Pitching Your Screenplay – Some Hard Won Advice

After attending a number of pitch fests put on by magazines, university film programs and private companies, I’ve come to see what makes an appealing pitch different from a not so appealing pitch. 

1. Do practice and be prepared 

I once had to pitch a script idea in a contest in front of hundreds of people in an audience and a panel of judges. I am by no means a public speaker and get nervous even in some one on one interactions so the thought of having a spotlight on me and remembering every detail of the story was daunting. These were the tricks that got me prepared and helped me win both the Audience and Judge’s award. 

Lock the details of your story at least two weeks before your pitch 

It should go without saying that if your idea is all over the place or not fully thought out, you should hold off on pitching until you have at least the basic story worked out. Ideally you should have the main points in each act worked out as well as who the main character is. You don’t want to be retooling the basics of your story at the last minute. Use the two weeks leading up to the pitch to know the details back and forth. 

Bore yourself (AKA Know your story in and out) 

Practice until you are sick of hearing yourself talk. Go over the pitch when you wake up and before you go to bed. Say it out loud when you wash dishes, drive to work and water the lawn. This way your story becomes second nature (and thus natural) because you are familiar with it. If you don’t practice, it will sound rehearsed (I know, this sounds contrary) because you will be trying to remember the important points. If you know the story and are able to recite in a natural relaxed way, the judges will stay more engaged. 

Be aware of time

Usually pitch contests give you five to ten minutes. If you do have ten minutes try to do your pitch in five to seven minutes and if you have five, get the pitch down to three. You should have a shorter and longer version of your pitch worked out anyway. And leave time for questions because once your time is up, your time is up. And judges hate for this to be abused as it puts them behind schedule.

Know who you are pitching to

Research the companies you pitching to understand their tastes and what they’ve bought in the past. You should know the key players and what projects worked and didn’t work. Don’t reference one of their projects that was a bomb even if you and your junior high friends were obsessed with it. 

2. DO be passionate and enthusiastic. 

Even though you have practiced this pitch to death and can now tell it in your sleep, you need to act like this is the most exciting story ever told and that your audience is the first to hear it. If you aren’t enthusiastic, we won’t be either. The best way to do this is to not just TELL the pitch but to SELL it.

3. DO be flexible

Thus does not mean sell your soul or your original idea down the river. What this means is you should understand the marketplace and be able to tailor your idea to bend in different directions. For example, if your movie is a high budget film, you should be prepared to suggest cast that would support the budget but also understand how it could be made for half as much with different casting or director. 

You should also be prepared to discuss problems with the story and offer up examples of how you would potentially change or fix the script to deal with these issues. 

If you have more than one idea, ask which one they would prefer to hear or offer up which one you think they would be more interested based on their projects in development. Also don’t assume because a company has mostly done dramas that they might not be interested in a comedy. After hearing what everyone thinks they want to hear all day, executives love to hear something completely different. 

4. DO personalize the pitch

We love to hear where this idea came from or what it was inspired by. It also distinguishes you because if you tie your idea/script to a real life story or interesting inspiration/anecdote it makes it easier for us to remember.

5. Do keep it simple 

Give us a logline that tells us what we are about to hear. Break the story down into acts and announce the beginning and end of each act. Have your main character ground the story and take us on their emotional journey rather than giving us the blow-by-blow plot points. If we are interested in the concept we can get the minute details later. After ten pitches back to back, ideas start to blend into each other. Believe it or not, the more straightforward and simple you can keep it (and stay within the allotted time), the more you will stand out. Deviating from the “rules” or trying something flashy usually only works for Charlie Kaufman. All that glitter can also blind an executive to a potentially great concept. 

In the next article, we will look at the “dont’s” of pitching!

By Beatrice S.

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