Hollywood Insider: Pitching a Film Script in ONLY 3 Steps, 10 Sentences
Between my producing partner and I, we’ve pitched so many projects that it’s almost easy to forget that pitching is an art form in and of itself. That’s because your job as a TV pitchman starts with creating a want and a need.
After all, that is the heart of any pitch: sometimes a development executive doesn’t know what they want, until you tell them.
However, no medium requires the precision, expertise and knack for masterful storytelling than when you’re pitching a film script.
We discussed the creation process of real, sellable ideas in our recent blog with Underworld: Rise of the Lycans screenwriter Dirk Blackman. Blackman talked about the “visualization” of such ideas, describing the hallmarks of a solid script as “when the characters start suggesting themselves…” and resembling the “teleporter in Star Trek [when those ideas] keep getting more solid.”
In other words, it’s the transformation of ideas from some sort of plasma-like state in your brain to a 3-hole, 20-pound, 100-page screenplay that says YOU’RE ALMOST ready for pitching your film script.
Your massive labor of love contains every right word to entice your reader to keep turning the page; except you don’t yet have the right words when pitching a film to an executive. That’s because you’ll need to distill your 90-minute film down to a 10-minute pitch.
Believe it or not, it is possible.
And losing all that unnecessary bloated information and detail – that you think you may need for pitching a film script – proves it’s sometimes a good thing to lose your sh!$..
Recently, I had the opportunity of attending the Produced By Conference in LA, and one of the workshops I had the pleasure of attending was The Art and Craft of Pitching for Film.
This was a rare exercise in pitching a film script to the best in the biz. The panel included: Amy Baer, Gidden Media (A Storm In The Stars , Last Vegas); Hawk Koch, Principal, The Koch Company (Source Code, Primal Fear); Michael London, Principal and Founder, Groundswell Productions (Milk, Sideways); and Producers Guild of America Council member; Marshall Herskovitz, Partner, Bedford Falls Company (Last Samurai, Blood Diamond).
Marshall Herskovitz | Produced By Conference 2015
The Most Confusing (and Frustrating) Thing About Pitching
If you’ve ever listened to yourself when pitching a film, you know how easy it is to get completely lost in your own storytelling. Whether it’s nerves, overthinking, or a complete lack of preparation, you must always remember that in order to know where you’re taking your audience, you need to first give them what any lost soul would die for: a map.
“I realized what a horrible thing and how scary it is. Someone comes in and they start to tell a story and after about a minute, it’s like, ‘Oh My God, Jesus! He said there was a guard and a wife, but I can’t remember which is which?! And by five minutes into it, everyone in the room is completely lost, and I’m praying this just isn’t the First Act,” says panelist Herskovitz.
Wow, I’m glad I’m not the only one who has felt this way!
After fessing up to every development executive’s worst nightmare – the pitch-black blackout – Herskovitz made it his mission to restore some level of sanity and mental clarity for all parties involved when pitching a film script.
His answer was simple: A 3 step map called the Concentric Circle Theory of Pitching a Film. (With 16 prestigious industry awards under his belt, including an Oscar nomination, I’ll take this guy’s advice any day.)
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3 EASY Steps To Pitching A Film Script:
Pitching a film can sometimes trigger full-fledged panic: What am I going to say?! What is this about?! What can I possibly leave out?!
Don’t worry, you’ll be more than okay with Herskovitz’s Concentric Circle Theory to pitching a film. It sounds more complex than it sounds (and I hated anything to do with theory, physics or basic math in school) but this theory – as stated by Herskovitz – has proven to work for him and others countless times.
Basically, this “mental cheat sheet” – for the person you’re pitching to – helps them quickly wrap their head around your big idea.
When pitching a film, your goal is to convey this: 1) the major characters with key backstory elements; 2) the setting; 3) central plot; and 4) tone. (The latter meaning, is this a comedy, drama, sci-fi epic, thriller, etc.) This CRUCIAL information – from the onset – gives your listener CLEAR guideposts. Plus, they’ll become INVESTED, because hopefully you sold them on the story’s basic elements.
Now that you know the end goal, here’s the 3 steps in pitching a film:
Step 1: State your movie in just ONE sentence.
If Netflix’s descriptions can truncate Memento, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Mulholland Drive into an enticing, one sentence blurb, so can you. Remember, this is the crux of your film script that helps your listener decide if they’re interested and ready to hit “Play”, so they can hear the rest of your pitch. As long as you don’t stammer, maintain that eye contact, and be CONFIDENT, you’re off to a very good start.
Step 2: Re-state your movie in only THREE sentences.
Now you’re building up with a tease. Since you’ve established the basic premise in step one, it’s time to add a little meat on the bones.
Again, it’s a huge challenge to simplify your big idea without compromosing its uniqueness, but this exercise forces you to identify the three key components in your movie “formula”. This unequivocally proves to your listener that they made a wise choice by investing their time – and potentially money – into you and your project.
If you’re having trouble deciding what those three sentences should be, consult your outline and/or notecards to see what jumps out and grabs your attention. Better yet, rehearse with a friend and ask them what they find most captivating.
Step 3: Now fully state your movie in TEN sentences.
Almost any story can be told in ten sentences, but if you’re having trouble, try this exercise: pick your favorite flick and break it down to 10 provocative sentences that build upon one another, but then leave your listener asking, “…and then what happens?”
The reason being: in step 3, your pitch meeting starts getting a little personal (and that’s a good thing), because the guiding and handholding turns into an engaging, back-and-forth. (Remember the last time you went on a GOOD Tinder date? This is what step 3 should feel like…)
When step 3 is done correctly, you won’t even finish all ten sentences. Herskovitz’s explanation, “I’ve never gotten through all ten sentences, because when the executive you’re pitching to becomes engaged… it becomes a conversation and that’s what you want. The sale is made in that conversation. What the journey is, the voice, the intricacies…are all revealed during the conversation.”
One Other Key Component
Panelist Amy Baer added one extra but huge piece of advice to tack onto this three-step process: know your audience.
When pitching a film, identifying your potential audience helps the person you’re pitching to simply because it lets the production company or studio know exactly who you’re making this movie for. “Because the real estate is so valuable… and because if you don’t know, they will not know either,” says Baer.
So in pitching a film script, make sure – preferably somewhere early on in your pitch – that you clearly state: And this is a movie for such and such an audience. (You can do your ‘audience research’ by checking out this convenient graph on the Four Quadrants audience.)
Pitching a film is unlike any other art form as I said earlier, because you’re selling a product wrapped in emotion for mass consumption by an audience. I always like to say, you should always be in the mindset of selling, not pitching.
See the difference in intention?
So get fired up during your pitch and convey raw emotion and why you’re the ONLY ONE who can tell this film/story.
Your film script can instill rage, fear, heartache, loss, grief, humor, happiness, or a little bit of everything. And Herskovitz reminded the audience of this in his closing, “The greatest asset you have in addition to your story is your feeling about your story. If you don’t express your story, then the people sitting in the room aren’t going to get those feelings.”
Think of it like this: pitching a film is the ultimate dream job interview, so it’s only natural to feel nervous, clamp up and let fear mask your vulnerabilities.
But it’s only when we’re at our most vulnerable that the walls come crashing down and give way to the emotional entry-point for your listener.
So be vulnerable and be yourself. “It’s something that actors have to find… that truth and that reality, and that emotion that they need to portray. If you’re not excited, they [the executives] are not going to be excited,” says Herskovitz. Consider me sold on this method of pitching a film script.