When screenwriters talk about pitching, we usually think of a situation where the writer is pitching an original idea (or an idea based on material the writer has acquired themselves) to a potential buyer, someone who would hire the writer to write the screenplay based on that idea. That type of pitch certainly exists, but there are many other types of pitches and pitching situations. Today I want to cover some of these, and discuss how you might vary your pitch accordingly.
The Full Length Original Pitch
As I said, this is the type of pitch we usually think of. Typically these pitches are twelve to fifteen minutes long, twenty minutes at most. You would describe the story in reasonably thorough detail, including the ending.
The General Meeting Pitch
You do this kind of pitch when you take a general meeting – the type of meeting you get when someone likes your screenplay and wants to meet you. At some point they’ll ask what you’re working on, and you launch into a pitch of about five minutes or so. This is fairly similar to the full-length pitch, except shorter and breezier. You spend less time on story details, focusing on concept and character. The goal is primarily to show them you have good ideas. If you plan to write the script on spec, you want them to ask to receive it when you’re done. You’re also hoping that they’ll like it so much that they consider buying it at the pitch stage. If this is the case, they’ll probably ask you to come back and do the full-length version at a later date, possibly incorporating some of their ideas.
The Pitch Fest Pitch
This is a relatively new type of pitching situation. At a pitch fest you (and hundreds of other writers) meet with a number of representatives of companies that buy screenplays. You usually have five minutes with each to do a pitch. The actual pitch should really be only two minutes to allow questions and a bit of small talk. Your goal is to get them to read a completed screenplay. You are focusing mostly on hook and character, with just a taste of the story. You probably will not want to tell the ending in these scenarios – there needs to be some mystery left for the script! (Although if they ask how it ends you should be prepared to tell them.)
There are other situations where you might do a two-minute pitch. Almost all involve convincing someone to read an existing, completed screenplay. You might do this in a general meeting, if, for example, the person you’re meeting with mentions they are looking for a certain type of script and you happen to have written just such a script. It’s not a bad idea to be ready with two-minute pitches of all your best scripts.
The Thirty-Second Pitch (A.K.A. Elevator Pitch)
This is really a glorified logline, designed to give the concept of your movie idea. It might come into play at a cocktail party or film festival or other networking event when you meet someone who asks what you’re working on. You might use thirty-second pitches to run some ideas by your agent to see which he thinks you should spec. And you could use a thirty-second pitch in many of the same situations you would use a two-minute pitch, if you think thirty seconds is enough to get the idea across. Shorter is usually better in pitching.
When you find yourself in a situation where you want to tell someone your idea but you know they’ll be bored or annoyed if you drone on and on (cocktail party!), then it’s time to bring out the thirty-second pitch. To do this well, of course, you have to have actually prepared it. Every morning I run through thirty-second pitches of my most pressing projects so I’m ready in the event I need them.
All of the above assumes you are pitching an original idea (or an idea based on material you’ve acquired yourself). Of course most screenwriting jobs are assignments where you are hoping to get hired to rewrite a screenplay or adapt underlying material the buyer owns. These pitches are similar to the full original pitch in length, but different in content. You would assume at least some familiarity with the material by the person you’re pitching to. You would also spend more time analyzing what works and what doesn’t in the material, and less time describing the concept (since they already know the concept).
Of course all of these refer to feature film pitches. Television is another animal entirely. If you are pitching an original series, you will design your pitch differently depending on whether it is open or closed ended. Pitching an episode idea for an existing series requires other considerations. If you want to pursue a career in television writing, you need to learn the different types of pitches in that arena. (The pitch documents on talented television writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach’s website is an enormously helpful starting point.)
For more on how to build each different type of pitch, may I humbly recommend the book I penned with producer Ken Aguado, The Hollywood Pitching Bible: A Practical Guide to Pitching Movies and Television.