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.
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.
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.)