TRANSCRIPT Ep1- How to Pitch Your Screenplay with Ann Kimbrough

Updated: Nov 10


AUDIO OF THIS PODCAST IS AVAILABLE HERE


Transcript

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GEOFFREY

Right, welcome to the Successful Screenwriter podcast where we're dedicated to anything and everything screenwriting. Here we interview successful screenwriters and filmmakers to discover just what it takes to make it in the industry. I have to tell you; I'm really excited about today's guest. We've got Ann Kimbrough. She's a screenwriter. She has worked her way up to producer. She knows the ins and outs of the pitching process as she works for a production company who accepts pitches. So, she knows what works and what doesn't. Ann, it's nice to have you on.


ANN

Happy to be here! Thanks for asking me.


GEOFFREY

You're such a resource of knowledge, especially when it comes to producing of things in our industry, right? And we all know how great of a screenwriter, you are. So we're really honored to have you come on and discuss the business.


ANN

And I'm a mentor.


GEOFFREY

You are! You're such an amazing mentor. You are a great teacher. I mean, I follow your podcast and I think it's fantastic. The amount of truth that you deliver to people is earnest and you deliver it in a way that is meant to help others. And it's not snarky. It's not elitist at all, and I think that's why you've created such a following and why you ended up getting the award.


ANN

Thank you!


GEOFFREY

We're just glad to have you on and to hear your thoughts on a pitching, because it's so difficult to do. Especially if you're a writer that stays at home, and you know, in this day and age it’ss difficult to be an extrovert when you tend to be more of an introvert with writers. So, tell us about what you're doing right now, 'cause I know that you've moved beyond screenwriting into the producing field.


ANN

Right, I have a writing producing partner, Shahrook Oomer. We got out there last year—that was our big prep, push—we had a lot of scripts we had developed ourselves and written, and so we were out there taking meetings, at like Sony, and meeting with anyone that could fund stuff. We went really far with a lot of really great people, but we weren't able to put anything together. Although, we kept a lot of doors open. A lot of people still wanted to see us again for newer things. You just never really know why it isn’t selling now. It's sort of funny, because I thought getting on the producer side would eliminate some of those issues you have as a screenwriter, that you just never know why they said no. Or they don't come back to you when you email them or pitch them. It doesn't change for producers. You still don’t know, but you feel like you get so much further. I mean, you're in the room. You're pitching and they get to see you face to face—and you can still come up empty. Just going, “Well, that was such a great meeting.”


GEOFFREY

Yeah, you kind of get ghosted, don't you?


ANN

Yeah, so it happens all along the path to success. So, take heart in that. We did. We just felt like we were getting in the right rooms and all the people that we met with, we could go back to with new stuff. So, at the end of the year, it made us focus on gaining life rights to projects that we thought were really cinematic. And that comes with a whole other kind of pitching, which is trying to convince someone to trust you with their life story. So, there's a lot of pitfalls to that. We could do a whole show on that.


GEOFFREY

Oh, yeah, I just came off a gig where I ended up doing a life story of somebody. Their life is literally in your hands, as a writer, and it is a whole lot of pressure. And you want to do them justice. So yeah, I could imagine that's a whole different thing.


ANN

It’s hard to secure the life rights. People don't understand that most of those projects start out and remain low budget. So you can’t offer someone $1,000,000 for their life rights, or even a $100,000, because then you could never set it up anywhere. So, that's one of the problems we've run into. We found some great stories, so what we ended up doing was we actually got hooked up with our managers to a lady to start at Ground Zero with her and write her memoir. So, we wrote a book proposal for her, and that's actually out now to publishers. We're trying to set it up. She has an amazing story, which I don't need to go into, but what was great for us is that we, at least, found a way to attach ourselves to the project, as writers, at the beginning when it was a book. And that gives us a different kind of project. We're all part of it. We're all a team now and that, I think, is a great way to approach life rights when someone doesn't really want to lose control.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, you can start as a book and then you can build it out from there into a feature or television show, or whatever. Expand it. Yeah, that's a really good business model.

