View Full Version : Hypothetically: Would you rather be the first writer to give a pitch?

10-25-2012, 11:49 AM
The last? Or somewhere in the middle?

For some project...

emily blake
10-25-2012, 12:29 PM
I want to be the writer who gets the job.

10-25-2012, 12:51 PM
It depends on how good your pitch is, but obviously, if you're pitching, you think it's good. It really shouldn't matter, but if I had the choice, I'd rather pitch closer to the end. By then, they have more pitches to compare yours to, and it won't be as likely to run together in the back of their memory with all of the other pitches they already heard. If your pitch is really good, it will stand out, be a sudden relief from the monotony, and stay fresh in their minds afterwards. If it's bad, it really doesn't matter which order you pitch in, but I guess in that case, it's better to go first, get it over with, and go have a stiff drink to cry into. :p

10-25-2012, 01:39 PM
I am a firm believer in having either the first word or the last word.

If you're really strong on substance, first is best.

If you're really strong on style, then last is best.

If you're really strong on both - it probably doesn't matter.

If you're not very good with either - speak loud and sound sure of yourself.

10-25-2012, 01:51 PM
I don't see how it would matter. You either have the best pitch or not.

10-25-2012, 03:55 PM
Sometimes you can get a situation where they'll hear your pitch, and if they like it they won't take anyone else's pitch.

Obviously, this is a great situation to be in, because you're not competing against anyone else, really. You have a chance to be an only pitch.

But overall, look, you get to pitch when you get to pitch. Be ready.

10-25-2012, 08:54 PM
I love Emily's answer :)

I always ask my agent some obvious questions that I think are super important:

1) How many people are up for it.
2) How much money are they paying.
3) Is the company a WGA signatory.

and perhaps THE most important one... at least for me...

4) How long have they been working on this project- are there previous drafts, takes, etc.

If there are a boatload of writers up for it, or if the project is a very popular one, I am pretty sure I won't get it. They'll probably hire some A-lister who did 1/5 of the work I did, but has a track-record.

I know that might sound cynical, but it's true. I've been burned SO badly in the past, that now I choose to focus on spec writing and smaller, independently financed projects that pay the bills (and don't come with herds of competing writers).

In answer to the question: it depends on how much research is involved. I would not pitch on something research-heavy if I knew that the producers have gone out to 5 other writers many months ahead of me. That happened and I felt like I was cramming for a final. The other writers had a huge head start.

I would go early. And then establish a very positive e-mail relationship, CCing your agent, with the producers.

Don't fall into the trap of re-writing the take. But do offer ideas and new leads along the way. Keep it fresh, so to speak. "I had an idea..."


Mac H.
10-25-2012, 09:36 PM
I don't see how it would matter. You either have the best pitch or not.It would be marvellous if that was true ... but it certainly isn't true in many studies.

One famous study is into which prisoners get paroled. Now that is very analytical - weighing up their record in prison, their support network on the outside, their crimes, victim impact statements, etc.

So you'd argue that whether their parole hearing was first or last in the day would make no difference - right?

Nope - there's a massive effect:

We record the judges’ two daily food breaks, which result in segmenting the deliberations of the day into three distinct “decision sessions.”

We find that the percentage of favorable rulings drops gradually from ≈65% to nearly zero within each decision session and returns abruptly to ≈65% after a break. Our findings suggest that judicial rulings can be swayed by extraneous variables that should have no bearing on legal decisions.


Every single judge in the sample followed this pattern.

Here's the study: http://www.pnas.org/content/108/17/6889

Yes - they did correct for type of crime, etc - whether you were first or last made a massive difference.


10-26-2012, 12:39 AM

I find that extremely interesting and would love to read more about that study, but I don't see the correlation to screenwriting. Is there a study that supports the same findings re: pitches?

Mac H.
10-26-2012, 03:26 AM
I'll see if I can hunt one up .. but you really don't see the correlation?

Both examples have people who are 100% professional and believe they are absolutely only judging the question in front of them on its merits.

