If you want to be a writer in Hollywood, the reality is you are going to have to pitch your ideas. This isn't always a natural skill for the type of people who gravitate to writing.
There are many types of pitches and many pitching situations – from formal original pitches to pitching for an assignment. From two-minute pitch-fest pitches of your existing script to casual 60-second pitches at industry social events. From a five-minute pitch in a general meeting to a pitch of a new idea to your agent. Feature films, television shows, and web series all require different approaches. Here are seven tips that will help in almost any situation:
1. Give them a log line before launching into plot. Remember, they don’t know anything about the story you are pitching. If you launch into details and scenes, it can be confusing. Give them the basic idea up front. Once they know the idea, they will know how to process the information that follows.
2. Tell them the genre. Don’t make them guess if your story is comedic or dramatic. Don’t surprise them by revealing science fiction elements halfway through the pitch. Let them know up front what kind of story they are going to hear. In television, the genre will probably be evident by who is hearing the pitch, but consider what other information they may need, such as whether your hour drama is open or closed-ended, or whether your sitcom is single or multi-cam.
3. Tell the plot through the character. Just like character is the viewers’ way into a movie or television show, it’s the buyer’s way into your pitch. We only care about the plot to the extent that we care about the character, and to the extent that we can see how the plot affects the character. Don’t simply recite dry plot points, describe how the character feels about the events and what decisions and changes the character makes as a result of those events.
4. Be specific. A pitch is shorter than the final product (movie, TV show, etc.) and you don’t have the advantage of the fully dramatized scenes, so you need to be as specific as possible so that the listener envisions the final product in their mind. Don’t just say the character has a bad relationship with their father, for example. Why is that relationship bad? What is their father like? Choose your words for maximum impact.
5. Practice with real people who don’t know your story. You have the advantage of knowing a lot more about your story than the listener, so you may not recognize what they won’t understand about your pitch. It’s important to test drive your pitch with trusted friends – ones who will be honest with you – to find out where you are being unclear.
6. The pitch should be the same tone as the story. If you are pitching a comedy, your pitch better be funny. If you are pitching horror, it better be scary. Since you don’t have the advantage of actors delivering lines, this can be a challenge. For a comedy you may have to make jokes that won’t be in the movie. That’s okay – you are showing them that you’re funny so that they'll know the script might also be funny. And present your story in a dramatic way. Don’t recite every aspect in the same monotone.
7. Engage with your listener. Make eye contact, read their reactions. Watch for where they get confused so you can elaborate or slow down. It’s okay to have notes for a longer pitch – most buyers will expect that. But never pitch from a computer – it’s very distancing for the listener.
Pitching is a difficult but necessary skill for screenwriters in Hollywood. You need to put as much care into learning the craft of pitching as you do learning the craft of writing. But with practice, anybody can become a better pitcher.
If you're in Los Angeles, I will be teaching a pitching workshop at The Writers Store on May 7th where I will be revealing many more tips!