Pitch Perfect: Nailing a Three Minute Chat!
The Subtle Art of Getting It Right.
Way back in post one of this series—we’re on post three now, if you’ve lost count—I said that my end goal was to take at least one, though currently considering one full-length feature film, and two TV series, to the London Scriptwriters Festival (LSF) next April. To be able to do that, I need a full script, but more importantly at this stage, I need a log line and a fully-fledged pitch. Those two must be absolutely perfect, even if the script itself is a bit raggedy.
While that might seem a bit arse-backwards, and being able to show just how good a writer you are should be the main point, filmmaking is actually more about money than artistic intent (for the most part), and the first question in an agent, producer, or directors mind is “will this sell?”
In order to make a balanced decision on that one factor inside the allotted three minutes—they generally have a lot of people to see, all of whom are convinced that their script is the next big thing—they want to see that the concept is worthwhile. The actual script can be argued over, tweaked, and polished over several months, as long as the idea is something that the movie professional—I got bored with endlessly typing out agent, producer, or director—deems to be movie-worthy. And that ideally means that it is sellable!
So, how do you pitch? Surprisingly, it’s not that much different from pitching anything, though the actual mechanics of it are industry orientated. You sit down with your target audience and explain exactly what they are getting, and leave them to use their knowledge of the market to make an informed choice. But three minutes is the absolute maximum, so you have to get your pitch technique right, and that generally means doing several distinct things:
Don’t try to tell the whole story. You don’t have time to do it and rushing will just make it gobbledegook. Focus on the main parts of the story such as:
• The protagonist
• Why we should feel empathy for them?
• What changes in their life (situation)?
• What motivation do they have?
• What opposing force do they come up against (jeopardy)?
• Why do we root for the protagonist to?
• How do they achieve an outcome (outcome, d'uh)?
This last point is a bit moot. We expect the hero/heroine to win, but there are many examples of world-class movies where they actually don’t and that can add a nice twist to a plot. Consider films such as Reservoir Dogs, Mad Max II, Braveheart, The Empire Strikes Back (okay, so it was almost act 2 of a three act mega-movie), Brazil, Gladiator, Scarface, Psycho, Donnie Darko… the list goes on, all movies where the main character either dies or essentially loses (or both). So, it is okay for the main character to end up failing, provided that you can put it into context in the story.
You need to be able to demonstrate how you came up with the idea. From my point of view, it came as a light bulb moment at the end of another movie, but it has to be something credible, rather than it being a rehash of an existing movie (remakes are just the laziest form of scrip writing and film making... just sayin').
Finish your description with the title—even if it is only a working one—and the log line. Here is where these elements of your pitch can be most powerful—after your buyer knows the essence of your story. So when you complete the description that includes those key elements above, follow with the title and then a single sentence that summarises it all, like: “So basically, my screenplayTHE DREAMER is about a cynical youngster who becomes entranced by his grandfather's magical tales, which revolve around a stable-boy's heroic quest to rescue his lost love from the clutches of an evil dwarf.”
Follow the pitch with a question. As any good salesperson will tell you, you have to ask for the sale to close the deal. After summarising the movie, say to your buyer, “So do you have any questions about my script, or would you like me to send you a copy?” This gives them two options, both good for you: either they request the script, or they are engaged enough with your story that they want to discuss it.
However, if the buyer decides to pass on your pitch, then use the remaining time—possibly as much as a minute and a half—to either pitch a second project, or to ask for suggestions on how you might improve the pitch they have just heard.
Don’t get discouraged. The main reason that some pitches don’t result in requests is not because the pitch was no good; it’s because the buyer just isn’t looking for that type of movie project. The beauty of the pitch is that when that happens, you just move to the next table and present your pitch again.
So, now that we know how we are going to pitch, we need to decide what we are going to pitch, and that will start off in the next installment.