What are the simple ways that you can master the art and science of pitching your screenplay?
Welcome to our ongoing Learning from the Masters and Industry Insiders series where we seek out and feature excellent videos, interviews, and discussions of the art, craft, and business of screenwriting and pull the best words of wisdom, writing tips, and screenwriting advice.
Here we feature the Fade In Magazine video How to Pitch a Screenplay – Hollywood Pitch Festival as Hollywood screenwriter and author Allen Ury breaks down the art and science of how to pitch a screenplay. We take his best points and offer our own elaboration.
1. The Pitch Is a Sales Tool
“The pitch is a sales tool. It’s your verbal tool for convincing someone who is in a position to move your project forward — be it an agent, producer, or studio executive… the pitch itself is your movie in microcosm. What you are trying to do is compress two hours into six minutes. But it’s going to keep the same proportions. It’s going to be recognizable as the same script.”
Pitching is something that most screenwriters fear. But it is a necessary evil that all screenwriters will be asked to do multiple times.
You’ll need to pitch to potential agents and managers. You’ll need to pitch to development executives and producers that are interested in your work. And if you’re up for a writing assignment — which is the most common paid gig for a screenwriter — you’ll need to be able to pitch your take on whatever intellectual property or developed concept that you’re being asked to tackle as a screenwriter.
2. Your Pitch Has a Three-Act Structure
“If you have written your script traditionally, you have a first act that’s about twenty-five to thirty pages, which represents about twenty-five to thirty percent of your screenplay. You’ve got a long second act, which is about fifty to sixty pages, or fifty percent of your script. And your third act — twenty-five to thirty pages or twenty-five percent of your script. So it’s twenty-five, fifty, twenty-five, which equals one hundred percent. Your pitch should do the same thing. Spend about ninety seconds on Act One. About three minutes on Act Two… and then another ninety seconds on Act Three. You do not want to forget Act Three.”
This is a very simple and generalized breakdown, but you’d be surprised how effective this approach is. It simplifies the process and makes the approach much less intimidating.
3. Your Pitch Is the Trailer of Your Movie
“Compare [your pitch] to the trailers that you see in movies. It’s the same thing. It’s a pitch. They are trying to pitch that movie to you in the audience to get you to buy it. So what do they show you? They show you everything. They show you all of the good stuff… put in all of the good stuff because that is what is going to sell the movie.”
The good stuff is the major conflicts and what makes your screenplay exciting, entertaining, cathartic, or all of those elements rolled into one.
Movie trailers open with the character in their comfortable world. Then the major conflict occurs. Then we see the protagonist go off on an adventure or deal with the conflict at hand. We then see the minor conflicts they have to deal with along the way. And, yes, most trailers these days give away all of the major plot points — and that is exactly what you want to do with your pitch.
4. Set Expectations
When you first begin your pitch, you open by naming the genre of your screenplay. This sets the expectations of what is to come.
“Most producers gravitate towards certain types of films.”
5. Spend Time on Your Title
“Hopefully you have spent a lot of time thinking about your title. Titles are extremely important… titles sell.”
Beyond the genre, the title of your screenplay is the first impression. And when you have a strong title, that can be an excellent ice breaker once it is paired with your logline.
6. Have a Great Logline
“A logline is basically one or two sentences. A good logline is going to have three elements. The first element is a problem and a hero. And that problem is not something a hero can just walk away from without suffering severe consequences. There have to be stakes. If there’s not stakes, if there’s not something to win or something to lose, then we don’t care. Number two — you need a wow factor. And that’s anything that is new, unusual, unique, a twist, or whatever it is that makes your script different… and the third thing you need — and this is really, really important — you will find it in every successful movie from 1912 to today, and that is an element of irony. There must be something inherent in the hero’s problem that is the anthesis of what the hero naturally stands for. Something that runs against the grain and puts that person in the worst possible position.”
A man creates a strange system to help him remember things so he can hunt for the murderer of his wife without his short-term memory loss being an obstacle. (Memento)
A thief who steals corporate secrets through the use of dream-sharing technology is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO. (Inception)
A fast track lawyer can’t lie for 24 hours due to his son’s birthday wish after the lawyer turns his son down for the last time. (Liar Liar)
7. Tell Your Story, Don’t Explain Your Story
“Ninety percent of the people who are [pitching] for the first time make the mistake of explaining. They step back and say why they wrote the story and what the meaning of the story is. What the theme of the story is and why the story is important. And then they talk about the various characters… that is not telling the story.”
He goes on to explain that you should tell the story like you’d tell a fantasy tale to a child. You don’t explain the themes, characters, and meaning behind the story. You simply say, “Once upon a time…” and go on to tell the story in such a way that engages them, surprises them, and keeps them wanting more.
Watch the whole video as Ury explains how to pitch the first, second, and third act.
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