Well, we're getting some questions coming in on the Facebook group, so if you don't mind. Caroline Bucholtz wants to know—and this sounds difficult, so good luck with this one. Can you breakdown pitching to its simplest form?


ANN

OK, now I'm going to assume that most people that come to you have already gotten great advice about how to pitch. So, I would like all screenwriters to look at it from the point-of-view of a producer. If you look at it that way—because I used to be like that. I used to be that screenwriter. You had to have the exact perfect logline, and you had to have the perfect paragraph and one-sheet that pitched your whole outline. You had to have all that, and I always fretted over what part I would share or what should be in the email. What should I say in person? And producers don't think like that. They don't care, so don't worry about doing it wrong. There are two main things that producers look at—maybe there's three—but one is that they want to know that you have a good story. So the pitch needs to be non-confusing. It needs to be simple to understand.


GEOFFREY

Simple to understand.


ANN

Yes, because that's one thing I've noticed when I've received pitches, either in person or through email. It’s that they are very confusing. You're trying to throw all this information into one thing. So, I made one up to share today. Here it is: A sexy elephant trainer loses a bet and enters the Olympics. I mean, that’s confusing and you can't grasp anything in that pitch. So, a better pitch, not for that idea, because that idea is ridiculous. A better one—see if you know this movie—I've got a comedy, it’s about a lawyer who can't lie for 24 hours.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, that's great.


ANN

That's “Liar, Liar.”


GEOFFREY

Yes, of course.


ANN

But that's really clear. I know exactly what it's gonna be. And it sounds funny. And I can grasp it. So, as a producer, that’s the best thing, especially if you're pitching in person. If you start with a short pitch, like that, and then you stop talking and you let them respond. You let them hear it, and take it in, and go, “Oh, that's cool.” And let them ask you a question.


GEOFFREY

I think that's great. Keeping it simple is really important. I know a lot of times, with writers, they can't keep it simple because their concept isn't simple. That tells you right there that the writing can be affected by it, even.


ANN

But most stories aren't simple, because there are plots and subplots, and you don't necessarily know what to say. So, you do have to know, for writers, that you don't have to tell the whole story in one long sentences, like we’re usually taught with loglines. When you pitch, you don't have to do that. Don’t get me wrong. You need a logline. Those are tools, and they aren't useful when you're pitching because they can confuse people way too easily. So, number one is— Don't confuse. You want to entice them more. Like, I've got a comedy and this is what it's about. And they'll be like, “Oh, okay.”


GEOFFREY

So, you are telling listeners to pitch their logline, but to pitch the story itself in a simple way, but in a way that makes the listener—the producer—want to know more.


ANN

Want to know more. Want to ask you questions. Of course, that’s obviously when you're face-to-face, but even in a written format, I would still say to start with a first paragraph that is simple. This is the kind of movie I have, and this is what it's about. In it's purest form.


GEOFFREY

So, some of the pitching tips I've always heard—and I've always wondered if this actually helps or not—but they'll say before you pitch the project, pitch what inspired the project. How do you feel about that?


ANN

That's not wrong. That’s interesting, and any producer would like that because you could basically say, well, I'm a fireman and I lived this story. I'd be like, “Yeah, that's great.” That’s very authentic. I know I'm gonna get an authentic story. Whatever that connection is, that's a great opening line—whether in person or in writing.


GEOFFREY

If it's more of a personal story, it works, but unless you're a serial killer pitching a thriller, it's probably not gonna work so much.


ANN

Yeah. (Laughs.) That’s probably not gonna work so well. There are many angles in, but remember it's like a conversation. If you remember it's like a conversation, and that you never want it to be one-sided or like you're throwing up all this information. You do need to know your story, though, because you need to be able—and comfortable—to answer questions about it without then getting confusing. You know, it's almost like you need little tidbits. You need little tidbits of facts that are really interesting about your story, because you don't want to say too much. You want to say just enough so they read your script. That’s the goal. Get the script request.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, short but powerful bursts and after you get it out there, it becomes more of an active listening exercise where you get questions from them and then you answer them, but you don't get too long and drawn out about it.


