Pitching to Get Started, Pitching to Sell
There are two times when a writer needs to pitch – when you’re thinking about an idea and may want to try it out on fellow writers and friends to assess interest, and when you are ready to sell a storyline and hope that it has the bizazz necessary to create interest in your script.
There are good ideas and not-so-good ideas, and sometimes the best way to test an idea is to see what kind of interest you get with a simple pitch. “Two teen-agers meet at summer camp and fall in love”. Ho-hum. It sounds like a million other ideas and there’s nothing special or compelling. If you pitched this to a few friends and you saw their eyes glaze over, you’d know it needs some work. Don’t spend three years writing this script unless you can do something unique with it.
So, how to change the pitch? A good pitch will imply conflict, give a sense of the action of the storyline, suggest character, give a feeling for the context if the context is unusual or particularly cinematic, possibly suggests a theme and might even suggest “A” list actors that could play the part. So, let’s say you change the pitch to: “Two twenty-somethings from different classes fall in love aboard a sinking ship.” The pitch implies two different kinds of conflict – the class system and the conflict of the group vs. the sea. The class system implies character and theme and implies the two main characters. The person listening might immediately think of some great 20-something actors. The context suggests a ship, which of course could be small or big, but either one suggests cinematic images of the sea, of the starry night, of, perhaps, a luxury liner with all its elegance, suggests beautiful costumes, and suggests contrasting images of rich and poor. The action is fairly clear – they’ll fall in love through various actions (perhaps a beautiful or raucous dance, perhaps confrontations between rich and poor) and the sinking ship suggests highly dramatic action – certainly they’d try to escape the water pouring in, there’ll be mass hysteria, lifeboats being loaded, etc.
So the pitch engages the creative process of the person listening as they listen to the action words and imagine possible dramatic action. If you were to pitch this to a friend, they might start to get excited and even give you ideas. If you pitched this to a producer, executive, director or star, in hopes of then handing them the script, they would hope that the script retains their excitement and that this is the next plum producing or directing assignment or role.
Of course, the pitch is dependent upon a great script. Many people have good ideas. Many have wonderful pitches. But if the script can’t reinforce the pitch with its own brilliance, then the story is not ready to be pitched. Unless you’re an “A” list writer who can sell a story based on the pitch, the pitch is simply a first step to getting someone interested in your script. So, it’s important not to put the cart before the horse. The script is primary. The pitch reinforces it.
Dr. Linda Seger created and defined script consulting when she began her business in 1981, based on her doctoral dissertation on “What makes a script work?” She has consulted on over 2000 scripts, taught screenwriting in 30 countries, and written 8 books on the subject, including Making a Good Script Great and her newest, And The Best Screenplay Goes To. Information about her services can be found on her website: www.lindaseger.com. Or she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.