is to accept help and seek out guidance. Often, Hollywood hopefuls are so focused on the break, they only value getting the opportunity. They assume their amazing idea, script, project, what-have-you will sell itself, but it won’t. You need to be “good in a room.”

What’s more, I love this story because it changed Stephanie Palmer’s life. Here was an executive who was frustrated that great projects were being passed over because they were poorly pitched. With this simple decision to help a struggling writer, she found a new calling.

“It was so exciting and satisfying to help him,” Stephanie said. “I wanted to know how I could do that more often, how I could help people with good ideas sell their projects.”

Stephanie decided to translate her passion into her own consulting business. She took a year and extra business classes to design a consulting business that would best bring her talents to creative people with awesome ideas. She said her greatest asset was her industry experience. During her career as an exec, she heard more than 3,000 pitches. She knew what worked in a room and what fell flat.

Stephanie Palmer speaks on a panel with Cassian Elwes at the 2011 American FIlm Market conference.  Photo courtesy of Stephanie Palmer.

Stephanie Palmer speaks on a panel with Cassian Elwes at the 2011 American FIlm Market pitch conference.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Palmer.

“A main misconception about pitching is that people will automatically understand a good idea and buy it,” she said. “But in the real world, like let’s say at a grocery store, there may be a great product there. If it’s wrapped in an ugly package, you’re not likely to buy it. Good companies spend tons of money on research, packaging, and product design. They want to make their product attractive so you’ll buy it. A good Hollywood project deserves a thoughtful, compelling pitch.”

Some people really hate pitching, but pitching is an essential skill every creative person in Hollywood should master. Fortunately, it’s also a skill nearly everyone can hone.

I’m passionate about pitching; it’s been a big part of my career. I’ve pitched shows to nearly every buyer in town. One item on my bucket list was to sell a show in the room. It felt awesome to check that accomplishment off my list! For me, the pitch is that brief, shining moment when I have the opportunity to lay out my vision for a show and get the studio and network on board with that vision. If I’m developing a property with producers and executives, they’re depending on me to do my job with the pitch and sell the show.

I’ve always loved pitching. I created USC First Pitch, the official pitch festival for the USC School of Cinematic Arts, when I was in film school. First Pitch has helped launch hundreds of writers’ careers. I’ve coached many anxious pitchers through the process, so I’ve seen how much a promising pitch can be improved.

And I’m here to tell you – a great pitch can change your life.

Having an experienced pitching consultant like Stephanie help you with your pitch can make a difference in whether you sell your idea or get a pass. It can help you make a great impression and keep the door open for your future projects. Such help can also be invaluable for pitchers who may not relish the idea of pitching.

“I think a lot of nervousness comes out of the fear of the unknown,” Stephanie said. “The more you practice, the better your pitch will be – so you’ll also be less nervous.”

I absolutely agree with Stephanie. When you practice your pitch, you don’t have to worry about “what am I going to say next?” If someone asks you a question or makes a comment, you’ll be able to respond gracefully and pick up with your pitch where you left off. You won’t have to worry about forgetting to convey a crucial part of your pitch. The words will be on the tip of your tongue.

Palme d'Or winning director David Greenspan pitches his project at USC First Team event.  Photo courtesy of Kam Miller.

Palme d’Or winning director David Greenspan pitches his project during a USC First Team event.
Photo courtesy of Kam Miller.

“The best pitchers have 100 percent outward focus when they’re in a meeting,” Stephanie said. “They’re really putting their attention on the other people in the room. This is hard to do in a pitch when you’re thinking, ‘What are they going to say? Do I have something in my teeth? Do they like me? I hope I don’t mess up.’”

Such thoughts are all normal, understandable insecurities. Stephanie suggests thinking, “Am I conveying my idea as clearly as possible to these people? How are they responding? What are they listening to? How can I share my idea in a clear way to these people so they understand what I mean?”

The more you focus on the people you’re pitching, the better your pitch will be. Working with a pitching pro like Stephanie, who is completely in your corner and objective about your project, can help you crystallize your pitch so it’s clear, concise, and potent. She can also help prepare you for the type of pitch you need to deliver.

Not all pitch meetings are alike. Understanding the different expectations of specific meetings will help you prepare appropriately. It’ll make you look like a pro.

For more with Stephanie, check out her book, Good in a Room, and visit her website. Stephanie is available for consultation online, and she offers one-on-one coaching sessions via Skype. Plus, she holds an online class called Pitching Essentials, where she spends four consecutive weeks guiding folks as they work on their pitches.


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