ANN

Right, 'cause the other thing that a producer is looking for is someone they can work with. And so if you come across desperate, or that you can't tell them something simply, they'll be like, “I don't know if I can work with them." I mean, are they gonna go nuts on me and disappear. That's a huge producer fear. They find a story they like, and a writer that sort of shows up on their doorstep, but then they're gone. And they’re like, oh, what happened?


GEOFFREY

Well, that’s a big thing and very insightful. So, when you're pitching, you’re pitching more than your work. You're pitching yourself as a writer and who you are. I love that. That's such a great tip.


ANN

I would say you're pitching more yourself, than your story.


GEOFFREY

Oh, look at that.


ANN

I would. Because most producers are going to have to work with you on your story. I mean, I've tried to option scripts, that when we started to option them, the writer went nuts over just a standard contract. And it fell apart, 'cause I'm like, if they're doing this on a standard contract, how are they going to be when we want to rewrite parts of the script? It's just not gonna work.


GEOFFREY

So yeah, that's a good point. I mean, that says a lot about a writer. We have to be flexible. We have to be able to change the story. Everybody’s, eventually, going to want their voice in it, one way or another. And if we're too married to this thing, if this thing is too much of our baby and we won't change it, then you’re not going to sell it. It's not going to get made.


ANN

Everybody's going to want to give you notes. Everybody. It’s endless. The farther you go in the project, the more notes you'll get, because once they put on a director, the director will want notes. And they might be a director/writer, so that's even worse.

GEOFFREY

You’re telling me!


ANN

And then every actor wants to give you notes and will. If you can't take the producer—the producer’s going to be the nicest person to give you notes. The other thing, too, by-the-way, that the producer is looking for is the cost of your idea. So, I know in Caroline's question, she was also asking about how you know who to pitch to. One of the things is to know what that person, or that group or production company, what they make. Does your script fit what they're making? And not just in genre, but in budget.


GEOFFREY

OK. That's great.


ANN

Obviously you never quite know what people are doing, but what they have done is a good indication of what they are looking for.


GEOFFREY

It's tricky though, because sometimes they get stuck in their own budget but then sometimes they want to change, and they want to do something else.


ANN

You may never know.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, you can be pitching to a producer that just makes dramas and then they just decide, oh I'm going to do comedy now. You're like, but I was pitching you this drama.


ANN

That's why you have more than one idea. But beyond that, remember that most producers are going to probably want to hire you to write their idea. Obviously, people have scripts that are optioned and they get made, but for many more screenwriters whatever you are pitching is just a writing sample.


GEOFFREY

There you go, folks. I mean straight out of the mouth of a producer. I've been saying this for years now, that your script you're trying to get out there is your calling card. It is your resume and here we have for producer who’s taken scripts and had work get made and been sent out in international distribution deals, is telling you right here, that your script is great, but you're probably just gonna get hired to write what they want. And I think that is wonderful. Thank you so much for that! We have some more questions here, if you're still game, OK? Let's see, Malcolm Taylor asks what common questions should we expect to be asked in a pitch meeting? I'm assuming he's asking like follow up questions, after you've done the pitch.


ANN

They'll probably ask you some questions about you know your story. Whatever you first told them. If anything is confusing or just for more clarity, so you need to know your story and how to simply tell it, and fill in the blanks. Once again, you do know your story and it's a conversation. So, you're just in conversation mode talking like you and I are talking right now. So, it's nothing to stress over. I mean, you will have those people that are like well, “Who would you cast in the lead role?” I have to tell you that I probably don't think that producer is really legit, or they aren't going to take your script, because they are not gonna ask you—


GEOFFREY

—a real producer is not going to ask you that. I mean, it’s funny that you say that because that literally rolls into the very next question we have, which is from Rebecca McAuliffe, who asked, is there a way to determine who's the real deal or no. And so there you go. If they start fantasy casting on you, then that's good to know.


