Tuesday is quickly becoming one of my favorite days of the workweek. Why? First, I'm through my Monday hangover and the week is fresh enough that I can still harbor delusions of getting something done by Friday. Secondly, it's "Sharktank Tuesday"! I admit that I was a bit later convert to the "Sharktank" fan wagon. My friends were telling me to watch it, but I was like, "What do I care about other people going in to beg for money?" Oh, the error of my ways. "Sharktank" is not about asking for money, it's about how you ask for that money. Something that we are basically doing at pitchfests. (I know it's more than that, but for simplicity... it always comes down to money). I'm not going to pretend to be the first to write an article on this subject but with my background in law enforcement I have a slightly different view of how it all goes down. Many good points have been made about how the show teaches you to find your hook and quickly grab someone's attention. My points are more about what is left unsaid.
- Silence is Golden: When I was a union rep, I had the unpleasant experience of having to sit in as an adviser in some Internal Affairs "interviews". My number one piece of advice was, "Answer the questions, answer truthfully and then shut your mouth. (There may have been a word between "your" and "mouth", but this is a family blog). One of the big tricks of those interviews was awkward silence. Human nature wants to fill in those gaps, especially when you are nervous and trying to state your case. It is in those moments that people say something stupid and torpedo themselves. We called it diarrhea of the mouth. Too many times I have watched the show and just wanted to yell at the TV, "Shut your mouth. Stop talking! You're going to ruin it." Saw it last night. The Shark was trying to point out what he needed improved before he made the offer you knew was coming. The "asker" (what the heck do you call them? Contestants?) started arguing and the Shark said, "I was going to make an offer, but now I'm out!" In three seconds he killed his entire presentation. If an exec is thinking over whether to ask for your script, keep your mouth shut. If they do request it, thank them and then get up and leave the table. Ignore that impulse to say something funny or witty. Ignore it!
- Know Your Worth: You're probably thinking I mean not to sell yourself short, but you'd be wrong. Last night I watched a man completely destroy his business for no other reason than ego and sentimentality. He had a novelty idea, its market was limited but it was there with the right help. He admitted that he was not going to put any more money into and the Sharks were his last chance. One, and only one, Shark made an offer... but it was for 80% of his business and the Shark would run it. The man immediately said no because, "This was his baby and there was no way he would ever give up control." The Shark pulled his offer. Let's do some quick math. A multi, multi, multi millionaire with a built in distribution network was offering to take over his product and take it wide. All he would have to do is sit back and collect a check for 20% of the profits and he didn't have to do anything. Instead he walked and he now owns 100% of nothing. How many times have you seen a screenwriter torpedo their chances because the script was their passion and they had to control it? Sometimes less is better.
- Know the Market: Here's a game for you. Watch an episode and count how many times a Shark says they like the business idea but they're out because they just don't have any experience in that market and wouldn't be able to add anything. Your lesson? Know your script's market and don't waste your time with execs who don't have experience in that market. We write action movies. I can sit down with an exec who specializes in family films and we could have a great time. We could laugh, joke, maybe even make plans to go out to bar later, but they're eventually going to look at me and say, "That sounds like an exciting idea, but we don't make action movies." Aaaaaaannnnnnd, I just wasted one of my sessions.
- Know What You're Selling: That's easy, right? You're selling a screenplay. Yes and a whole lot of no. There have been a lot of instances where the Shark isn't quite sold on the numbers or the market and they're wavering. What puts them over the top? They like the person. They feel like they could work with them and want to give them a chance. The flip side, there are also times where they like the product, like the numbers and like the market, but they bow out because they don't like the person. An exec could love your script, but they are committing to work with you over a several month, if not years, process. If they think you are going to be a complete pain in the behind, you're done. If they're on the fence but really like you and really get along with you... they'll try to find a way.
Remember, money does not change hands at a pitchfest. Sales are not made at a pitchfest. You are there to build the foundation of a relationship that will hopefully lead to those sales or manager signings. So remember what you are really selling... yourself.