by Rona Edwards and Monica Skerbelis|
Whether you have a screenplay, novel, video game, or reality show, it's how you present your story idea to a buyer that could lead to a sale. It all comes down to the "pitch." However, writers are not the only ones who need to develop the art of pitching. Producers, agents, studio executive and assistants also need to know how to pitch to the executives they report to who have the power to say, "Yes, let's develop it!"
Circumstances dictate the kind of pitch you need to have at your fingertips.
1. The Elevator Pitch (or Steven Spielberg is standing next to me in an elevator)... This is a quick pitch to get someone interested in hearing more of the story. This is where a good logline comes in. If you pitch the genre, logline and a hook (what makes the story special and appealing to the audience), the elevator pitch may turn into a meeting or Mr. Spielberg may ask you to send the screenplay!
2. The 3 Minute Pitch - There are many organizations that offer what is called speed-pitching in which you, along with hundreds of other writers and producers, have 3 to 5 minutes to get a production company, studio or television network interested in your script or idea before a bell rings and you must move to the next pitch. Therefore you need to get as much out in a very, very limited time in order to whet the company's appetite to read your screenplay. In order to do this, use your elevator pitch and elaborate a bit more: Give a genre and a logline then proceed to set up your protagonist and antagonist, include the inciting incident. If there is time you can pitch the 3-act structure of your piece but you won't be able to give much detail. So you need to streamline your story in an effort to give only the highlights of your piece.
3. The Pitch Meeting - If you are lucky enough to get a pitch meeting with a production company, studio or network, you have the luxury of actually pitching your complete story. However, keep the pitch to 15 minutes or less and convey the complete storyline within that time frame. Start with your elevator pitch, describe the set-up and your lead characters (protagonist and antagonist), give them names and allude to their age, if necessary, so the executive or producer can visualize who might be right for the roles. Include the inciting incident, 1st Act turning point, 2nd Act turning point, the climax and denouement. It's not necessary to give every detail of every scene, just tell the story in an interesting and appealing way and sprinkle it with significant events that move the story forward and add the major emotional beats or action set pieces. If it is a comedy, make sure you make your executive laugh, if it is an action piece, pitch one of the more exciting segments that might differentiate it from other movies. Don't get bogged down in a lot of detail. Keep it short, concise yet give enough of the tone and throughline so it's cinematic and visual. And, don't forget to have an ending and resolve the story.
Executives will block out 45-minute time slots in their busy day to listen to pitches. A new writer cannot just phone a production company and expect a meeting. Most companies do not accept unsolicited material - meaning they will not read your material if it's not submitted by an agent, attorney, a known producer or manager. However, a writer could submit a query letter with a genre and logline and why the pitch is special. In essence, write the elevator pitch to pique their interest. Possibly add the 3-minute pitch on paper. If the writer has won or placed in any screenwriting competitions they should note it also in the query letter. It's difficult to get responses from a query letter unless the company knows you but it's not impossible - and if the idea catches their eye, there is always the exception. That's why it's important to be able to pitch your ideas in a succinct yet entertaining way.
Below are two other ways to attract an audience for your pitch:
1. Pitchfests - held at convention centers, hotels, schools, etc., are a good opportunity to practice pitching your ideas and sometimes you can get interest from an agency or production company. The Fade In, Screenwriting Expo and Great American Pitchfest are two well-attended pitchfests. This is where you need to hone your 3-minute pitch as discussed above. Pitchfests offer an opportunity to meet executives from production companies, studios and/or networks without having an agent set it up for you.
2. Virtual Pitchfest - this is a service that provides writers an opportunity to pitch to production company executives and producers via the Internet. Being able to write a good logline and a paragraph about your screenplay goes a long way here. What's great about Virtual Pitchfest is that the production company must respond to the pitch within five days so you are assured of getting a response.
Before you begin the journey of pitching your ideas, keep the following in mind:
1. Make sure you have the underlying rights before you start pitching your ideas if you are working on an adaptation of a book or a subject based on a true life story;
2. Know your audience - be careful not to pitch an action piece to a company or producer who only makes comedies;
3. Practice, practice and practice. Do it in front of a mirror. Be prepared.
4. If you are sending a query letter, only pitch one story idea at a time (it can be overwhelming to receive a letter pitching 5 screenplays) and don't forget to enclose a self-stamped addressed envelope if you want a response back. Some companies are open to email queries.
Our book, "I Liked It, Didn't Love It: Screenplay Development from the Inside Out" has additional information about pitching and even has a chapter on how to organize your story ideas.
You can contact Rona and Monika via their website: www.esentertainment.net
Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis are the co-authors of "I Liked It, Didn't Love It: Screenplay Development From The Inside Out" from Lone Eagle Publishing. They have worked as development execs and producers, and collectively have 25 years worth of experience in Hollywood.
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