ANN

I mean, the thing is…if you have optioned a script with someone, they might say give me a list of who you see in this, because we're going to go out to people. That's different. In a pitching session, they don't need your advice about how to cast. They don't need your advice of what the budget is. They don't need any of that advice. They just need to know they can work with you. I'm not gonna say across the board that that's the sign, but to me, that's like the stock question they ask when they have already decided no.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, I think that's a good point. I also think you do your research. I pitch somebody, I learn about them. I Google ‘em. Not in a weird way. (LAUGHS.) I want to know what they're doing.


ANN

Yes, you should slightly stalk them. (LAUGHS.)


GEOFFREY

I want to know what they've made, you know?


ANN

You should ask them questions, too. I would say that's a great thing to have to say, hey, I love this movie you did. You worked with so and so. How were they?


GEOFFREY

Absolutely, and you create that kind of relationship and it becomes more of a conversation. Absolutely, yes. Very good. Let’s see, we have one more question. When pitching, do you, as the writer, go in knowing the format of your script, movie versus series, or would you let them decide on both? So I think he's trying to decide—because I have some writers, some clients that come in and they have an open concept and they're not sure how to figure if it should be a feature or a television show. And I would go in personally pitching what I want it to be, and I wouldn't pitch something I haven't written already anyway. Pitching just a concept is dangerous. I'm not going to say I haven't done it, but…


ANN

(LAUGHS.) Me, too. But I knew what it was. I knew if it was a movie. I don't think you would ever come across a situation where you would do that to a producer, and say, what do you want it to be? Because they kinda specialize. I mean, for us as producers, it's not that we aren't going to go out with a TV project, sure, but we have set projects. And even though an idea can be both, you need to go in and say this is what it is and you need to have a script. Maybe with a manager. Your own personal manager. You could do stuff like that, but otherwise I don’t think so.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, you can suss it out together, definitely with the manager 'cause they're gonna tell you where they want it to go anyway. But with the producer, you definitely need to already have a direction and a vision for it. And then down the line, after they option it and they decide, you know, this should really be a series, then be open to it. Don't argue.


ANN

Yes! There you go. I totally agree. Now, I have to say my producing partner feels differently about this. We’ve had this discussion. So, if you have a writing partner like that, 'cause I know a lot of people do write with partners. If you go pitch together, you need to have a little discussion with each other about what you're going to say and offer and be flexible about. Because, he comes at it more from the producing side, where I come at it more from the screenwriting side, right? Where as a screenwriter you're like, “Sure, I can make it anything.” But as a producer, no. He doesn't like that.


GEOFFREY

OK, that's good to know.


ANN

Yeah, he doesn't like to waffle. He doesn't like us to say, yeah we can do anything. Because that's not how producers think. So you know, I try to take a cue from him that if we go in, this is what we're pitching. This is the story, buy this. No, we don't want to go into development hell with you and never actually get a contract, as we continue to change stuff for you.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, and I think that's something that writers don't realize is they've written the script and and I think sometimes newer writers think, “Just buy it. Can't you just buy it and make it?” And they don't realize this is a whole business. I mean, we have to meet a demographic. We have to make sure the story is right. We have to make sure the character is right for the casting. I mean, that's not even getting into budget concerns, so there's so much rewriting and rewriting and reworking and redeveloping that goes through into a project that on your end it is just so much work that a writer isn't even aware of.


ANN

If they aren't calling you, it's not because they're sitting there doing nothing, but they're waiting. They're sitting there actually waiting for someone to get back to them. But then one thing is, there are different kind of producers, and I don't know if you've ever spoken about that to your community? My partner and I are creative producers, so we don't have funding. I mean, I'd love to get to that point in our life. But then there are people that have funding, which means they've got money that they can actually option a script right away. We have to take on a project and then take it to those people which that happens a lot. There's a lot of producers like that. In some ways they are middle men but we go on to the project and produce it with this new entity that has the money.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, partnerships.


ANN

Yeah, but it's important to know who you're pitching to and what they can do. What they have done. Have some sense of the contact, so you know that you're not wasting your time with people that can't do anything.