It was also interesting that those involved in the decisions (including lawyers representing) weren't aware of the effect at all - which is consistent with your belief that it isn't a factor. (Yes - I can use your disbelief in it as evidence it exists! Only slightly tongue-in-cheek)

(PS: More details here: http://www.pnas.org/content/suppl/2011/03/30/1018033108.DCSupplemental/pnas.201018033SI.pdf . There's a very impressive looking graph on Page 3 ... rather sad for those of us who believe that we are all logical when making judgements.

They've also reanalysed the data & reinterviewed personnel involved with the decisions to ensure that other factors couldn't explain their findings: http://www.pnas.org/content/108/42/E834.full.pdf+html?sid=a7f4e274-1fbd-4176-b4c7-d0d42d74d3d4 )

10-26-2012, 03:38 AM
But overall, look, you get to pitch when you get to pitch. Be ready.

This is probably the case as I am not sure how many of us can control when we pitch.

That said, if there is some way to control it all I can say from my little corner of the world, having interviewed/hired a number of people and having argued several cases to judges and juries (including those with multiple litigants), whomever has the first or last word does have a distinct advantage as the theory of primacy and recency at least seems to have borne out.

I don't pretend to be an expert as to any of this, and I certainly don't mean to sound like one, but this has been my experience and I think it's at least worth considering.

ps In arguing (rarely, of course) with my wife i have also found that order does not matter one bit. My pitch is rarely if ever the one that is accepted.

Mac H.
10-26-2012, 04:34 AM
I've just done a bit of poking around to find related studies for pitches.

Basically the model is 'decision fatigue' - so that exhaustion, being tired etc gives us the tendency to take the 'default' option in a decision.

So, in the case of parole, the 'default option' was to deny parole.

What is the 'default option' in a pitch? To buy or reject?

Some researchers call it 'depletion-induced mindlessness'.

There are also studies that show that those who are fatigued are less patient when given a task. This would seem to indicate that, when listening to pitches, they'd be less tolerant to small 'bumps'. Yes - if the pitch is perfect they'd probably still be impressed but they'd be less tolerant of any small imperfections.

The good news is that you can use the fact that they have 'depletion-induced mindlessness' to manipulate the outcome.

In the study Resource Depletion And Consumer Compliance (http://www.carlsonschool.umn.edu/assets/123555.pdf) researchers found that "depletion appears to increase susceptibility to influence attempts only when the influence attempt contains the lure of a suitable heuristic that can function as the basis for decision making".

In other words, since the listener's decision making system isn't working as well when they are fatigued, you can use 'tricks' to trigger an automatic response. For example - they are more susceptible to techniques like compliments, doing them a favour first (which triggers the 'reciprocitiy' response) and a desire for consistency.

This graph is from Experiment 4 (tricking them into the result you want using reciprocity) - but the results are similar to Experiment 5 (tricking them into the result you want using a compliment):


So you can use a trick to manipulate them - that's good for a pitch .. right?

Unfortunately it seem that these manipulations only work when there is a low 'cost of compliance' - so it works well if you are trying to get them to agree to volunteer to help out some time in the next week ... but lousily if you are trying to get them to volunteer to help at 5:30am on Saturday.

Conclusion: When the 'cost of compliance' is high, your best option is to have the listener fresh and not tired.

It's a fascinating area.

(PS: I'm too lazy to look up the actual paper, but this link (http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2010/02/01/2806813.htm) talks about a study that finds high glucose levels means that your decision-making is weighted towards a larger, future reward.)

10-26-2012, 01:42 PM
I've found that on the occasions when I'm first in, I'm the front runner and it's my job to lose. I was the exec's top choice before they ever came to me because my sample and quote lined up with how the execs saw the project tonally and what they had to spend. I also believe that execs usually have in mind who they want to hire when they start the process of hearing takes.

I've also found that when I'm last in and there's been a ton of people who have already pitched - the execs don't know what they want and there's a chance that job is never going to be filled.

So with that being said, I'd much prefer to be the first writer in.