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)

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Care and Feeding of Your Professional Network

In my last post, I discussed some ways to meet people in the business. This is crucial, as most screenwriters get their breaks through referrals. But meeting someone is only the start of the networking process. Today, I’ll discuss some things to keep in mind when you do meet someone, and tips to keep the relationship alive afterwards.

1. Be aware of the environment. There are many ways you might meet industry contacts. When you do meet someone, make sure your actions are appropriate for the environment. Someone at a party does not want to listen to your lengthy film pitch. In social situations, keep the interaction mostly social. I once met an actor at a film festival party, and the moment they found out I was a screenwriter, they handed me their headshot. I guess they expected me to carry the headshot around for the rest of the party. I didn’t – I conveniently forgot it on a table. On the other hand, in a more professional situation (such as a pitch fest) stay professional.

2. Build relationships first. Too often people think of networking as meeting someone and getting them to read a script. But when you first meet someone, they have very little incentive to help you, and may even be afraid to hear your idea – for all they know, you could be a crazy person who will sue them for some imagined copyright infringement. Real networking is about creating a network of people who can help you along in your career over the long term. And you never know where an opportunity might come from. Sometimes a chance meeting leads to a big break years later in a way you never could have anticipated.

3. Start by asking questions. A good way to start a relationship with someone more established than you is to ask for advice. Most people love to give advice! Don’t overwhelm them – ask a question or two. And don’t ask just to ask, actually listen to the advice – you may learn something of value. If you reach a point of familiarity where you don’t think it’s presumptuous, you may ask to have coffee with your contact to get more detailed advice. If so, come prepared with a list of questions. And pay for their coffee!

4. Have a Good Elevator Pitch – But Don’t Use It in an Elevator! Although I don’t suggest initiating a pitch to someone you just met in a casual environment, often they may ask about your project. If you meet a producer at a party, for example, and say you’re a screenwriter, the producer might ask what you’re working on. This is the perfect time to wow them with your great thirty-second pitch. They probably don’t want to hear more than that right then, but if they like the idea, they may ask to read it when it’s done. In any case, you want to sound like you’re writing cool stuff. Elevator pitches are named based on the idea that if you happen to be in an elevator with a VIP you will have a captive audience for about thirty seconds. But I wouldn’t advocate a pitch in that scenario. You are more likely to end up with a restraining order than a movie deal.

5. Networking is a Two-Way Street. You may not think you have anything to offer an industry professional, but you probably do. Even simple things, like retweeting them or sending a complimentary email about their latest project can get them to think of you in a positive light. If you hear of an event or see an article they might like, send it to them. But be judicious… don’t bombard them with the equivalent of junk mail. Maybe there's someone among your other industry contacts they would like to meet – one of the best ways to network is to help other people network. You also may be able to help them out in some way outside of the business – a discount on something, for example. The point is, don’t just think about what they can do for you, think about what you can do for them.

6. Social media can be your friend. It’s much easier to maintain contacts these days than when I was starting out. After you meet someone at a party or networking event, you can friend/follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. This also makes it easy to shoot them quick messages. Don’t abuse this ability. But if you’re a good follower and supporter, social media can keep a relationship alive and help people remember you months after you met them.

7. Do stuff that shows your talent. It’s also never been easier to show people what you can do. Depending on where your talents lie, you can make short films and post them online, write short stories for web magazines, write sketches for a local sketch comedy troupe, create a web comic... there are tons of options. And then you can let your network know about these accomplishments. It gives you an excuse to contact people, to remind them you’re there, and show them you are an active creator. Even just posting funny tweets or cool Instagram images can keep you on people’s radar.

8. It’s not a contact if you’re afraid to use it. I’ve heard people talk about a big Hollywood VIP they know, but then say they don’t want to ask this VIP to read a script because they don’t want to spoil the relationship. Caution is a good instinct. But if you’re a writer, the ultimate purpose of any business relationship is to get read. If you can’t ask someone to read something, then they aren’t really a contact. So put aside your fear and make the ask. That said…

9. When you ask for a read, do it professionally. Make sure you’ve built up the relationship enough that it’s reasonable to ask for a favor. Ask before you send the material. Make sure you give them a script that is your best work. Don’t ask someone to read something new too often. Once you’ve sent a script, don’t badger them about whether they’ve read it – a follow-up three or four weeks later is fine, but they are busy people and you are asking for their time. And if they don’t respond to the material, or they give you harsh critical feedback, be gracious. Telling you what’s wrong with your script is also a favor.