GEOFFREY

I think that's a really good point, and I think that comes down to research, as well, because anybody can call themselves a producer. You know, I can call myself a producer. Technically, I've done it. But does that mean that I'm a producer? I'm an Ann Kimbrough? No. Not at all. I don't have a fancy award though.


ANN

You don't, you don't, but this is not a producing reward. This is a mentor award that's gorgeous. And it's heavy, guys. This is so heavy. (ANN HOLDS UP THE MENTORSHIP AWARD SCRIPT SUMMIT GAVE HER.)


GEOFFREY

I love it. She always has it on her just so you know.


ANN

Yeah, I carry around. I've got like this little thing like for a baby. (LAUGHS.)


GEOFFREY

That is her Script Summit Mentor Award, and we're really honored to actually have her.


ANN

I’m honored.


GEOFFREY

So, is there anything else you want to you want to discuss before we talk about what you're doing right now?


ANN

Those are my big things. Remember that pitching is a conversation. There is no one answer of this is how you should pitch. People will give you many answers, but I still feel like it’s about starting the conversation, you know. I've had people that pitch to me, because our company is Media Distribution Partners. So, we're out there and people pitch us. They send us emails all the time, and we try to respond to all of them. But right now, we're not actually trying to actively option any scripts.


GEOFFREY

Well, I mean right now with the business, it’s stalled.


ANN

Yeah, but even before that, we were sort of full up with the projects we were trying to set up. So, you just can't consider other projects or give it the proper amount of time, yeah?


GEOFFREY

But you have a lot of overhead.


ANN

I've had a lot of people, recently, well I’ve had this one guy that just keeps emailing me. So, he emailed me a very long email of pitching me stuff and I wrote him back and said, you know, we're not available right now, yeah? Not taking anything on. Thank you and get back in touch with us in six months, kind of deal, and he emailed me twice last week with new ideas.


GEOFFREY

I mean that's nice of you to even respond and tell him that you're full. I mean, I usually just kind of get ghosted.


ANN

As a screenwriter, I feel it’s my duty to respond.


GEOFFREY

You’re such a good person.


ANN

I'm sure I'll hit a point where I don't. I'm the only one that responds from my company. But that’s my job. But if someone does respond to you, follow what they say. Most producers, you won't even hear from them unless they are interested. It's like making a new friend. You want them to go, “Hey, they're pretty cool.” And you can follow up in like 6 months, even if you haven't heard from him. That's normal. I mean, I don't mind normal.


GEOFFREY

Like a 6 months type of thing? Okay. That’s good to know.


ANN

Yay. I mean, if you’ve sent something it can feel like forever. But, you're hopefully contacting more than one producer about your stuff.


GEOFFREY

Do you feel that you should do like a shotgun approach with pitching? Or do you feel it should be more of a targeted approach?


ANN

I've always done targeted, but I wouldn't say don't. But if you're sending it out to people that you don't know if that's even something they’re purchasing, or if they’re purchasing. I mean, it just kind of setting yourself up to be sad.


GEOFFREY

I mean, I get pitches from people and I don’t even have a production company. I get pitches from around the world.


ANN

Then that’s a waste of their time. Every time you send out a pitch, you're hoping to hear something back, so to me, that's like am I putting myself up for something that I'm never gonna get anything back from? If you did just a little research, you'd know that you’d never get anything back.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, I've gotten pitches from big people, too, like the number one karate champion in Russia. Sends me his stuff and I'm like dude, I can't make movies in Russia. You know people over there. You get it made.


ANN

See that guy’s got a great thing: “I'm the number one karate guy in Russia.”


GEOFFREY

That's the only thing I remember.


ANN

I would read the rest of that email. I mean, like what I'm saying is, if he pitched it to the right people making those movies—like I don't make karate movies, so I wouldn't be the right person. But I would be the right person in the sense of that's a great turn story. Everyone likes true stories right now. That's always a good genre.


GEOFFREY

I can hook you up with him.


