April 10th, 2013
By Danny Manus
This weekend, there are two big screenwriting events – the Screenwriters World East Conference in NY and the Toronto Screenwriting Conference in Canada. And both afford writers the chance to pitch the pros.
So, I figured it was a good time to whip out some quick pitching advice to keep in mind. There is no ONE set way to pitch your script that will guarantee your success, but here are 5 different pitching strategies or focuses you could use to grab, attract and impress the other side of the table. But you better know what your project’s strong suit is before you decide how to pitch it.
1. Focus on Story, Hook and World. If you think you have a very high concept story and the strongest selling point about your project is your amazing, original hook, then focus on that. If you have a truly original idea that hasn’t been done or you have a crazy new twist on a great existing concept that when you hear it, you get the story completely, then all you will really need to do is give them an awesome logline that gets that across and some perfect comparison movies that get your concept across (it’s THIS meets THAT). If you have a truly original – and COMMERCIAL – concept, you will get a visceral reaction to your logline. If you get no reaction, then either your logline sucks or you don’t have an original concept that grabs people’s attention and you will have to go into more depth on the story. Try to go through whatever exemplifies what’s original about your story.
Focus on the elements of your script that will make it stand out – the world of your script, the locations, time periods, twists and turns in the plot, etc. If you have written a futuristic thriller, and your world is so visual and creative that it jumps off the page – then focus on that world and bring the exec into it. Give them the highlights that will help them picture it and then go into the specifics of the story that will bring that world to life. Focus more on the actual plot and the build of the story to tell us why audiences will be hooked all the way through.
However, you should never EVER pitch the structure of your story. It is a major amateur mistake to just go through the Save the Cat structural beat sheet instead of the actual PLOT. Tell them a story like you would describe a movie you just saw to a friend. You’d never say “And then as we broke into three, the character did this…”
Examples of movies that would probably be pitched this way – Olympus Has Fallen, Alien, Shaun of the Dead, Taken, The Departed, The Help, The Hangover, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Looper, etc.
2. Focus on Character, Arc and Relationships. Sometimes a project is more character-driven than plot driven and the new angle or most interesting aspect of your story will be the characters you create and the journey they embark on. Or perhaps it’s about a special relationship that is forged over the course of the story that will really touch an audience like in Thelma and Louise or Superbad (Side note: It’s often the creation of a great dynamic or relationship and putting that into a high concept story that makes the most sellable projects). In this case, you want to really make us love both your characters and get across their dynamic and backstory.
Sometimes a character is so complex, interesting or relatable that it’s the casting possibilities that hook an executive. Sometimes it’s the specific goals they have to accomplish and the obstacles they face that will make a story stand out. Focus on your character’s life, their struggles, their goals, give a morsel of their backstory, and then tell us what happens that totally turns their life upside down (the inciting incident) and what they have to do now. Build them up, tear them down, and tell us why we will want to watch it.
Very often, it’s the non-high concept or more indie films that might be better pitched this way. Or a film that’s based on a real person and their life story. Example include; Magic Mike, Little Miss Sunshine, Erin Brockovich, Castaway, Rocky, Jerry Maguire, Into the Wild, Lost in Translation, Royal Tenenbaums, etc.
3. Focus on You and your personal story. Sometimes it’s not about making them love your pitch or your project, it’s about making them love YOU. I can’t tell you the number of pitches I’ve taken where I hated the story, but there was something so charming, relatable or likable about the writer that I asked to read a writing sample anyway. If you can come off as comfortable, professional, collaborative, fun to be around (without being an over the top clown who is trying to hard), and someone who truly knows their shit – then they will want to deal with you more. If you mind your manners, have a pleasant disposition, are decently attractive, dressed normally, have done your research, and just have a disarming way about you, that will often get you further than a great logline. It comes down to three things – don’t be combative, don’t be desperate, and don’t be crazy.
