My path into animation was not a clear one. I went from film school, to volunteer PA on sets, to writing/producing live-action feature films, to being in vfx production at Warner Bros, and vfx service at MPC. Working at Bardel has been a natural extension of developing/pitching my own animated projects and it made sense for me to gain a better understanding of how animation studios work by actually working at one. That said, everyone’s path is different. What remains consistent, however, is the importance of knowing how to pitch yourself to that potential employer or partner.
Trying to find the perfect words to open a pitch is a lot like trying to find that perfect image to represent your portfolio or project. Ideally, it’s a simple representation of what you’re offering that sets a clear tone of what your audience can expect. It’s an attention grabber. The risk you take, however, by gaining your audience’s attention is that you have to sustain it while presenting the rest of your work. Ultimately, you’ll need to make an impression that leaves them wanting more. It’s hard work, but along the way I’ve learned a few tricks I wanted to share.
Know your audience.
Research, research, research. Knowing your audience means not just understanding who they are and what they are looking for, but also knowing how they prefer to be approached. This means researching as much as you can about them and finding some specific common ground. If you’ve decided to apply at Bardel, for example, you’d want to learn about the types of projects we do, the types of positions we offer, and how you see yourself fitting into the picture. Once you’ve done this, you’d be in a great position to approach us with your interest. Whether you’re pitching yourself for a job, or pitching a project for partners, the more you know about who you’re pitching to, the easier it is to pitch yourself as someone they should get to know.
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Use attention wisely.
It’s surprisingly easy to get someone’s attention. I’ve found that you can generally get anyone’s attention for about 20-30 seconds, at least once (I had Oliver Stone’s undivided attention until he realized I wasn’t an FBI agent). Having someone’s attention can be a valuable opportunity, and increases in value depending on how important you’ve decided having their attention is to you. Leveraging this opportunity effectively requires a lot of preparation and practice. It’s called, perfecting your “elevator pitch”, and it’s the most important thing you can practice. In fact, being ready to have someone’s attention is more important than gaining their attention. In many high value opportunities, like pitching an animated series to a Disney development executive, you will likely only have one shot to pitch them, so it should be the best pitch you can do. It should be pitch perfect. If you use this opportunity by wasting their time, it will be far more difficult to gain their attention a second time. As a rule of thumb, it’s always better to say/show less, and let them ask for more. You never know when an opportunity will present itself, so always be prepared to pitch. But just as important is knowing when you’re not ready to pitch. Save that opportunity, if you can. You’ll make a better impression and thank yourself you did.
Learn, don’t linger.
Working in the entertainment industry, you’re constantly “putting yourself out there”. It’s industry known that there are one hundred no’s for every yes, and it’s not really uncommon to become discouraged in your pursuits. This isn’t to say you should let yourself be discouraged. Pitching yourself is only part of the equation involved in landing that job, selling that script, or partnering for your project. The rest of the equation is often out of your control. These are things like timing of finances (can they afford you), suitability (is someone else better suited), and redundancy (they already have something/someone like you). These are things you can’t do anything about, so don’t linger on them. Instead, learn what you can from the process and keep pitching.
Always follow up.
Congratulations, you’ve convinced a potential partner, employer, or the powers that be to take a better look at your resume, portfolio, or pitch materials. Now you just wait for them to call you and request more, right? Nope! It’s up to you to follow up. For job applications, that means following up with human resources a few weeks after submitting yourself. For pitching a project to a potential partner (financial, broadcast, distribution, or otherwise) that means asking them how they can be reached, and when they’d like you to follow up with them. An easy way to do this is to write this information on their card and keep it on file.
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The most important part of pitching yourself is you. You could have the most impressive resume, pitch bible, or series teaser ever created, but at the end of the day, it’s you that someone is investing in. No matter how it goes, always thank someone for their time. It’s the professional thing to do, and you never know when they’ll call you back asking for another pitch. Besides, some of the best opportunities come from Karma.
David is currently the technology coordinator at Bardel Entertainment and divides his time between working at Bardel and developing/pitching his own animated IPs at various markets around the world. You can follow him on Twitter @an9me.
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