Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pitching Your Screenplay

screenplayLet's talk about the art of pitching everyone. But before we can get to the specifics, let's try to understand what a Producer's job entails. Thus giving us, the Author, a better understanding on how this business works.

- Producing is a largely collaborative process that requires a broad ability to exercise and facilitate all aspects of the industry. One must have the sensibility and creative instinct of a writer and director, while having a polarizing view of material that you often find with Network executives... and eventually the viewer. A Producer will first focus on identifying or creating material that falls within any mandate given by any of their executive buyers at a variety of Network of distribution outlets. That material may come in the form of a hi-concept short pitch, a spec screenplay, a manuscript or novel for adaptation, a news article that will become the subject of a story to be developed, and treatments or synopsis' of original concepts for development.

On to the pitch:

- Pitching a movie or television idea in Hollywood is murder. A screenwriter walks into a room and has 15 seconds to tell what may be a feature-length story to a bunch of grown-ups who listen to stories all day long, told by the world’s most talented storytellers. While the screenwriter talks, the grown-ups check their e-mail, their stocks and their makeup. And when it’s all over, the screenwriter can only hope that the grown-ups will hand over a suitcase full of money and send the writer home to write it all down.

Wow, scary description, right? Why the hell would I want to get myself into that position? Well, a huge portion of being a successful anything in this town is attributed to your ability to fake your way to the top. Essentially we all need to work on our communication skills. Here's a more detailed description on the art of pitching. Feel free to skip this portion and wait for the next post, where we'll talk about pitching resources, I.E. Pitch Seminars, online services, etc.

A pitch is an animated summation of a script with emphasis on the main characters, the conflict, and the genre. When pitching a script, you use this summation to persuade industry professionals to option the work (purchase it for consideration).

Pitches come in two forms: the two-minute pitch, also known as the teaser, and the story pitch,before you contact industry personnel. You never know when you'll be called upon to sell your story or how you'll be asked to sell it. which is traditionally 10 to 20 minutes in length, though the shorter the better. You absolutely must have both types of pitches prepared

The teaser pitch

The teaser pitch is a short pitch. Traditionally, you get three sentences to hook listeners into the premise, the genre, and the scope of your film. When crafting this pitch, pay particular attention to what you think they might be listening for. Producers probably want to know the following details:

  • How the film might be cast
  • How much it will cost to make
  • How they'll market it
  • What films it resembles

If you follow those requests, your first sentence introduces the characters, the next sentence illustrates their conflict, and the final sentence leaves listeners wanting more. The conflict generally suggests the film's genre, but if not, consider alluding to that in the final sentence as well.

Here are some examples:

  • Europe, 1912. Jack Dawson and Rose DeWitt Bukater enjoy a secret and passionate romance after they meet on a ship chartered toward New York. That ships happens to be the Titanic.
  • Jessica Stein has met and refused virtually every man in New York City. Maybe it's time she looked for a woman. (Kissing Jessica Stein)
  • Northern England, 1984. Young Billy Elliot, the son of a poor local miner, decides to start training for a career. In ballet. (Billy Elliot)

These examples suggest the skeleton of a short pitch. You might use them at the onset of a meeting to rope listeners into a more detailed explanation, or perhaps insert more details in between these sentences. In any case, practice your pitch at home with a stopwatch. Never exceed two minutes — try to do it in one, if you can. If you maintain the three to five page limitation, timing shouldn't be a problem; you'll finish in well under two minutes. If executives want to know more, they'll ask. Be animated, enthusiastic, and concise. Movie trailers are good examples of this kind of pitch; so are the blurbs on the back of video and DVD boxes.

Some writers craft a teaser pitch for stories that they haven't written yet, in case they're asked what other material they're working on. It never hurts to have two or three teasers on hand, in case you're asked to do the same.

The story pitch

The story pitch is much longer than the teaser pitch, but try to keep it under ten minutes, if possible. People in the industry keep long and frantic hours, which naturally affects their attention spans. If you ramble on or get off-track, they're likely to start planning their next meeting before you're done. Some writers use note cards to help them through this pitch. That's perfectly acceptable, but don't rely on them. Reference the notes occasionally, but keep your focus up and on your listeners. If you practice pitching your story several times before the session, you should have it pretty well burned into your memory, so keeping your eyes on your listeners and off your notes won't be hard.

