Hi all.

We stumbled onto a good list of “don’ts” when pitching your script, but a lot of you have asked what you should do.

When I initially started out, I read a book called Selling Your Script in 60 Seconds. Then I prepared my pitch for my project and ran it past a writer who HAD experience both pitching and getting optioned.

Turns out the book was almost completely WRONG.

It suggested I explain briefly how I came up with the idea, and this writer stopped me as soon as I uttered the phrase, “This idea came about…”

His suggestion? Keep it simple and stick to your story.

The best way to do both is to pick seven or eight plot points that demonstrate you understand the basics of storytelling. The idea behind this is to convey to the agents or producers you’re pitching to that they’re not wasting their time on your story.

That’s very important.

So let’s break that down a bit.

I’ll suggest some of the plot points to include, and then we’ll do an example using The Empire Strikes Back since most of us are familiar with the movie and as it’s my favorite movie (and I’m writing this article) you’ll just have to go with it.

Pitch Plot Points

Opening – You should give a brief explanation of who the protagonist is before his world changes.

Inciting Incident – Also called the “catalyst” by Snyder, this is the scene where your character is thrown out of the realm of familiarity, starting her on her quest.

Start of Act 2 – This is where the protagonist is first challenged by new things. He can either succeed initially here, or fail, just make sure you’re clear which way it is.

Midpoint – As we’ve discussed in a lot of our pro reviews, the midpoint appears like night and day. If things are good early on, this is where they go bad, and vice versa.

Dark Moment – Stories generally have a moment where “all is lost.” (Thanks Blake Snyder.) It’s the lowest part of your character’s story, but also the point where things turn around and a plan is formulated.

Climax – Your protagonist has been working towards a goal, and here’s where that final decision will either let her attain it, or everything blows up in her face.

Ending – Keep in mind, U.S. audiences like happy endings, and get angry at sad endings. Either way you choose to go, this is the final image your audience will take away from your pitch.

Optional Plot Point – If you have a scene you really love and want to mention it, work it into the above structure where it fits but MAKE SURE it’s adding to the plot. Don’t just mention, “I have an awesome car chase scene,” if you can’t relate it to the story.

Some things to note.

This isn’t the be all, end all way to pitch your story. I’ve just had a good rate of return using it. (Now if only my actual writing would have been better.)

Tell them how it ends.

You’ll hear a lot about this, and by nature we want people to be curious enough to want to read our script. Unfortunately, Hollywood has little time to mess around, so don’t blow an opportunity.

Looking back over my pitches, I may have stumbled onto something unconsciously. I notice that I end my pitch at the climax, which leaves the listener wondering. HOWEVER, several agents/producers asked how it ended, and I didn’t hesitate to tell them. This may or may not work for you, so include what feels comfortable.

PRACTICE.

Speaking in front of strangers is VERY intimidating for most of us.

I went over my pitch until I had it memorized.

Then I practiced in front of the mirror.

THEN I practiced a few times in front of my family.

The goal is to be comfortable enough that you’re presenting your story naturally.

Have a backup.

Although I’ve never used it, I’ve always had another project pitch memorized in case you get that question, “What else have you got?”

Most people say to do this so they know you’re not a one trick pony, but as I said, I’ve either got a request for additional material or a simple pass.

Sample Pitch

Title: The Empire Strikes Back

Genre: Sci-fi Action/Adventure

Logline: As Luke trains with Master Yoda to become a Jedi, his friends evade the Imperial fleet under the command of Darth Vader who is obsessed with turning Skywalker to the Dark Side.

Despite destroying the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance is forced to hide on the ice planet, Hoth from Darth Vader and the Empire.

Strange meteorite activity is investigated, and since Luke is recovering from an attack by an ice monster, Han and Chewbacca destroy a probe droid after it relays their position to the Empire. Vader orders an attack, hoping to wipe them out.

The rebels scramble to defend their escaping shuttles in a massive snow battle, and are quickly overrun. Luke escapes with R2D2 to a remote planet where he will continue his Jedi training, as Han takes Leia and the others aboard the Millennium Falcon only to be pursued by Darth Vader himself.

