Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dressing For Success

We're going to digress a bit from the pitch bibles themselves. It's time for a change of pace. Let's discuss how you present yourself during the pitch, shall we?

"Why?" you ask? You're a creative genius! You're there to present the most fabulous idea that broadcaster or production company has ever seen. Right? Well, its more than that. It's a job interview. They're checking you out to see if they'd actually like to work with you - because if your pitch is as good as you say it is - this could be a very long relationship. And no one likes to work with jerks, losers, etc.

Here's a short story - Many years ago, I had a pretty good business doing logos and simple animation for TV commercials. The largest live-action production house in the country had a deal with the local optical house to do the animation. They in turn, subcontracted everything to me. Sweet, to say the least.

I'd show up every Monday morning, get the assignment, turn the art around and into camera by Thursday morning. Friday was the client screening. Clockwork - and a sweet deal. I had all the major accounts. My reel was state of the art for those pre-historic, pre-compter days.

But the thing was - I could never crack the agencies themselves. I always had to get the work "third-hand". I could never get the assignment directly - not for lack of trying. I was constantly making the rounds to the agencies with my reel. They knew me. They knew the work. They knew that I was reliable. But I never got a single direct agency job.

Then one day, one of the top guys - at the very top agency, told me a secret. He said that I wasn't substantial. I didn't convey the feeling of stability that would make a corporation comfortable in awarding me a job.

I was 29 years old. I owned my first house. I had a cool sports car. And I dressed in ratty jeans and a T-shirt, year round. I was proud of that. I didn't own a suit. I didn't own a sports jacket or even a pair of good pants. Just a vast collection of ratty jeans and T-Shirts. And they were judging me on that.

Frankly, my heart wasn't in doing commercial logos anymore - so I quit the biz and started pitching shows. But I learned something from that incident - you have to look like the kind of person they (meaning the person on the other side of the desk) would have faith in dealing with.

So I started to dress better. I bought my first suit. I got nicer jeans. Sports jackets, ties...

When I was a producer at Nelvana, I always wore a tie. I had dozens of them - ties with funny pictures on them - bad taste of another kind - but I was aware of it, and the impression that I was trying to convey.

Back to the present - and what does this mean to you?

There are a billion other people out there, with ideas that they're trying to pitch. You need every edge, every advantage that you can muster - so why not look your best? Why not take a shower, put on a nice shirt, clean pants and polished shoes - before you go to that pitch? What have you got to lose?

What? You don't own any Armani or Boss? You don't need to spend a lot to look like a million bucks. Walk around the malls. Check out the store windows for the current looks and buy what you can afford. (I was recently in a meeting. The executive asked if he could hang up my coat for me. Don't ya know it - but he checked out the label inside.)

The key items are SHINED SHOES and a crisply pressed shirt. You can pair them with old jeans and it will look great. Your duds don't have to be new - just clean and crisp.

Here's another hint - try a vintage look. Clean retro clothes are a great alternate solution. Every city has vintage clothing stores. If you're lucky enough to be in Toronto - check out OFF THE CUFF Menswear at 5 Broadway Avenue. Two blocks North of Eglinton Ave., just East off of Yonge St. (Tell them that I sent you.)

If you haven't got a clue as to how to put an outfit together, here are a couple of books that I'd recommend: Off The Cuff by Carson Kressley and Esquire Magazine's The Handbook of Style. Buy them, borrow or steal them (or just flip through them at the bookstore).

Or, if you want to be more of an individual - check out The Sartorialist - and read the comments.

Now, if you're a successful producer - with a track record of having pitched and sold a few TV shows - then feel free to ignore this and do your own thing.


  1. Great article! Glad too see a return to posting.

  2. Yep. I'm back at it.
    More coming up shortly.
    Nice to know that I was missed.

  3. Wow, great advice, Steve. Especially the "polished shoes" bit. I always figured cool, clean sneakers were a staple in Hollywood (not to mention the most comfortable for my flat feet) but you're the second person to mention the shined shoes thing.

    I cannot believe the exec checked the label! (As if that had anything to do with your creativity or reliability.) But I guess it's all part of the game until you make it Big Time.



  4. Hey Mike.
    You have to look presentable - unless you're a "bad boy" filmmaker - but that's a whole other story. Cool clean sneakers would be fine in the cartoon biz, but I'd go for polished shoes. Its a bit more businesslike.