AFM 2011 Pitch Conference - Tips for Being "Good in a Room"

AFM at the Fairmont Hotel

Last week's American Film Market (AFM) in Santa Monica offered its ever-popular Pitch Conference on Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel.  Hundreds of writers, directors and producers got invaluable information on how to be "good in a room" and sell their projects.

Stephanie Palmer, who coaches those who want to deliver a knock-out pitch, moderated the session.  Palmer is a former studio executive and the author of a book called - what else - Good in a Room.  She gave attendees her best tips for being just that and cautioned the audience to remember the three C's.  "Be clear, concise and compelling."   One mistake novices make, she noted, was trying to cram everything into a short pitch.

AFM Pitch Conference Attendees

Palmer also advised attendees to think of pitching as part of the creative process that goes into developing a film project.  She noted that the best pitches she heard as a development executive were those given by people who thought about creating a pitch for their project right from the start.

            Palmer's list of "Dos" and "Don'ts":

DO -

  • Start with a genre so that the pitch has context.  "My pitch is a thriller . . .
  • Name as few characters as possible and include their relationship to the lead. "Our hero's brother is a loser he's constantly having to rescue..."
  • Be brief, then listen and answer questions succinctly.
  • Practice your pitch with people who will give you honest feedback.
  • Identify patterns of feedback.  What was the first question asked about the project?


  • Give a positive opinion of your work by saying things like "this is the most awesome story you'll hear this year."  Let the buyer be the judge.
  • Refuse to categorize your project as a "drama" or "thriller" or "comedy," etc.  The buyer needs to know how to think about the pitch.  If your pitch is a comedy and you're not funny, you've got more work to do.
  • Bring props or visual aids.
  • Mention who "might" be getting involved with your project.  Only list those who've got a legitimate stake in it and only if they add value to your idea.

Palmer then introduced the two panelists, Cassian Elwes and Tobin Armbrust, who would be receiving pitches from the audience and offering their assessment of how well the pitch was put together.   

Elwes is a former agent now producer who specializes in packaging films.  Recent projects include last year's "Blue Valentine" with Ryan Gosling and the just-released "Margin Call" with Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore.  Armbrust was a producer on "Firewall" with Harrison Ford and last year's vampire hit, "Let Me In."

Palmer did a random drawing of names and those chosen were invited to come onstage, present a three-minute pitch and receive a three-minute critique from herself, Elwes and Armbrust. 

A Couple of Dancing AFM Pitchers

Pitches ranged from a coming-of-age comedy set in the world of ballroom dancing to a "true" story involving the marriage of an alien to a human.

A standout was Nancy Isaak, who pitched "Glow Worms," her script inspired by a true story about three girls who build a nuclear reactor in their backyard with a goal of beating the boys at their hometown science fair. 

Nancy Isaak, A Successful AFM Pitcher


Isaak was the only pitcher to have her script requested by Elwes and Armbrust. Afterwards, she said the experience boosted her confidence as she returns to the business after a long hiatus.  Most recently, Isaak served as executive producer of "Symphoria" and more information about the film is at

In the end, Isaak and everyone else who attended the AFM Pitch Conference got valuable advice on how to increase their chances of buyers saying the magic words, "We're interested."

For more information about next year's conference, go to

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