Thursday, September 20, 2018

Four Tips for a Great Elevator Pitch

(Spoilers: Get Out)

An elevator pitch is named after the idea that if you happen to find yourself in an elevator with a Hollywood big shot, you will have a captive audience for about thirty to sixty seconds, allowing you to give them a quick pitch of your idea. Now, I would not actually advocate pitching someone you’ve never met in an elevator. Their defenses will go up and your chances of a sale are bad – but the chance they will remember you in a negative light is good.

However, there are many situations where a very brief pitch is useful. Any networking event or social situation where you could meet industry people is likely to lead to the question, “What are you working on?” A great quick pitch could be the start of a productive relationship. Or in a general meeting you may discover the producer or executive is looking for something that’s just like a spec script you already have. Give them a great elevator pitch, and they will probably ask to read it.

So, how do you craft a great elevator pitch? Here are four tips. I’ll use Get Out (written by Jordan Peele) as an example of each one, culminating in a possible elevator pitch of that film.

1. Start with the title, genre, tone, and rating. When you have a limited amount of time, you need to give as much information as possible in as few words as possible. Don’t make the listener guess what kind of story you are telling. Identifying a genre is a quick way to provide a ton of information. And don’t make them guess whether it’s a comedy or drama, or what the likely rating might be. These labels are how the industry classifies films. Let them know how to classify yours.

Example from Get Out: If you don’t tell us that this is a horror movie, your description of a Black man meeting his white girlfriend’s parents might sound like a relationship drama or even a romantic comedy.

2. Be sure you’re conveying the appeal of the concept. Think hard about why someone would want to see this movie. What is the joy of this story? That is the single most important thing to bring out in your elevator pitch. You’d be amazed how often writers fail to convey the most interesting aspect of their idea when they have to condense the story.

Example from Get Out: What makes Get Out special? I’d say it’s the satire of racial attitudes among liberal white people. So you would want to make sure this aspect is clear in the elevator pitch.

3. Describe your character in a way that makes it clear why it’s interesting to see them in this story. In an elevator pitch, you will only have a few words to set up the character. You should describe the aspect of the character that is most relevant to the story you are going to tell. Most of the time, their name is not what’s important, nor is it their gender. So don’t describe the character as “Chris” or as “a guy.” These things don’t tell us anything about him that will make your pitch more interesting. Find a more specific description.

Example from Get Out: What makes Chris the most interesting character to get caught up in a nefarious body-swapping plot? It’s not just because he’s Black (though that is critically important to the concept). It’s because he’s non-confrontational, trying to go along and not make waves. To survive, he’s going to have to overcome this reticence.

4. Eliminate details that don’t add to the thirty-second version of your story. It’s obvious that you won’t be able to describe all the great aspects of your story in thirty seconds. But it can be hard to let go of elements that are important in the full-length script. Once you’ve crafted your elevator pitch, examine every phrase. Is the information adding to the appeal of the story in this brief summary? Will a listener who has no idea what is in the screenplay understand the significance of the information?

Example from Get Out: The sunken place is a crucial detail in the movie. So is the weird auction. And so are characters like the maid, groundskeeper, and the girlfriend’s hyper-aggressive brother. But there is probably not room to include these things in an elevator pitch, at least not in a manner that makes it clear why they are so cool in the movie.

So here is an example of an effective elevator pitch for Get Out that you could probably say in less than a minute:

My story is called Get Out. It's an R-rated horror movie about a reserved Black photographer who goes to meet his girlfriend’s parents at their remote estate. Creepy things start to happen, which the photographer at first attributes to the well-meaning cluelessness of his liberal hosts. But after he’s hypnotized by his girlfriend’s mother, he realizes he’s trapped in a nefarious plot and will have to overcome his fears to escape.


The third edition of The Hollywood Pitching Bible is out! If you are in Los Angeles, Ken Aguado and I will be doing a book signing at Book Soup at 7 pm on September 26th. We’d love to see you there! You can RSVP here which will help us ensure we have enough books on hand.

Are you Crazy? Don't wait.  Buy this book now! Ken Aguado and Doug Eboch are guys who walk the walk, and here they talk the talk. They know as well as anyone how to navigate the trickiest waters on the continent: Hollywood's pitching process. Demystifying the secrets of what works and what doesn't for the not-so-brave new world of corporate Movie Biz. It's on my top shelf of books I can't be without.
-John Badham (Director, Saturday Night Fever, WarGames, Stakeout)

No comments: