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How to Develop a Pitch: An Excerpt from ‘The Hollywood Pitching Bible’

How to Develop a Pitch: An Excerpt from 'The Hollywood Pitching Bible'

Douglas Eboch (who pitched the story on which “Sweet Home Alabama” is based) and Ken Aguado (the producer of web cooking show”Yo Cuz: The Italian American Cook”) have gathered their tips for people that are eager to pitch their ideas to Hollywood.  They’ve written a book, “The Hollywood Pitching Bible,” and they’ve given Indiewire an exclusive excerpt of the guide below, from the chapter “Constructing Your Pitch.”  For more information on the book, check out the website to ScreenMaster Books.

Once you’ve chosen appropriate subject matter
the next step is constructing your pitch. There will be situations where you
will be required to pitch your story in a time frame that ranges from 30
seconds (the classic “elevator” pitch) up to 15 minutes (20 minutes is
considered the unofficial upper limit).

Pitch vs. script.

Let’s consider what a pitch actually
is and how it differs from the final product, such as a screenplay or teleplay.
Understanding this difference will make our tips for constructing your pitch
feel more logical and less arbitrary.

The most obvious difference is length.
If your pitch is 15 minutes long, it can’t contain everything that will be in
the final screenplay. You will have to pick and choose the highlights. You will
have to summarize.

Another obvious but important
difference is that a pitch is delivered verbally. It is harder for listeners to
follow things delivered verbally, especially if the speaker is anxious or
rambles. What’s vividly clear in your mind may not always be reflected by what
you say. The complexity you might be able to achieve on the page will have to
be simplified for the pitch.

On the other hand, because a pitch is
delivered verbally and face to face, it can be more interactive. The listener
can ask questions or ask you to elaborate if they have concerns or don’t
understand something, or are taken with a particular aspect of your idea. This
can be a huge advantage for the writer – if they are prepared.

It might be more helpful to say that a
well-executed pitch is analogous to
the final product. One is not merely a shorter version of the other. The act of
pitching and the act of writing are derived from different skill-sets. And this
is why so many writers have trouble with pitching, and why the best writers are
rarely the best pitchers.

Learning from trailers.

Try this exercise. Pick a recent movie
you know well that is also similar to the kind of film you want to pitch. Go
online and find the trailer for the movie, then study how the distributor
tackles their pitch. After all, a trailer is really nothing more than the
“audio-video” version of a two-minute pitch designed to get you to want to see
a film. The people who make trailers do it for a living and some are quite
good. Study the things the trailer emphasizes: how it presents the concept of
the film, the characters, the setting, the plot, and how the trailer “sells”
what’s cool or compelling about the film. Does the trailer accurately reflect
what you know the film to be? Does it represent what you loved about the film?

We are not saying you will be pitching the
trailer for your final product. There are significant differences between a
pitch and a trailer. For example, most pitches of any length will include a
fairly complete outline of the story: beginning, middle and end. Whereas only a
truly misguided trailer would give away the ending to the film it’s selling.
Trailers tend to emphasize the “sizzle” rather than the “steak.” We’ve all seen
trailers that seem to give away the entire film, but consider why this was
done. In most cases it is because the trailer makers had a hard time figuring
out how to sell the film in a concise way. On the other hand, we’ve all seen
great moments in trailers that end up not in the finished film at all. This may
be because the trailer was made while the film was still in a longer, unedited
form. But in some ways this is perfect metaphor for the difference between a
pitch and its final product. In fact, a good pitch will frequently include
details that may never end up in the final product. Ironically, this is done
for clarity and not deception. We will soon see why this is so.

Let’s start with a few guidelines that will
help you build your pitch. These guidelines are not arbitrary rules. They are
designed to help you define the best aspects of your pitch. The more defined
your final pitch, the easier it will be for you to present your intentions
clearly and with the greatest chance of success.

Building your full-length pitch.

The first step is to develop your pitch so
that it will run a full twelve to fifteen minutes. From there you can derive a
variety of shorter versions to suit your purposes. As we’ve said, a 30-second
pitch has a very different ambition than a full-length pitch. But no matter how
long or short your pitch, you should always keep that good one-liner in mind as
you develop your pitch. Typically, this is how the notion of a movie or
television pitch originates and it can be helpful in guiding the crafting of
the longer version. If your 15-minute pitch doesn’t reflect and deliver the
promise of the great one-liner that inspired you, there’s a problem.

There is a misconception among
beginners that a pitch is merely a plot summary of what the final product will
be. And while this may be true on a superficial level, successful pitching
requires a deeper understanding of the differences between your pitch and your
intended final product.

A fully executed screenplay contains
every line of dialog and a detailed description of every location and action.
More importantly, it embodies the sum total of the narrative momentum that is
usually only possible in a fully realized screenplay. So, for example, the
pleasure we get from seeing Rocky “go the distance” at the end of the first
“Rocky” film is a direct result of the two hours we just spent watching the
character struggle to get there.

Imagine the difficulty of conveying
the experience of Rocky’s challenges in 30 seconds and you will come to
understand the problem. Even in 15 minutes it just might not be possible to
convey all the ups and downs of the character’s struggle in a way that is
meaningful. Does this mean a story like “Rocky” is tough to pitch? Maybe, and
in fact “Rocky” was sold to United Artists as a spec script. But even if you
decide this is the kind of story you want to pitch, the essential nature of the
challenge is clear: you need to find a concise way to shorthand the experience
of the final product and why it will have special merit. After all, you’re
trying to convince someone to pay you a significant amount of money for you to
take what’s in your head and execute a fully realized screenplay. That’s a big
leap of faith for a buyer. If you can’t get them to “see” the film, there’s
almost no chance they will buy your pitch.

Let’s over-simplify this point for the
sake of clarity. If you’re pitching a film that will be a comedy, is your pitch
funny? If you’re pitching a drama, will the pitch make the listener cry? If
it’s an action film, will your pitch be exciting? If it’s a horror film, will
the pitch be terrifying? It seems self-evident that this should be true, but
you might be amazed how rarely it happens in the real world.

Let’s expand the point from there.
What’s the central idea of your story? Can it be summarized in 30 seconds? Can
it be summarized in 15 minutes? Let’s use the example of “Rocky” again. Does
your pitch rely on the nuances of understanding the subculture of professional
boxing? Or, do you really want to tell a story about a subtle romance between
an amateur boxer and a shy wallflower? Maybe your story is more about Rocky’s
character transformation and less about the thrill of victory. Don’t forget, at
the end of “Rocky,” Rocky loses the fight.

If you understand this example, you
will start to realize why picking a pitch-appropriate subject matter is so
critical and why a simple plot summary is never adequate for a successful

This is not a book about how to write a
screenplay or a teleplay, and we assume the reader has significant experience
as a screenwriter and has a solid understanding of the multiplicity of elements
that are needed to construct a fully realized story. Not surprisingly, most of the narrative elements of
a screenplay or teleplay have a corresponding element in a pitch. But typically
these elements are presented quite differently in a pitch. For simplicity, we
will look at the elements of a pitch one at a time, although every writer knows
that these elements frequently overlap, often in every sentence. Of course, storytelling is storytelling, and the
things that make a great script are related to
the things that make a great pitch, even if the elements take a slightly
different form in a pitch. 

For more information on “The Hollywood Pitching Bible,” check out the website to ScreenMaster Books.

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