In the next month I will be pitching for the chance to write the script for an upcoming film. A producer, having seen some shorts and a webseries I made along with reading some spec scripts, has asked me to go along but this will be my first time and I am unsure of which ‘way’ to pitch. Would you recommend giving a detailed rundown of the script and beats in 5 minutes, or should I give a quick rundown and concentrate on tone and atmosphere?
First off there is no one right way to pitch. However having sold several original stories and landed many more OWA’s, each based on pitches, I can share with you my general approach.
12 minutes. That’s what you should plan on having. Max. I break it up this way:
Act One [5 minutes]: Introduce the main characters, providing each one’s core essence and narrative function [you don’t need to say, “This is the Protagonist” or “This is the Nemesis,” you can make that clear in how you describe them, but you should know what their respective functions are]; establish story concept and set the plot into motion, basically what happens that jettisons the Protagonist out of their ordinary world and into the story’s adventure.
Act Two [5 minutes]: Do not do a beat for beat breakdown of the second act, rather spotlight 4-6 key subplots [depending upon the genre and type of story] and dynamics that are in play, and provide the listener both some key plot points and the entertaining value of each one. Most listeners are pretty smart and will be able to fill in the dots.
Act Three [2 minutes]: Build to the Final Struggle, show how the story ends up, a taste of the Denouement, and out.
#1: When you start the pitch, don’t talk about the story, tell the story. Just get into it. It’s the story itself that has to be entertaining. All your analysis and points of support for the story, save those for after the pitch. If they are interested in your story, you will have plenty of time to pimp and drill down into it afterward.
#2: Never read from notes. Memorize the pitch, then practice it verbally over and over and over and over again. You should know the pitch backwards and forwards, and be able to convey it conversationally, not like a robot.
#3: Make sure you hit some trailer moments. Try to come up with at least 5 moments that a buyer will be able to see as something they can use to market the movie.
#4: Be passionate. Buttressing a great story concept and well-constructed story is your own emotional connection to the material. A buyer wants to know you are excited about the content and will bring that energy to the writing. Plus there is a psychological subtext at work whereby they feed off your excitement.
#5: That said less is more. Don’t go over the top with your enthusiasm. And this extends to how much detail you provide. The tendency is to want to keep hammering home sales points after the pitch. At some point, you run risk of coming off as desperate. Have confidence in your story. It should sell itself. If it’s not good enough to sell, then no amount of your frenzied verbiage will make up for that.
#6: This is super important: You need to know what the key dynamics of your story are that will create an emotional connection with a potential moviegoer, then make sure you sell those in your pitch. Again not so much talking about those dynamics, but actually conveying through the sharing of the story itself.
Hope that’s helpful. Best of luck with your pitch!
What say ye, GITS community? How do you pitch a story?
[Originally posted January 18, 2012]
UPDATE: Two additional points and underscoring something I noted in the OP.
First, this approach focuses on pitching original stories. If you’re up for an OWA, be prepared to present a more comprehensive take. That’s not always the case, the 12 minute pitch can work for some writing assignments, however depending on the project and the nature of its story problems, complexity, etc, you may have to cover more narrative terrain to provide what the buyer needs.
Second, while you’re at it, work on your one-line version of the story as well as a 60-90 second iteration. That can not only help you crystallize your story and focus your 12 minute pitch, it will also prepare you for those ‘elevator pitch’ opportunities which may arise unexpectedly.
The third thing is to underscore the very last point I made above: Zero in on the story’s emotional core. Why will a listener care about the story? By extension, why will an audience member care about the movie? Most often, you can do this by presenting a clear articulation of the Protagonist’s initial state of being, what I call Disunity. What do they need? Why do they need to change? What is their central inner conflict?
In most movies, Protagonists go through some sort of psychological metamorphosis. Change may be necessary for them to evolve into their New Self, however transformation is a scary thing. If you can identify the Protagonist’s Disunity state, both circumstances in the External World and psychological dynamics in their Internal World, invariably you will tap into key dynamics in the emotional life of your story.