The Elevator Pitch:  5 Steps To Help You Ride Success

Dream with me for a few sentences: You’re in an office building in downtown LA where you work a boring and mundane job.

You can’t stop yourself from yawning because you were up late working on the perfect logline for the script you’ve spent the last three months writing.

You get on the elevator and the worst thing that can possibly happen on an elevator happens; it gets stuck.

Totally perturbed, you turn to your right and notice that some unlucky soul has the privilege of joining you.

But you have to do a double-take because you realize that your unfortunate soul-mate is STEVEN SPIELBERG!

When he opens his mouth to speak (this is the dream part), doves encircle him as he says, “So tell me about that script you were working on last night.”

WAKE UP!

While this is an extreme example of where you would need to give an elevator pitch, if you’re a writer or creative producer, it’s not a bad idea to be prepared for that long-shot opportunity of running into the person who could possibly change your life forever.

So you ask, “What exactly is an elevator pitch?” Let’s start on the ground floor.

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An “elevator pitch” is defined as a succinct and persuasive sales pitch.

In layman’s terms, it means you have a small amount of time to pitch your huge idea to someone who can help you realize your goal.

In the movie industry, it means taking your two-hour movie concept and shrinking it down into a 3 to 5 minute spiel; with the hope that the individual you’re pitching to immediately gets it and will be inspired to greenlight your idea and hopefully, help make your dream a reality.

Like many things in the entertainment industry, there are several ways to accomplish this.

People have different techniques, but the general idea is pretty simple: tell a concise and exciting story that captivates the imagination of the listener in a short amount of time.

Okay, that might sound easy, but let’s break down the steps that prove otherwise.

STEP 1: KNOW YOUR GENRE

This is first and foremost:  If you’re pitching a comedy, then it’s imperative that you be funny.

If you’re pitching a thriller, then make sure that the pitch is stirring; and if it’s a horror film, do your best Vincent Price impression and scare the Shi Tzu out of Spielberg on that elevator!

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STEP 2:  BREAK DOWN EVERY SCENE

This step is not complicated but requires keen focus.

Buy a stack of 3x5 index cards, plenty of tape and then clear out a blank section on a wall in your house or apartment. On the index cards, write out every single scene in your movie.

Now this might take some time, but trust me, it will all be worth it. Take the scenes and place them on the wall in sequential order.

Sometimes it really helps to look at your movie in this way because it gives you visual cues of how the events connect to tell the story.

Now when you do this, make sure you break the events up in the “three-act structure.” If you’re not familiar with the three-act structure, you can think of it in its simplest form – beginning, middle and end.

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STEP 3:  IDENTIFY KEY MOMENTS 

This calls for a lot of self-evaluation.

Once your story is broken up, take a careful look at the scenes and think about time. In your pitch, you won’t have time to explain everything on the wall, so you will have to remove some things.

Now I know this will be hard because as the writer, you believe that every single letter, of every single word, in every single line of dialogue in your movie is important. But detach yourself for a moment, and think third person.

The easiest way to decide what to take out is to determine what you absolutely need to keep versus those scenes you can see in the trailer of your film.

For example, if your film is a comedy, what are the funniest jokes? If it’s an action film, where are the mind-blowing battle scenes that will have people talking for decades?

And finally, where are the significant turning points in your film? Basically what I’m trying to say is, “Where’s the juice?”

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Rocky (1976), Chartoff-Winkler Prod./ United Artists

STEP 4:  FIND THE FLAVOR

Step 4 is full of Vitamin C. Think of your movie as an orange and the pitch is the juice.

You want the film executive to taste that compressed, squeezed juice and enjoy it so much that he/she is forced to ask about the origin of the orange that it came from.

Now that that delicious analogy is over with, your pitch still needs structure, so…

  1. Pick out the scenes with the turning points that tell your story.
  2. Choose a few scenes that convey your genre, i.e., the funny jokes, or car chases.
  3. Then, take those cards and put them in pitch-story order.

STEP 5:  RIDE THE ELEVATOR AKA PRACTICE  

This is the most fun part.

Once you have your cards assembled, grab a mirror and start practicing your pitch. Time yourself as you try to tell your story with precision and enthusiasm in under 5 minutes.

Practice every day, anytime you get a chance. When you feel confident in your delivery, practice a few more times with friends or family members.

After each pitch, ask them if they were film executives, would they buy this movie?

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They say that you have to be lucky to make it in Hollywood and in a way that’s true. But with hard work and steadfastness, you can carve out a space for yourself and actually make a living doing what you love.

Always remember to believe in yourself and the gift God gave you; whether you’re a writer, producer, director or actor. That’s why it’s a good idea to always have your elevator pitch polished and ready. You just never know when you’ll end up stuck between floors with an opportunity to make your “elevator pitch” to a “Spielberg”.

At some point, opportunity will knock, the stars will align, and you’ll have your chance to stake your claim for the gold.

And when that lucky day comes, it’s up to you to rise to the occasion.

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