ANN

Thanks a lot, you're such a friend! (LAUGHS.)


GEOFFREY

I'm so helpful. Well, what are you doing lately? What's going on? I heard you have a pretty awesome audio drama, right?


ANN

Yes, so this is just something I'm doing on my own. I wanted to have something more to show for my personal writing, at the end of the day, because I felt like my partner and I put a lot of effort into last year with our projects, and like I said, that's a long haul. That's a long forward kind of project. To get a movie set up takes years. And I feel like last year we were building relationships, and it's just a matter of bringing the right project to several people that we really want to work with, and the opportunity is there. But, at the end of the year, I looked back and go, “Well, what did I create?” You know? And so, at the end of this year, I want to be able to say, “Oh hey, I created something.” So, I finally turned to podcasting. Because it's something I've been telling people forever that there's a thing called fiction podcasts or audio dramas. And they're basically like radio shows. But podcasting is huge.


GEOFFREY

They are! It is harking back to the old times of our grandparents. And here we're all acting like it’s this brand-new thing, and I'm like, “Guys.”


ANN

Well, I think we're approaching it differently, and most podcasts are nonfiction. They’re news stories, or about true crimes or funny. So, the audio dramas are a smaller segment, but they're very popular and there have been two huge success stories that I know of— “Homecoming” and “Lore.” Both have been made, like Homecoming’s on, you know, Julia Roberts on Amazon, that was started as a podcast.


GEOFFREY

That's a good one, so it's a good way to get your foot in the door.


ANN

And there's different kinds of audio dramas. I recently went to Podfest2020 in Orlando, before the world changed.


GEOFFREY

Pre-everything.


ANN

At the beginning of March. Yeah, if it had happened a week later, I probably would have had to cancel everything. But like back when we thought we were still OK. And I've been back and basically in quarantine since then, so I'm OK. I survived a convention. I learned a lot and it was really great. And podcaster are very friendly and helpful. I got a lot of good advice about how to do stuff, so I actually was very encouraged to do my first podcast. Like I said, there's two kind of audio dramas. One is like you're reading it. It's more like, at least I call it, an enhanced audiobook.


GEOFFREY

More of a narrative.


ANN

An audio book on steroids kind of thing. We have sound effects and music, so that's what my first one was. I decided I would try that. The other version is like a voice theater.


GEOFFREY

Oh yeah, that's cool.


ANN

I’m working on a new one like that, too.


GEOFFREY

What are they called and where can we find them?


ANN

Well, you can go to podranger.com. That’s my website where I post all the links to any show I will ever create. But, the first one is basically a YA fantasy, so kind of more for the girls. It’s called “Lyric: a Mother of a Faery Tale.”


GEOFFREY

All right, cool.


ANN

And I only have one episode up, but I'm working on the second. So that’s basically the version where I'm reading you a story and doing invoices.


GEOFFREY

It's fantasy-like, obviously, fairies and elves.


ANN

No, it's actually not fairies, it has more magic. It's magical based and it's about a college student that learns she has this magical family legacy.


GEOFFREY

Oh, that's cool. Did you guys see how she was pitching it to me? And the world comes full circle.


ANN

See all these screenwriter skills are so useful for many, many things. But I do feel like audio dramas crossover. I'm writing scripts that are very much like television scripts.


GEOFFREY

We'll have to chat, some other time, offline about what the format would be for that 'cause I'm always intrigued by new formats. I mean, there's like Youtube's writing, you know that's a whole different format, so it's all crazy. Well, we'll put those links up on the Facebook group.


ANN

Thank you. They are free. Everything I'm doing with podcasting is free. Most podcasts are free. Take a listen.


GEOFFREY

That's awesome. Yeah, absolutely, we're going to definitely check it out and love having you on.


ANN

I’m sorry it didn't work on Facebook, but we found a way around it.


GEOFFREY

Yeah, that's what a screenwriter does. We don't panic or freak out. We say ok, how do we make this work? Perfect.


ANN

Thank you! Thanks for all you do. I appreciate you, man.


GEOFFREY

Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.


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