a Short Pitch Better
all comes down to the screenplay -- the great screenplay.
But no one will read your screenplay unless you have a great pitch.
In short, you've got to make your case that your story is worth investing
about ten million dollars of the producer's money.
And you have about thirty seconds. Once
you get the bigwig's attention, you can go into a lengthier storytelling, but
usually, they don't have the time for subplots, themes, and lessons learned.
They have about fifty scripts on their desk, and five hundred queries
they have to read, like, yesterday, so... the story has to grab them.
It has to tease them. It
must hint at something so juicy, so interesting, so amazing that the listener
will say, "Beam that to me, Scotty! Right
screenwriter worth his/her salt has read dozens of articles about the short
Actually, go on any screenplay submission website and pitch your script
story. You won't have more than a
paragraph to do so. Like I said, that's all the time they give you to sift
through the rubble. We are all very
familiar with the short pitch. We can all recite its pitfalls in our sleep.
So then why do so many of us fail to get to second base?
Why do good screenwriters with very good scripts still write tepid,
ordinary pitches? Why are they
overly wordy? Boring?
believe one reason is the horrible examples of pitches we read in books and
magazines set us up for failure. Usually,
we are given an example of a very good pitch (based on a popular film) and then
a wordy, ridiculous, poorly-written pitch -- as something not to do.
All screenwriters smile and say to themselves, "I'm glad I don't
write that poorly." I contend
we are set up to unconsciously place ourselves with the successful pitch-writer
and distance ourselves from the poor one. We
believe our pitch is successful if it does not fall prey to the bad pitch (whose
bar is not set high).
I believe we fall in love with our scripts.
We want to convey everything about the story all at once, and often hint
at subplots, and themes when there really is no time to do so.
How many pitches from good screenwriters have the lead character
"learn a little bit along the way"?
Or "with the help of his wise Irish mother and a little street
poetry, he understands..." or "he rediscovers the beauty of a bygone
age." Pitches like this
show the writer is proud of his/her quirky, innovative script.
But no one is getting grabbed by the collar here.
short, unless it involves the plot; learning, understanding, musing,
rediscovering, etc. does not belong in a short pitch. It has to be about the lead, his/her goal, the inciting
incident, and possibly the complication. And
Jones attends Georgetown University's pre-med program, aspires to become a
surgeon. On his way to school, he
witnesses a horrific shooting and helps a female victim until the paramedics
arrive and whisk her away. He later
learns there are no records of the paramedics or the victim.
Who was she, and what happened to her?"
pitch-- but do we need "aspires to become a surgeon"?
Can we cut "on his way to school"?
What about the last line?
we use better, more vibrant verbs? Can
we say it in two words rather than three?
How about one word? Instead
of "and" can we get away with a comma?
Do we need more information? Do
we know the genre from the description, or do we have to say something like
"thriller of a script"?
question-- what does his aspiring to be a surgeon have to do with the inciting
incident? It doesn't really add
anything, does it? Anyone would
help a person who was shot. And
anyone would be curious to know what happened to her.
Maybe if he were a rookie detective?
Or an illegal alien? Does
that add some juice to our premise? Maybe
he uses his detective skills, and is dissuaded by his superiors.
Now what does he do? Or if
he is an alien, involvement could get him deported.
What if they were engaged?
it sound more interesting now? Sorry. Go rewrite
your script. You should have
thought out your premise a bit more.
screenwriting books offer linear, simple story plots as examples.
(Karate Kid, Wizard of Oz, Terminator).
It's rare to read an example of a multi-layered drama, because such
stories are difficult to condense into a standard pitch.
The gurus beg off here, but what do we do when it can't be said in three
once wrote a script that relied heavily on the memory of the lead character.
He believed something happened in the past.
We see a flashback. Then
stuff happens in the present, and he realizes things were not as he thought back
then. He sees the same flashback
through different eyes, and we too understand what really happened and why.
Now, how do you pitch that one?
complex stories, I have found the question format works best.
Start with an engaging question, and then offer some information.
Now what does the lead character do?
if highly intelligent humans built a spaceship in the time of Noah to escape the
Great Flood? What if these humans
have been living in the caves of Venus for the last 5000 years?
And now they're back!”
premise, but you are with me. Aren't
course, the biggest reason for failure is we actually believe any well-written
story can sell! That's a fallacy
created by great writers. The truth
is you are about ten times more likely to sell a script with a great premise--
that can be consolidated into a short paragraph-- than a well-written piece that
doesn't grab you by the collar. So
make sure you have a great premise before doing too much work on your script.
Otherwise, you're probably wasting your time.
Try your premise out on friends. If
they don't smile and say, "COOL!," start again.
break into U.S. bio labs, steal all of our smallpox vaccine!
They want fifty million, or else!”
Horrible, right? But wouldn't you like to see Vin Diesel shoot up the
terrorists, retrieve the vaccine, get the girl, and diffuse the bomb in a roller-coaster
of a script? If your answer is yes,
then start writing.
use words like "probably." Same
goes for "maybe," "almost," and all qualifiers.
One doesn't "walk loudly."
They "stomp." One
doesn't "gently caress." "Caressing"
means gently. One doesn't
"drink very quickly, making funny noises with each swallow," they
"gulp." There are tons of
words that can be substituted for qualifiers.
Learn them, and use them.
names of successful Hollywood films. "It's
Outbreak meets Die Hard." Okay, Outbreak is a reach...
I once made the mistake of saying my script was like "The Ideal
Husband." A mistake I shan’t
don't write a period piece. That's
a lesson I've learned. Almost no
one will read them. Agents will not
rep them-- even if they're better than "An Ideal Husband."
the best pitch is from firsthand experience.
Everyone digs the inside story, so if you have one-- go for it!
my youth, I sat around the dining room table while my parents made pasta and
discussed which of their capitans they were gonna whack next..."
Tony Soprano, eat your heart out.
Two of Leon Kaye's stage plays will be published by Baker's Plays this fall. One of his stage monologues will be published in an anthology of great monologues. He's working on a stage musical as well as various productions of his stage plays in the NYC area.
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