How to Pitch your Script
Whether you are aiming for a low budget YouTube series, a major network series or a blockbuster film produced by the almighty Disney, learning to pitch is imperative. And after tirelessly researching the “how to’s” provided by articles, TedTalks, interviews with the best writers in the industry and even reading over the Stranger Things Bible (I highly recommend doing this, by the way), I feel like I have finally grasped the basics of pitching a project.
It Starts with an Idea
I love to daydream. For as long as I can remember, I have been coming up with story ideas in my head. Over time I have been able to learn how to develop those stories and turn them into books, short stories, and scripts. But before I do this, I always run the idea by people. I want to know if my core concept is worth my time and effort. Talk to people, iron out the details, get opinions on how to improve on certain aspects, work out the main events of the story and character profiles. Find people to read your script with. You’ll see their reactions and get a better feel for what you are creating. Knowing and understanding your characters is incredibly important. You need to create their back story, not necessarily to tell the audience, but to wrap your mind around who they are and why they act the way they do. If you can connect with the characters you create, your audience and the people you pitch your story to will as well. Knowing your character’s arc well and working with people, sharing parts of your story while you are creating it, and defending your reasons for why you are creating this person this way will get you used to talking about your project. You’ll practice how to get people on board with what you are dreaming up and which aspects are the most important ones to tell first in order to create interest.
Write to your strengths. If you are geared toward action, write an action film. If you are geared toward comedy, write comedy. If you love horror fils, write horror. If you are a new screenwriter, write a low-budget or micro-budget film. New writers are a risk for investors, so it’s unlikely you will get a multi-million dollar film made right out of the gate. Consider writing in a budget that you can fund yourself or together with a handful of friends. But whatever you do, move forward.
Write your tv pilot and at least outline the remainder of your series or write your feature film and character profiles. Know your story inside and out. What other things is it similar to? What era? What location? Is there anything unique about the film or series? What will the audience connect with? Is there any part of your project that could really speak to people and affect change in the hearts of the individual? What is the passion behind what you are doing? What are your A and B plots?
Your A-plot needs to be the overarching theme running through your whole film or series. For example; a young man who has never accomplished anything sets out on a journey, running across the country, which he documents, to prove to himself and the rest of the world that he can finish something and to bring about the change that he thinks needs to happen. But in the process, his eyes are opened and his heart is softened and he finds his true passion in life.
Your B plot can change from episode to episode, but it has to be supportive of the A-plot. The B plot can be where you add humor into an otherwise dramatic storyline. For the example above, a B plot could be that he realizes he hates running after the first 3 miles, so he has to choose whether or not he should push through or switch to walking across the country. Other B plot options could be: forgetting his wallet at a restaurant and needing to go back for it, getting caught in a rainstorm in the middle of nowhere, or getting a really bad sunburn. Whatever you are creating, just really geek out about the whole thing that you are making. In your mind’s eye, you have created a new world, you’ve invented people and places and events. That’s no small thing! You should be passionate about what you have created.
Let that passion fuel your work ethic and help you write your project bible. Like I mentioned earlier, read over the Stranger Things bible and apply that concept to your own project.
Build Relationships (Network)
The idea of going places for the purpose of schmoozing the “big dogs” gives me hiccups. I don’t like it. My personality is not so great that I can get people on board with an idea and want to work with me in the first 30 seconds of meeting me. My natural tendency is to reek of “sales” and nobody will even look in my direction. Luckily, that's not the best way to approach “pitching” anyway! Phew!
I recently watched an interview where a well-known writer was lamenting being cornered by lots of people with terrible storylines because they saw him and figured it was fate and spewed their story guts all over him- beginning, middle, and end, rather than the preferred 2-minute elevator pitch that is your premise line. That sounds like a nightmare to me. I bet it’s very similar to pulling up to a car dealership and being attacked by a salesperson, only it can happen to you anywhere, even if you’re not looking to buy a car. Someone just recognized you! That’s not really how I’d prefer to live my life.
He recommended, instead of pouncing, build relationships with producers, studio executives, directors, other scriptwriters, and script consultants. Introduce yourself, be kind, get to know this writer or producer or director. Be around them a few times (attend film festivals, enter writing contests and attend film events) and be pleasant, then maybe, in passing mention that you have an idea or that you heard he/she was looking for a script about (something) and that you have a script that fits that (something) and you’d be happy to send it over. While you are networking and building relationships with filmmakers, prepare your pitch by regularly walking yourself through your premise line. Then let them ask you about your script and make it a short pitch. If they want to know more, they will ask for more. Have a conversation about it. Once you have a relationship built, once they like you, they’ll be more likely to work with you or know a production company, investor, or producer who is looking for a story lie yours. There's a greater chance that when reading over your script, they’ll have more grace and look at the potential, even if it’s not something that they would consider in its current state, just because they like you.
Other options are to get yourself a literary agent who has previously sold a series in your niche or connecting with a producer who has been successful in pitching films and series. LinkedIn is a great place to connect with producers. There are also all types of forums on Facebook and other social media sites for screenwriters, directors, producers- all types of filmmakers.
Hey, if you are passionate enough, you might even consider creating your own production company and work with some of the people you find in these forums.
Any marketer or salesperson worth their salt will tell you that the first thing you are selling is yourself. Take your time. Be patient and humble.
You’ve prepared, you’ve made the connections organically (keep up with the relationships, too), and you’ve practiced your pitch. Now chill out and have fun. The passion that you have for the story you've created is contagious. If you don’t get on that major network, don’t give up. Consider a slightly different approach; adapt your story for a YouTube or Facebook Watch series. It’s possible that these big networks are just unsure about investing in an unproven concept.
Prove yourself. Show your following. Have some grit and make things happen. Investors make money on their investments. That’s their job. That’s their livelihood. Why should they risk losing millions of dollars on your project? “There’s no such thing as a sure thing.” What makes your script worth that risk? What comfort could you offer those investors? Proof of concept. Especially if you are just starting out. Write a low budget or no budget alternative and see if you can get some momentum. Build up your resume. Just because it’s a “no” today, doesn’t mean it’s a “no” forever. Play the long game. Be patient, humble, and willing to work hard and make edits. I know it hurts to see all the red pen on your hard work, but at the end of the day, a finished project has done better for you than a saved document on your computer.
Final Thoughts and Encouragements
Do your research. Watch interviews, study pitch packages, and work really hard. This whole business requires hard work, guts, and determination. More than any of us realize when we first get started. But it is those qualities that develop in us stronger over time that separate the goods from the greats, the dreamers, and the dream-livers. Don’t ever quit. Keep pushing forward.
Stranger Things Bible- A great example of a project bible to study and learn from.
Library of Congress Copyright-Protect your work with copyright.
WGA Registration- Register your screenplay with the WGA