If you have real experience in the film industry or with writing in general in other areas, then you want to stress that. If you’ve won MAJOR contests (and I said WON), you want to mention that. If there’s something that is special about you or that you can claim that no one else can, then mention that.
And if there is something about your life or your personal story or experiences that inspired the script you have written that will make us connect with you, you should share that. If you wrote an international action movie and you were a soldier fighting overseas, then that’s great to mention. If you wrote a sci-fi thriller and you’re a scientist or engineer who has been studying the very field you are writing about, then say that. If you were in a bank when it got robbed and it inspired you to write a heist movie, share that story. If you were witness to some huge event in time and you have a specific point of view or new information and your life rights are truly important to the story, then share that. If you are an EXPERT in a certain field, let them know.
However, there are some major exceptions to this rule!! If your script is about a woman who got beaten, raped, divorced, diagnosed as clinically insane, was sold into sex slavery, raised in a cult, got cancer 17 times, etc., and it’s your own personal true story – keep it to yourself. Keep it light, but meaningful. This is not a therapy session, it’s a pitch meeting. You want to share something that will inspire a connection and confidence – not pity.
Especially if you are pitching an agent or manager, you want to pitch YOU much more than a single story. Show them you have a real vision for your career, know what type of writer you want to be, what genres you want to write, whose career you’d like to have in 10 years, and what you’ve been doing to work towards that.
4. Focus on the Trailer Moments. Sometimes the plot and the characters may not insanely original or strong, but you have some awesome moments in your script and story that are sure to get people into the theater. This usually applies more to comedies, action films and horror movies, but if you know you have created some amazing set pieces or huge scares or amazing original action scenes, then that’s what you should highlight in your pitch. Don’t go through a character’s backstory or the beat by beat story – give us a logline, a quick overview of the story and then give us more of the specific, visual, compelling examples of the best parts of your story. Treat your pitch like you were writing a movie trailer. Set up the world in 1 line, set up the protagonist in 2 lines, give us the inciting incident that kicks the story into gear, and then give us the trailer moments and build to the amazing climax.
Examples of movies that would probably be pitched this way include Project X, The Expendables, Evil Dead, Spring Breakers, Fast and the Furious, There’s Something About Mary, etc.
5. Focus on creating a relationship. This is where instead of sitting down to rapid-fire pitch a memorized speech for 4 and a half minutes and hope for the best, you just want to take the time to culture a relationship and create a connection. Get to know the person, learn what they look for, what type of project they’ve always wanted to find, what their pet peeves are, ask for general career advice and try to make yourself seem like someone who isn’t trying to SELL them something, but instead is someone they might want to get a drink with. This especially works if the conference you’re pitching at is NOT in LA, because those execs WILL be going to get drinks later and if you seem cool enough, they may invite you to come with. The best sales jobs are the ones where you’re not actually selling anything…while selling everything. The key to this kind of ballsy pitch is to make it seem natural – and they will know when you’re putting them on. But let them know you’re working on some new projects and that you’d love to contact them at some point in the future, etc.
Whether you’re in NY or Toronto this weekend, or any other pitching situation in the future, know what your strongest selling points are (and your story’s) and let that dictate what kind of pitch will be the best fit.
**On Saturday, April 13th, I will be teaching a LIVE in-store class at The Writers Store in Burbank. “12 Steps to a Screen-Worthy Script.” If you’re in LA area, you should be there! Sign up now and you get a free Logline Critique! We’ll go through different exercises and the 12 steps to getting your script to the next level. For more info and to register, click here – http://www.writersstore.com/12-steps-to-a-screen-worth-script/
May 7th, 2012
With the Great American Pitchfest in less than a month, I know many of you are preparing your pitch, getting your script in shape, and figuring out what your strategy should be to maximize your pitchfest experience. But how many of you have completed your one-sheet?
