Learning how to pitch a screenplay isn’t just a must-have marketing element every screenwriter should have in their toolbox. (It can actually be a great way to focus and refine your story in a way that humans – who don’t share your last name – will find interesting.)
And, since not every script-selling opportunity is in a conference room in Century City, learning how to pitch a screenplay at film festivals, networking events – even in the Whole Foods parking lot in Santa Monica – can be a valuable asset to have.
The big question is…what’s actually in a screenplay pitch? How do you know what to say? And what not to say?
And, most importantly, how do you ensure you don’t end up looking like a moron? So, here are three keys to help you learn how to pitch a screenplay that engages film-industry folks – and puts you in a great position to get your script read. (And eventually sold.)
How to Pitch a Screenplay Key #1: Realize What a Pitch is Really About
The reason screenplay pitches are so stress-inducing is that most screenwriters don’t realize is that they are really TWO THINGS at the same time.
A setting where producers, screenwriting agents, story development folks can quickly determine if:
- They like your story (not something you can always control) and…
- They think you’re stable – and passionate and would be fun to work with. (Something you can totally control.)
And, ironically, the second is far more important. (Because you’ll never get them to read your script if you seem just slightly less creepy than Hannibal Lecter.)
And how do you this? By telling them a bit about HOW you came up with the story. (Not just what the STORY is about.)
Don’t just jump into:
“Fade in on a warehouse in the rough-and-tumble wharfs of Baltimore…”
“My dad worked as a longshoreman in Baltimore. I thought he was just a hard-working blue-collar guy. And then one summer I worked there. That’s when I realized the docks of Baltimore are as cutthroat and vicious and competitive as any Manhattan law firm. So that’s when I decided to write…”
Notice how the personal connection to the material instantly makes you more interested to hear more. (Same goes for film-biz types.) They want to think this is a story you’ve been burning to tell for 20 years…even if it’s just something you came up with in the elevator down to the lobby.
How to Pitch a Screenplay Key #1: Learn the Elements of a Screenplay Pitch
After you reassure the folks you’re pitching that you’re not a total stalker, it’s time to then it’s time to give them the “trailer” of your movie or TV Show.
And this includes:
- World where the story takes place (“In the Los Angeles County Jail.”)
- Main character (and what their life is like) “Jana is a spoiled, rich, entitled child star on TV.”
- An inciting incident (where everything goes haywire) “Who gets pulled over her 3rd DUI and is forced to serve time in the County Jail…”
- Act I climax (the big turning point where things get serious) “Turns out her nefarious step mom framed her to put her in jail…and now she’s looking at 10 years behind bars…and no money!”
- Act II climax (the worst thing ever happens) “Jana’s cellmate and protector is killed and she is framed for the murder. (Facing life in prison.”)
- And the big ending “Jana breaks out of prison, faces off against her stepmom and tricks her into revealing her plans. (All while the police listen.)”
That was a bit of a crude example. (“A bit?”)
BUt, I think you get the idea. Whether you are pitching TV or feature…or anything at all..try to hit those SIX points, in a seamless way, to keep them on the edge of their seat. (And asking to read your script.)
How to Pitch a Screenplay Key #3: Be Ready to Pitch, Anywhere
Screenplay pitches aren’t just reserved for studio offices in the “valley” or for those cattle-call pitchfests at conferences…
….but anywhere you find yourself in conversation with people who work in film development. This can be media events, film screenings, panels, festivals…
…and if you find yourself in one of those situations -and somebody does ask what you work on – it’s your DUTY to have your screenplay pitch ready.
Because if you do – and you show ’em you’re not a stalker, and your story sounds like something that’s perfect for THEIR career – then you might end up making a helluva lot more than a first impression.