The story pitch starts with your hook or your logline, and then you run down the rest of the story. Be sure to illustrate those universal elements — the heroes, their goals, the conflict, what's at risk and why they're fighting to save it, any pivotal events or emotional turning points, and the conclusion.

Because you're giving a longer pitch, you have more chances to go astray. Here are a few things to avoid right away:

  • Don't compare your film to others too much. It used to be common practice to depict a script through a combination of two existing films. (It's When Harry Met Sally in Waterworld, or it's Goonies meets The Field of Dreams.) Know what your film shares with others, but keep the comparisons brief.
  • Don't ever compare your script to box-office disasters. No one wants to make another Ishtar.
  • Avoid listing action in chronological order — tell them a story instead.
  • Avoid depicting too many subplots or details. Concentrate on two or three characters and pivotal events, or the pitch will quickly become convoluted.
  • Don't keep pitching if they express disinterest, and (on the bright side) don't keep pitching after they agree to consider it.
  • Don't mention actors that you have in mind. Describe the characters, so that your listeners will envision them.
  • Never lie about the story or its hype. Producers discover false information quickly.

As with any sale, personality is paramount. If you're enthusiastic, they will be, too. If you're charming and witty, they'll remember you even if they can't accept the script. And never express desperation. There's always some other way to generate interest. Pitching scares some writers to death. If you're one of those frightened few, do something about it. Acting classes are a great way to build confidence in your presentation, as are courses in public speaking. Or, if you'd rather, practice in front of friends and family. See whether they'd want to purchase the script based on your description.

After you've typed up both pitches and are comfortable delivering them, you're ready to search for an agent and/or a producer.

RESOURCES: wordplayer.com, pitching for dummies, tvwritersvault.com

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Missak said...

It's almost become a daily routine to check your blog for new updates. This post, in particular, is one of the most informative posts so far. Great job.

I do have a question though. I now understand what needs to be done when I'm in the room with the producers, but HOW do I get there? In other words, what are the steps I need to take to have the opportunity to actually pitch my script to the right people?

Christina the coffee lady said...

Just out circle surfin' w/ LBP! Have a great day!

bimus said...

funny-interesting-useful post!
nice sharing with us

jcrn said...

Dugg this one, hope it gets more looks. Sorry I haven't been by as often as I wish. Mom sick, juggling a zillion tasks.

stevehops said...

I have a couple of short, but funny pitch stories. I met with producers who optioned my script, without reading it, (I couldn't believe it either) so I had to pitch it to them after the fact.

First they told me they HATED it when people compared one script to another, as in "this meets that." Then after I gave a synopsis, they said, "Oh, so it's 'Mission Impossible' Meets 'Die Hard?'"

In another meeting for another script the producer also said "when someone tells me the script is 'something meets something,' I immediately through it in the garbage!" Then she said, "I like your script, but can it be more like 'Legally Blond' meets 'Weird Science?'

Désirée said...

Yet antother great blog post. Very interesting. Thank you. Seems like an art I should hire a pro to do instead of going myself

karmern said...

hey! sure. linked you up! :)

Anthony said...

Wow. Nice post man. Really useful and informative. Can't wait to see more.

Wally Banners said...

wow man your a true blogger intense info. You got my bob vote.

Fedor said...

nice blog design, wish I could do something like this. anyway that's all I wanted to say since I like it so much

Editing Luke said...

great tips and cool blog! I've linked you on mine.

Sheri Fresonke Harper said...

Very informative, there's so much to say and it has to be condensed down so tightly. :) Sheri

Kali said...

Did you ever hear of anyone getting somewhere pitching at the Screenwriting Expo?

Michelle Chermaine Ramos said...

Interesting stuff. I hope I can finally finish writing my script and get there someday. Thanks for the info! :o)

Scott said...

John Darko!
Great blog. However, CopyScape notified me that you've lifted a paragraph from original writing at my site, and I'm pretty certain that's copyright infringement. Happy to provide or share my writing, but I'd at least like some credit/link. Others may take other measures of action, but I'm just looking for basic respect and consideration.

Anonymous said...

I have the same opinion with most of your points, however a few need to be discussed further, I will hold a small talk with my partners and perhaps I will look for you some advice later.

- Henry

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