If your hand isn’t raised – you aren’t ready to pitch! One-Sheets are an absolute must if you are going into a pitch meeting, especially at a pitchfest event. It’s what you are going to give the executives at the conclusion of your pitch that will allow them to remember you and your story a week or two after the event, when they finally go through everything and decide what they want to read. If your pitch is your first impression, the one-sheet is your lasting impression.
It’s the only way the executive, who has listened to 50-100 pitches that day, is going to be able to remember you after the salient details of your glorious 5 minute pitch have escaped them. I write my comments on your one-sheet the second you leave the table – Yes, no, great concept, bad story, liked her, hated him, ask for script, totally retarded, smelled bad – whatever.
Your one-pager (another term for one-sheet) is your calling card and you should always keep one on you at all times. Even if the event you’re pitching at tells you not to!
It’s not just a selling tool for your story, but also for yourself. It differs from a synopsis in a few ways. First, as its name dictates, it’s only ONE page. Secondly, unlike the synopsis which is just about your story, your one-sheet can be a bit about you as well. It’s much closer to the query letter but without the letter aspects. You don’t need the greeting or closing, but a good one-sheet should include the following:
– Your name
– The title of your screenplay
– Your contact info including email (even if they have it already)
– The genre of your script
– The logline of your script
– If appropriate, 1-2 lines that state anything special about you that pertains to your story or the film business in general just like in your query letter. Or mention of any major contest wins, produced projects, etc.
– Then, 1-3 VERY short paragraphs (about 8-12 lines on the page) about your story, your world, your protagonist and what they must accomplish, what is against them, and what’s on the line. It should be a bit more stylized than your synopsis, which means your voice as a writer should shine through.
– Much like the query letter, you should not give away your ending, but you should tease and intimate your awesome ending – let the exec know that your story builds to something exciting.
On a one-sheet, you can also include at the bottom a few more titles with genre and logline of other projects you have written (if you have others), because the executive might not like your project, but they might like YOU, and want to know what else you’ve done.
And incredibly important for your one-sheet — no typos or grammatical errors!! If you cannot write a half a page without a typo or mistake, then you are sloppy or lazy and I don’t want to read your script. I know many execs who will throw away a one-sheet with a typo on it.
Execs can tell if someone can write by their one-sheet, and they often will not ask for a script if the one-sheet is unimpressive, bland, boring, or doesn’t tell them anything.
The paper shouldn’t be boring. You shouldn’t doodle little animals on it or anything, but I find that the one-pagers I keep and the ones I take more notice of have something different on the page. They are a bit more visual, perhaps there’s a picture or pattern on the page that connects with your story, or they are printed on a slightly harder stock of paper than regular printer paper. It doesn’t need professional graphic design, but I’ve seen many one-sheets that are basically the poster for the movie on one side and the synopsis and other information on the other.
Just like with your pitch – the more visual a one-sheet is, the more memorable it will be. Is an exec not going to read your script because your one sheet isn’t visually stimulating? No, of course not. But you are trying to do things that make you stand out, in a good way. Executives may tell you it doesn’t matter, but subconsciously, it does. People like shiny objects. It’s how Transformers got made. So if there is something visually stimulating – not detracting or distracting – but stimulating about the page, chances are execs will pay more attention to it.
But one thing you should NOT do – is put the actor you want in your movie on your one-sheet. Nothing will scream amateur more than a photo-shopped picture of Adam Sandler!
However you design it, I cannot express to you the importance of having one. Writers always ask if a business card is good enough. As far as getting an exec your contact info, a business card works. But even if the title of your script is printed on that card, that’s not going to remind the executive about your story or your pitch or some of those key words you dropped during your pitch. Business cards get lost, they fall out of pockets or bags, get thrown away, etc. A one-sheet is a preferred.
Some people say one-sheets are unnecessary and that if you don’t write them, an executive will have no choice but to ask for your script instead. Those people are complete morons. They have another option…not asking for anything! And if they were on the fence about your project, not having a one-sheet makes it that much easier for them to forget you were ever there.