10. Say thank you! Finally, when someone does something to help you out, even if it’s just giving you advice, say thank you. A handwritten card is especially appreciated. Gifts are usually not necessary, but if you do want to give them something, the thoughtfulness of the gift is much more important than how much you spent.

Most of this can be summed up as: be nice. Self-involvement is not attractive. Neither is desperation. Just treat people well, show them what you have to offer, and the networking will take care of itself.


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.

"Luck, they say, is when preparation meets opportunity.  Consider yourself lucky that Douglas Eboch & Ken Aguado have written a book that tells you not only how to achieve a screenwriting career, but also sustain it over time."
-Lem Dobbs, screenwriter ( Dark City, The Limey, The Score, The Company You Keep, Haywire)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I Don’t Know Anyone in Hollywood – 5 Ways to Network as an Outsider

They say success in Hollywood is about “who you know.” That’s only partly true.

In fact, you need to do two things to break in as a screenwriter, and the first is far more important and difficult: you need to write at least one excellent, spectacular spec script. (Two is better. Three is even better.) It has to be excellent, not just good. You’re competing against the 12,000 or so members of the Writers Guild who have already broken in, and the hundreds of thousands of other writers out there trying to break in. With only two or three hundred theatrical releases of studio and major independent films per year, and only about 600 scripted television series airing per year (even in this peak TV era), there is a lot of competition for every writing job. And your spec has to be spectacular to stand out from the deluge of excellent material pouring across the desk of every agent, manager, producer, and executive.

But once you have this excellent, spectacular spec script, who you know does matter. Most new writers get their breaks through referrals. This means someone you know recommends your script to a producer, development executive, agent, or manager. So if you don’t know anyone in Hollywood, how do you find someone who can make such a referral? Here are five ways:

1. Become strategically active in professional organizations. To meet people in the film industry, you have to go where those people are. There are many established professional organizations that anyone can join for a small membership fee. In addition to the other services they offer, Film Independent, IFP, Women in Film, Scriptwriters Network, and similar organizations have member events teeming with industry professionals. And the more you get involved in the organization, the more relationships you can develop.

2. Go to Film Festivals. Like professional organizations, major film festivals (Sundance, SXSW, Telluride, Toronto, etc.) or almost any film festival in Los Angeles or New York are gathering places for industry pros. You wait in a lot of lines and there are a lot of festival parties. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with strangers – just ask if they’ve seen any films they like at the festival. Your chances of meeting someone connected to the industry are high. And volunteering with the festival increases those odds. (There may be other festival-like events where you can meet certain types of industry people based on your areas of interest. For example, San Diego Comic-Con is teeming with animation professionals and people who work on science fiction movies and television.)

3. Network laterally. Newcomers usually obsess about meeting top Hollywood players, but the reality is the big dogs are the ones least in need of new talent (not to mention the hardest to reach). So think about building a network of people on your level. This starts with other writers. Many writers get their first agent or manager through a referral from a client, so knowing someone who could become one of those clients is useful. But beyond that, get to know PA’s and assistants and others in the entry-level jobs in the business. Agents’ assistants want to become agents and they do that by finding new talent. Producers’ assistants want to become producers, and that means finding material. Usually your opportunities will come through people at your level or just a little above.

4. Put your social media to work. One great thing about the advent of Twitter, Instagram, and the like is that you can actually communicate with people in the business. But that doesn’t mean you can just direct message Jordan Peele and ask him to read your script. Follow people you feel an affinity for. “Like” and “retweet” their posts. Make insightful comments. Ask questions. You can build a relationship online. But keep point three above in mind – if you aim for the most famous people, you’ll get lost in the shuffle. Find those lower level screen and TV writers you really admire and follow them. Also, be sure your social media feeds are filled with clever posts. More than one aspiring comedy writer has parlayed funny tweets into a job.

5. Come to Los Angeles. You can use your social media from anywhere. You can probably have some involvement with film organizations from anywhere. But networking still mostly happens face-to-face. That means if you live outside of the big filmmaking communities of Los Angeles and New York, you are at a significant disadvantage. That doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and move to Los Angeles. It’s expensive to live here and it will take time to break in. But even if you can’t move out right away, consider a strategically timed visit, perhaps building a trip around a film festival and a couple of events through filmmaking organizations. Make those initial contacts, and you can nurture them via email and social media when you’re back home.

Whatever methods you use, keep in mind that good networking is about building relationships, NOT accosting people and asking for their help. In my next post I’ll talk about how to make the most of your networking opportunities.

There are also a few ways to get attention without a referral. You do not need a referral to enter the television fellowships, and if you win the small handful of meaningful screenwriting contests, people will ask to read your script. But to build and sustain any kind of long-term career, you are going to have to network.


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)