The Art of Pitching a Movie
Kaie Ames17 December 2021
Pitching is one of the most important skills a writer can have. But let’s face it, not every writer is a natural pitcher.
Most writers spend a large amount of their time in front of their laptops, toying with new ideas, creating storylines, maybe co-writing with others. But when it comes to pitching their brilliant projects to potentially interested producers, managers or agents, many writers find themselves completely out of their depth.
This is not at all unusual. Some writers love to pitch, for others it’s the last thing they want to do. But here’s the thing, there’s no way out, you’ve got to be able to do it!
Feeling nervous about the pitch?
Here are a few things to think about:
- If you are nervous, don’t show it! If you’ve done your preparation, you should feel confident that you know more about your story than anyone else in the room.
- Learn how to breathe deeply in order to help control your nerves. Remember that we all need to feel some level of adrenalin to pitch well.
Step-by-step, here’s how we suggest you pitch a screenplay:
Always start with the why…
When you pitch, whether it’s by Zoom or face-to-face, you’re selling yourself to the room – the audience. You’re showing them why you’re the only person who can write this. So, approach it with energy, passion and self-belief.
Explain why you’ve written what you’ve written
- Your professional background
- Your life experiences
- Your personal connection to the story
- Your family
- True story
What’s your comp?
For your ‘comp’ – your comparison movies – it’s best to use two examples of films released within the last five to ten years. Choose them based on similarities in writing style, aesthetics, story or genre. Just make sure they’re well-known, successful movies. And above all, don’t compare your movie with one that flopped at the box office.
What’s your logline?
There are so many different opinions on how to craft a logline! However, the simplest way of thinking about it is to view it as your elevator pitch: if you only had twenty seconds to tell someone about your movie, how would you explain it?
In essence, the simplest logline should contain the following:
- Who is your protagonist/main character?
- What does she want/what is she trying to accomplish?
- Why does she want this?
- Who or what is getting in the way/what are the consequences of not achieving this goal?
- How does she overcome it?
For example, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE:
A quirky family determined to get their young daughter into the finals of a beauty pageant take a cross-country trip in their VW bus.
A logline can contain two or three sentences. Keep it short: twenty to thirty words max is the industry norm.
The Plot Synopsis, Your Main Character and Supporting Cast
Most movies are written with a three-act structure, and you should create the synopsis with that in mind.
- Make sure you introduce the characters succinctly. You want the room to get a sense of what’s at stake. Talk in some depth about 2-3 characters who are essential to the plot.
- It’s important you don’t give a bullet-by-bullet-point account of the key scenes – this will take up far too much time and would be better used for your treatment, not your pitch.
- Talk about the themes – what’s the central theme and how is it developed in your film? What is it that your central character/s must overcome? How do they find their resolution? And how do they grow along the way?
- Talk about the world which you’ve created. If you’re world-building, say it. But remember, you’ll only have time to say a few lines.
In your pitch, try to show:
- Why you are the right person to write this. Why you are the only person who can write this.
- How amenable you are to receiving notes and acting on immediate feedback – the room wants to know if they can work with you
- That you can think on your feet.
- That you appreciate feedback – both good and bad.
- That you’re someone worth keeping in touch with.
Why should the movie be made right now?
Help the room understand why the time is right to make this movie – what’s happening in the world which makes its themes relevant today? Why will it appeal globally?
Why it matters
To summarise, your concept matters. Make sure you’ve covered it in a clear way, you’ve succinctly illustrated a strong narrative for the key characters, and you’ve helped the audience understand the beginning, the middle and the end.
Explain again why the time to make your film is right now, why the characters are worth caring about, and why you are the one who must write it.
Show your uniqueness – that you are a new voice who’s worth investing in!
Show your passion.
After the pitch:
You might be told there and then that your screenplay is not right for the people to whom you’re pitching, but they like you. That’s important. Be prepared to briefly pitch other screenplays which you’ve written.
A few more points to consider:
- Don’t go into too much detail with your storyline. Your plot description should be brief and to the point, or you risk losing your audience’s interest. If they have any questions, they’ll ask you either during or after the pitch.
- Try not to read directly from written notes. This creates an immediate disconnect between you and everyone else. Let your passion for your story come across. You don’t have to memorise your whole pitch, just make sure that you know your idea well enough to talk about it enthusiastically.
- Rehearse and time it – and don’t go over your allotted time! (Try and find out beforehand what the maximum time is you have to pitch.)
- Don’t wing it! You’ve been given a precious gift of time in which to sell your script, so make the most of it.
- Be open to challenge and criticism – most writers find it very hard to take criticism but remember that each time you receive constructive criticism which you then apply to your script, it brings you closer to your goal of getting your movie made. Listen to the feedback and thank them graciously – even if you don’t agree!
- Do your research – who are you pitching to? Make sure you know what they’ve written, produced or been involved in.
And finally, leave your ego at the door… Your attitude while pitching is just as important as what you’re pitching. Are you someone who people would want to work with? Will those who you’re pitching see someone who is a good collaborator? Someone whom they would want to spend days and months working with?
Remember, pitching is as much about selling yourself as much as your screenplay.
Make sure your logline is as good as it can be.
Make sure your script is ready to share.
Rehearse your pitch – find out how much time you have to pitch and plan it.
Make sure you have other projects to talk about if you’re asked for them.
Talk about what inspired you to write the screenplay.
Know your characters and their motivations, inside-out.
Know your comps and be prepared to say why you’ve chosen them.
Show why you’re the person who can write this.
Listen and be grateful for all feedback – whether positive or negative!
Reference Books for Further Reading
TV Writing Toolkit by Jen Grisanti
The Executive Chair by Kelly Edwards
The Script Selling Game by Kathie Fong Yoneda