24 Tips for Pitching Your Script

AFF_Logoby Angela Guess

At the recent Austin Film Festival, Danny Manus and Pamela Ribon were on hand to teach all the shy, introverted, socially-awkward writers in the room (myself included) how to pitch. Danny’s experience with pitching comes from the executive end. He’s currently running No BullScript Consulting, but he admits that he is a “recovering development executive.” Pamela’s experience comes from actually doing pitches for both film and TV projects, and she has sold numerous ideas and scripts to the likes of ABC, Warner Bros., Disney Channel, and 20th Century Fox.

Pamela and Danny had a lot of wonderful advice to dispense. In no particular order, here are their top 24 tips:

  1. A logline is key. Hook them up front with your big idea, your main characters, and your conflict.
  2. Don’t get bogged down in the details. This leads to coming to the end of your time and only covering the first five pages.
  3. Think about how you would get your friend to see a movie you like. Build your pitch with that in mind.
  4. Act like a normal person. A pitch is a mini job interview. If they love your idea, they won’t buy it if you seem like someone who would be hard to work with… or just plain crazy. Don’t sound angry or desperate.
  5. If you have limited time, your pitch should be about context and focus, i.e. “This is my big, specific idea, and tonally the script is like X Movie meets Y Movie.”
  6. Comparisons are good, but use movies that did well, that aren’t exactly the same as your idea, and have a similar tone. And only use two movies. If you say, “It’s like American Pie meets Alien meets Harry Potter,” no one will have any idea what that means.
  7. Show them why your movie is sellable. Sound like it’s a movie that you’d want to see.
  8. Don’t read your pitch. It’s certainly ok to refer to notes or even just hold a pad of paper and pen so that you have something to do with your hands. Pam suggests holding a pad of paper with something like “Be brave” written on it. Whatever helps you do your best.
  9. If you’re pitching a TV show, you need to get across your big idea and the sense that there are 65-100 episode ideas inside of it. You’re not just pitching the pilot episode; you’re pitching the series.
  10. Again for TV, end your pitch with the plot for the pilot or with the big idea that will be explored over the first season.
  11. If your script has a personal inspiration or you’re some sort of expert on the topic, mention that. If it’s the true story of how you murdered someone in high school and covered it up, probably best not to mention that.
  12. Don’t give them the kitchen sink. Focus on your main story and simplify if necessary to get your big idea across clearly.
  13. You don’t need to reveal the ending UNLESS (1) they ask to hear it or (2) your ending has a major twist that is essential to your big idea.
  14. Whether you reveal the ending or not, make them picture your climax. Make them want to see it.
  15. Tell them the name of your protagonist, but don’t start listing off any more characters than is necessary.
  16. If your script has won any awards, tell them that up front.
  17. A general structure to follow: This is what it is (title and genre), this is the world, this is what happens, these are the consequences, and this is why it matters.
  18. Dress professionally. You don’t have to wear a suit, but look respectable and like you care.
  19. Do not use props or gimmicks. This is very unprofessional. They may remember you, but not for good reasons.
  20. Don’t be apologetic about taking up their time. You’ve earned the right to make them listen.
  21. Consider closing on theme, or even the tagline of your movie. Put an exclamation point on your idea.
  22. Give them the trailer moments. Share all the coolest parts.
  23. Don’t use screenwriting terms like the Save the Cat beat names. Just tell the story.
  24. Once you’ve got them sold on your idea, get the f*ck out of there. Don’t talk yourself out of a sale. Knowing when to stop talking is the hardest thing to learn, but it’s essential.

8 thoughts on “24 Tips for Pitching Your Script

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  1. Not sure #1 should be called a Logline. Most writers I know call it the Quick Pitch believing a logline is usually the short blurb you would find in a TV programming guide since it lacks ‘the hook’ to entice the listener to want to hear more.

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