How to Get Pitch Meetings Without an Agent

By Gail Cohen

You’ve just come up with an idea for a TV or movie script that’s sensational, but everyone warns you that unless you get an agent, you'll never find a home for your work. While this is true a good deal of the time, have faith. Plenty of people have talked their way into the company of entertainment movers and shakers, and while not all of them have made a sale, some have. To survive this odyssey, you will have to gird your loins and rid yourself of your insecurities; trying to get an audience with a person of influence will be a daunting process. If you’ve decided that nothing can stop you from going for the gold, go forth and make it happen. Others have done it, and so can you.

Copyright your intellectual property. Contact the U.S. Copyright Office or visit a legal website (see Resources) to file the necessary papers and pay the required fees. Add the copyright symbol to the body of your manuscript and to the title each time you cite it in a letter or report.

Prepare a one-page synopsis of your work. If you’ve written a treatment (a succinct, detail-filled document that fleshes out your story in around 25 pages), creating this one-pager will be a snap. Be dynamic, succinct and bold. Check every detail to make certain you have eliminated passive sentences, redundancies, incorrectly spelled words, and inappropriate or irrelevant phrases or sentences. The overview should tell your entire story in a page (around 300 words).

Approach every friend and relative on the planet. Invoke the quirky "six degrees of separation theory", and you might be surprised to find a direct link to a New York or Hollywood contact. Whether someone’s third cousin is a continuity tech, or a friend’s aunt works for Disney, start there.

Contact the person to whom you’ve been referred. Understand that people in the entertainment industry are plagued by people trying to break in, so don’t waste their time waxing poetic about your talent. Be professional and use your background, education or experience to demonstrate your commitment to your project. Be polite and persistent. If they say yes, ask if it would be okay to use their name when making contact.

Try an alternative route if you're unsuccessful with personal contacts. Do your homework and track down the name of a person likely to guide you to decision makers. For example, if you've written a script for a "Law and Order" episode, pay careful attention to the credits at the beginning and end of the show. Jot down the names of associate producers. Contact NBC to obtain their email or snail mail addresses.

Stick to your plan of booking an in-person meeting with production company personnel. Ask yourself why that person should take time to meet with you, and then cite those reasons when you make your initial contact. They will be more likely to agree to a short meeting. Don’t end the communication until you have agreed upon a mutually convenient date and time.

Make your presentation. Arrive on time for your meeting, and work from your one page synopsis in the pitch meeting. If the contact wants more, be prepared to work from your longer treatment to reveal more details about your manuscript. Be professional and keep an eye on the time.

Demonstrate that you understand the show’s audience and voice. Don't offer the complete manuscript unless they request it. At that point, ask everyone in attendance to sign a non-disclosure statement to protect your idea. (See Resources for a sample statement.) Tailor the document to your needs before you make copies for your meeting.

Conclude the meeting on time or earlier. Don’t ask anyone if or when you will hear from them. If they like your idea, you will hear from them after they have had time to read the manuscript. If they don’t think your property has merit, you will hear that before you leave the room. Thank everyone and depart.

Send a thank you note to those who were on hand to hear your pitch. Don’t start calling the parties you met; persistent phone calls are viewed as a bad sign. Even if your idea is terrific, staff won’t want to deal with you in the future. Remember that rejection is part of the game, so even if this experience proves unfruitful, your next try will be a lot less harrowing.

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.