Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Pitching Part 4 - Honing Your Pitch

All right, it’s been a few weeks, but it’s now time to get back to my series of posts on pitching. When I left off, I had just outlined the basic structure I use to craft a pitch. Now I want to discuss a few “guidelines" I have as I look over what I've created.

1) Make it shorter. You do have to tell a complete story, of course, but I believe that you sell a pitch within the first two minutes. If you haven’t hooked them by then you never will. If you do sell them on the idea in the first two minutes, however, you can still talk them out of it. (Friends of mine call this “unselling” your idea). So you have to get to the cool stuff as soon as possible, and then just try not to blow it. And the longer you talk, the greater chance you have to blow it.

2) Don’t give more than three characters names (in the pitch). It’s hard for us to remember names given verbally, particularly if we’re told the names in rapid succession. So if you tell me about Rob and Sue and Ken and Ricardo and Kim and Selena and Steve in the first couple minutes of your pitch, and then later refer back to Ken, there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to forget which one he was. I do recommend giving your main character a name – it helps them feel like a real person and makes it easier to identify with them. Then you might also name one or two others, maybe the antagonist and/or the love interest. The rest of the characters can be referred to by their job title or relationship to the main character. For example, you might talk about the Sheriff, his Mother, the Henchman, and the Landlord. We’re better able to remember those roles than we are names.

3) Have a title. Ideally, have a good title. A writer friend of mine believes she’s sold three of her pitches on the title alone (though she did the whole pitch). But even if it’s not fantastic, having a title makes the movie feel real. And since you’re basically trying to get someone to pay a lot of money for your hot air, the more real you can make it sound, the better.

4) Don’t give us choices. Every once in a while I’ll hear a pitch where the writer offers two possible endings. Their thought is they could do either and want to pick the one the buyer likes best. But buyers don’t want to do your work for you. They don’t want to pick. They want you to tell a good story – with the best ending you can come up with.

5) Give the ending. Sometimes amateurs will try the whole, “if you want to know how it ends, you’ll have to hire me to write the script” ploy. Don’t. Again, you’re asking them to give you a lot of money for your story. They’re not going to do that if they don’t know that you have a good ending.

6) Focus on character and conflict, not plot. This is really a recap of what I talked about last time, but it bears repeating. Plot will not sell your idea. Emphasize the character and their journey, and make sure the conflict and stakes are clear. Make sure you’re tracking the character change and the changing relationships between the characters.

7) Your pitch should be the same genre as your movie. So if you’re pitching a comedy, your pitch should be funny. And if you’re pitching a drama, don’t make light of the story, take it seriously. Action pitches should be fast paced and exciting, horror pitches should be creepy, romantic comedies should be emotionally moving and funny, and so on.

Next post I’ll discuss some issues of presenting your pitch and how I prepare for that aspect of pitching.

Also, I’m giving a keynote at the SouthWest Writers Screen & Script Conference 2012 in Albuquerque on February 25th. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s the link:

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