I’ll say it again. The art of the schmooze is bullsh*t. In short, schmoozing is a way of easing someone into a pitch who hates making decisions. Schmoozing is something people who need resources do to people who have them.
That’s why it doesn’t work.
My credentials on this subject are pretty straight-forward. I financed independent movies with private investment capital for ten years, and I’ve personally raised millions of dollars. In addition, I’ve closed deals with Academy Award-winning talent. I’ve secured distribution for independent films before they’re shot. I’ve pitched A LOT, and I say with authority that schmoozing is the number one reason normal folks think Hollywood is untrustworthy.
What schmoozers don’t realize is that folks who have resources usually get them by making decisions. Successful people are generally very comfortable with the decision-making process. On the other hand, folks without resources tend to be more inexperienced. Odds are, it’s the person pitching who needs hand-holding.
Don’t ask your potential partners to entertain your discomfort or inexperience with the process of doing business. Do not schmooze them, or warm yourself up at the expense of their time. Instead, come prepared to make their decision as easy and simple as possible. In short, pitch them.
Check out (from Quantum Theory) America Young’s
Film Courage article
‘Every Short Film is Too Long‘
Strong, professional pitching is structured, concise, and tailored to the needs of whoever you’re talking to at the time. No two pitches will ever be the same, and at the same time every pitch has the same elements. There are steps one goes through when helping someone understand a decision, and those steps will never change:
1. TELL THEM YOUR INTENTIONS.
Introduce yourself, and tell the person you’re pitching what you are prepared to do for them. Do it quickly, do it concisely, and make it very clear why their time is well-spent with you. Include the part where they have to do something for you in return.
Don’t ask any questions just yet. Just tell them how you intend to use their time and resources. Until you do this, the person you’re pitching will be fixated on getting the answer to this very question – because no matter how good at schmoozing you are, they know you want something from them. Not knowing what it is will drive them crazy, and will make it impossible for them to hear anything you say until the issue is addressed. Along with making your own needs clear, make sure you tell them the simplest, best reason to give you what you came for. Give them a reason to continue the conversation. Realistically, you’ve got about thirty seconds to get past this part of the pitch. If you take any longer than that, you’re forcing them to ask what the hell your point is.
That may be a more comfortable way for you to broach the subject of what you need… but it’s not the best use of their time, and they know it!
Don’t be afraid to hear the word “no.” If you do, give them a quick second reason to keep the conversation going before you:
2. GET THEM TALKING.
Right away, start asking them what they know about your deal and what their impressions are. Be careful to avoid yes-or-no questions. Instead, ask them things that force them to consider the value of your project from their own, unique perspective.
If you’re looking for film financing, ask them what they think makes a movie successful. Ask them what aspects of your movie they think are the most advantageous, or what aspects of your deal mitigate the risks of film investing. Ask them how they think independent films find financial success, or what audiences might like about your project. Ask them why movies make money!
If you’re asking for a famous star, producer, or production person to join your filmmaking team, ask them how your film might benefit their career. Open-ended questions are your friend.
Get them talking, and get them talking about the deal. There are three things you accomplish by doing so. First, you get them engaged and open to dialogue. This is where the conversation starts, and you need them to commit to having one. Secondly, you’re finding out what’s important to them and how they relate to your proposal. That’s going to be crucial information for you. Third, you’re asking them to find the value of your project on their own. Rather than sit and listen to you blurt out ten canned reasons to get involved, they’re coming to those reasons organically and independently. You may even hear some you didn’t think of!
Only when they are completely and actively engaged are you ready to:
3. TELL THEM WHY IT WORKS.
Now that you know where they’re coming from, you can tell them how to get to where you’re going. Tell them about how your deal serves their interest – and every time you tell them about an aspect of your proposal, be sure to explain how it helps them get what they want.
This is where you need to keep your ego in check. It’s not important that this person sees the same value in your project that you do. What’s important is that they see how your deal serves their values and needs.
If you’re not sure what those are, you’re not done with step 2!
Keep your explanations concise, and ask questions to make sure the person you’re speaking with is on the same page. Ask them to explain their understanding of whatever it is you’re outlining, and ask them how they think it serves the endgame. Lastly:
4. TELL THEM WHAT TO DO.
Once they’re expressing an understanding of the gameplan, ask them if they can see how participating in your project can realistically get them whatever it is you’ve offered as compensation.
If they can’t, go back to the point in this process where they got stuck and work your way back here. If they can, then it’s time to tell them what to do. “Take out your checkbook.” “Sign here, and here, and here.” Shake hands, and welcome them to the team! I go into extensive detail about what gives you the authority to run around telling other people what to in my previous Film Courage post, which you can find here.
Whatever you do, don’t welcome them onboard before they’ve fulfilled their obligations. Put a ring on it before you start the honeymoon, kids.
Otherwise, you’re just schmoozing them.
If you’d like to ask questions, pose “what-if’s,” rebuke me with experience or hearsay, or just flirt from the safe distance of your personal computer, you can always find me here. To find out more about me, my ensemble, and my stories, we welcome you to our online community at 8sidedforum.com – and please, please support our upcoming feature, Quantum Theory. Quantum Theory is the story of two brilliant, goofy, passionate women of science who invent a technological means to alter and shape the very universe itself… until a defense contractor with unlimited resources steals it right out from under them. Their struggle to get it back will literally change the world. You can find out more at here and at Quantummovie.com.
Tennyson E. Stead is a writer, director, and producer of film and transmedia. In his childhood, he spent all his time building cardboard spaceships and rescuing his sister in them. These days he does basically the same thing.
For any production to realize its full creative and financial potential, every creative element must reflect the overall goals of the project. Every great collaborative work was produced by a team of talented people, united by a common intent.
8 Sided Films and the 8 Sided Forum represent our collective stewardship over the stories born from intent too multifaceted, specific, or unique for studio production, and our commitment to honoring that intent as the foundation for a more personal relationship with our audience.
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Check out Tennyson’s prior Film Courage articles