Luke finds the Jedi master, Yoda, is more than he seems, and it’s here he realizes his journey with the Force has only just begun. Han and Leia have a stroke of luck, as they outwit the Empire and turn to an old scoundrel friend of Han’s.

Thinking themselves safe with Han’s friend, Lando, in a city in the clouds, the group quickly discovers they’ve been sold out to the Empire, and Han will be turned over to a bounty hunter to settle an old debt. Luke’s powers grow stronger, and through the Force learns his friends are in danger, and he must rescue them, before he masters his training.

Han is frozen in metal and taken away, as Leia, Chewie and C3PO rush to save him. Luke arrives on the Cloud City, not to the company of his friends, but to face Darth Vader and either turn to the dark side or die.

The bounty hunter escapes with Han, and Leia rescues Luke with the help of Lando and Chewie. The story ends with them rejoining the Rebel Fleet where they hatch a plan to save their friend, Han.

Once You’re Finished…

Ask if anyone has any questions.

If you feel like it went well (and you’re comfortable enough) ask if you can send the script.

If they ask for a one page synopsis, take their info and gladly send that. HOWEVER if they ask for the script, don’t sell yourself short and ask if they’d rather have a synopsis. (Given the choice, people will always opt to save time.)

10 COMMENTS

  1. @Stephanie – Thanks so much for the article and your comment here.

    @The Rest of Us – Roy and I were talking yesterday and he suggeted I make a comment about it. He asked, “Was Han really encased in metal though?” And he wasn’t, it was carbonite. I purposefully chose “metal” though as it gives the general impression of the prison he’s in.

    I picked this up somewhere, but when you have a complex world for your story, your pitch isn’t the time to hammer out all the minor details. You want people to be focusing on the plot, not confused by a detail like, “What is carbonite?”

    He thought it was a good idea, and wanted me to mention it here, but what does everyone else think?

  2. there’s a written pitch and a verbal pitch. you’ve presented the written pitch… or something you might leave behind with a one sheet after your verbal pitch.

    i have a different approach. i pitch my stories to people long before i start writing them. i pretend it’s a fantastic movie that i just saw. in the beginning, i never say it’s a script i’m writing. this will skew their reaction, especially from supportive friends and family. but anyway, i gage their reaction and take in their questions for concept building and plot holes. if they’re really engaged then i’m doing it right. if they stop me and say they don’t want me to spoil it for them. wow! if they ask if i saw the movie in the theater (on tv, cable, netflix, etc…) then great! it means, they’ll probably want to look for it too.

    verbal pitch vs written pitch

  3. yeah, but if you sell something to someone who isn’t buying then you know you have a winning idea. the pre-pitch approach before you write it method. that’s what i’m talking about.

    but still the face to face pitch to a producer is different then a written approach b/c we don’t talk like we write. if i used your example and read that pitch face to face it would sound wooden. i just think you should make a distinction and call it a written pitch as oppose to a verbal pitch. to me, a written pitch is a query letter. a synopsis is a synopsis.

    • When pitching you never read from a paper. You memorize and practice something like the above example, so it comes off natural and you’re making eye contact.

  4. When pitching my life story, HERE I STAND, I’m not sure if I should do it in third person or should I talk about it in first person.

    For example – HERE I STAND is based on the true story of Jillian Bullock, a young, African-American woman, who grows up with her white stepfather, a member of the Philadelphia Italian Mafia during the 70’s.

    or

    HERE I STAND is based on the true story of my life as a young, African-American woman, who grows up with my white stepfather, a member of the Philadelphia Italian Mafia during the 70’s.

    Any advice or suggestions would be appreciated.

    • Jillian,

      Welcome to the site, and I would suggest the first one. I pitched a loosely based script on how I met my wife one, and I did it that way. Got a few reads too, but too bad my writing was AWFUL early on.

      I think it works better too, as people tend to shy away from “my life story” type scripts.

      Hope that helps,

      Hank

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