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The Pitch

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 3 months ago


What is a pitch?


In Hollywood terms, it’s whatever sells a movie – so a pitch could be as short as ‘Jaws meets The Sixth Sense’.


But in scriptwriting terms, it’s telling someone your storyline. It’s a quick way to get feedback – to see what’s entertaining and what’s weak. But the important thing is to create an accurate (and short) impression of your story.


Pitching is acting: trying to find the story's character and convey its emotions.


Pitching is fun. I learn lots about my movie quickly by telling it to someone else .


The pitch can be my guide when I write the first draft. For instance, the emotional story in the 8-page pitch for The Limit was clearer than the 60 page treatment I sent to Andrew and Ainsley.



All I really want is for the pitch to do the job:


1) Clearly communicate the emotions of each sequence;

2) Be succinct (10 minutes max); and

3) As much as possible, be visual.


If I were designing a pitch from scratch today, here’s what I’d do (with more details, below):

1) Define the Title, Genre, and overall Effect.

2) Be succinct.

3) ‘Emotion’ and ‘character motivation’ are more important than duration or plot.

4) Be visual.

5) Start pitching to other people ASAP.


So, to expand on the above list:



1) Define the Title, Genre, and Emotion or Effect you’re going for.* If it’s a comedy, what sort of stuff are we laughing at? What is the basic comic tension?


2) Be succinct. A five minute pitch (or even two minutes) is preferable. The maximum duration you should be thinking for a presentation is 10 minutes; and entertaining someone for 10 minutes is hard work.

I’d start the pitch as short as possible and from there build up the moments that you think are weak and unconvincing.

You’re not really telling a ‘this happened and then this happened’ type of story in a pitch. It’s more about describing the broad sequences of your movie. See this Wordplay column for advice on how to accomplish that.


3) ‘Emotion’ and ‘character motivation’ are more important than duration or plot. Here’s some stuff I learned:

-- to connect two sequences smoothly, link the emotion at the end of one to the start of the next......

-- clearly communicate the emotions of each sequence. Figure out the emotion you want each sequence to convey. Then, change the pitch’s language so it’s not so much about what’s happening but how I feel about what’s happening......

-- rely on your performance (rather than emotive words) to convey the feeling......

-- if there’s a choice between describing plot details and a simple emotion, choose the emotion (at least, I found that when pitching a thriller).

-- when simplifying and re-writing the pitch, focus on character motivations.


-- if you’re pitching a comedy it’s important to make the listener laugh.



4) As much as possible, be visual. 'Imagining the action' seems to be key for me; I like to act out the events, to dramatise them. I can also create a board with the sequences and photos of the key characters on it, so the person I'm pitching to can follow along. 


5) Start pitching to other people ASAP. I’d recommend pitching to one new person a day – and if I can find people who are willing to listen to it multiple times, come back to them after a week of pitching to everyone else.


The Goal: Engage and entertain the person you’re pitching to. Create an accurate impression of your story so they can give you feedback. Pitch to several people. Are you getting the same feedback from all of them? Fix or address these issues (if necessary).Start pitching again.


* (from the Bo Zenga article in Creative Screenwriting)






Insight: I have to figure out the emotion that I want each sequence to convey. Then, change the pitch’s language so it’s not so much about what’s happening but how I feel about what’s happening.


I have to become obsessed by whether I’m getting the emotions of this pitch across.


I can judge the success of the pitch by feeling that the emotion’s sustained for long stretches of the read-through (or for all of it).


Describing the basic emotional beats of each sequence is tough for me - it involves abstracting out from the details that my head's been previously stuck in.



It's common for me to have insights into the structure of the story while practicing the pitch. The pitching process reveals how to present the story in the final film. In the case of The Limit, the pitch led to me massively re-editing the ending - a simplification that replace a fight with a single word.



When I'm rehearsing my pitch aloud, it'll start very quiet and cautious. For a lot of the time, I won't even be able to finish sentences because I'll be too self-conscious about getting them 'right'. Then things should start to click together an hour, 2 hours in.


On the first Reading, I'll probably whisper the whole thing, focusing on the words, not the emotions or performance. And I'll see lots of places where it could be tightened.


I know from my speech at the premiere of hopeless that I can hold 9 minutes of speech in my head (especially if I've got the pitchboard to prompt me).

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