March 17th, 2010
This year for the Oscars, I was in Vancouver for the first annual Pitchmarket 2010, a screenwriting conference run by FTX West, where I was invited to teach a couple classes and take pitches. Now I had been to Vancouver a few years ago for a pitchfest event and one of the same people were running this event. So I was really looking forward to returning to Vancouver! I love the city of Vancouver – it’s like NY but cleaner, nicer and smaller. And everyone says ‘sorry’ when they bump into you on the street.
Now, the Olympics had just ended a week prior to my arrival, but the spirit was still in the air – as was much of the signage and posters, which was cool with me. The cab drivers and business owners seemed much more relaxed however.
I always look forward to these conferences – especially when they are outside of Los Angeles. It’s nice to get away, and Canada is sadly about as far as I get to travel to (seriously, doesn’t anyone in Europe need some screenwriting help?). I landed Friday afternoon after a delayed flight and as I was landing, my popping ears made me realize – oh yeah, I’m getting sick. And flying hurts. Good times.
Once I landed, I was taken to my hotel which was…not what I expected. It was more like a residential living facility. Now the rooms were very nice and had beautiful views of all of Downtown Vancouver and the Mountains. But the Worldmark “Hotel” did lack a few things – air conditioning, wifi internet, toiletries and maid service. Thank God for Blackberries or else the other executives probably would have demanded another hotel. I don’t want to make it seem like LA Execs are prima donnas – but we are sometimes. I’m a really easy person to please – but when you’re sick, in another Country and you have a million things to do, little hotel perks go a long way.
Anywho, I taught my classes Saturday morning – How to be Your Own Development Exec and No BS Guide to Pitchfests. They both were very well attended and I thought they went great (I will hopefully post some pictures soon!). The writers really seemed to respond to my No BullShit approach and they all seemed to take away something from the seminars. I was really impressed with the writers there, who all had some great questions and seemed really interested! Or maybe they were just placating me haha! And I had brought some of my E-Books, which also sold pretty well. I can always tell even from looking at writers in my class, which ones are going to do well in their pitches. It’s like a 6th sense but without dead people.
Saturday afternoon I had all to myself to play in Vancouver. I love days like this. And despite being increasingly under the weather, I was not going to let a cold ruin a beautiful day. So, I took a long walk down to the water and caught a SeaTrain over to North Vancouver and explored a bit. Then came back and walked all the way back to the hotel. That night, we had a lovely dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant and I was finally able to socialize and meet some of the other execs attending (they arrived later than I did so I hadn’t seen them yet). A couple of agents, a couple managers, and me. There weren’t that many execs from LA brought to the conference but we had a nice little group. I won’t dare repeat the items discussed at the dinner table, but a good time was had by all.
That night, a group of the LA execs went out and partied. I probably shouldn’t have, but I can’t turn down a good time. One of the agents knew an actress in town who knew some club promoters and we all got into a couple fun hotspots. But it had been a LOOONG day with no nap time, so most of us were back to the hotel by 1am, a pretty mild night considering.
Sunday was pitch day, but I woke up in Hell. I normally really enjoy the constant pitching, but my ears, nose, throat and body hurt. I had been taking cold pills since Saturday morning but they weren’t working. So I got MORE pills. And I could barely speak (teaching for 4 hours and screaming over music in the bars probably didn’t help). I will admit I became a bit of a diva and had someone get me tea and cold pills as the pitching began. THANK YOU to all the volunteers who helped me out!
I was actually pleasantly surprised – the pitches weren’t bad at all. I probably heard about 30-40 pitches in 10 minute increments. And only a couple were really bad. Most had taken my class the day before and knew what I wanted to hear. And the ones that didn’t…well…it was obvious. Only one man sat down and said, “This isn’t my best work…you’re going to hate it…I don’t even know why I’m pitching this…” before he even told me his title. Never lose before you even play the game. You need to be confident and sell yourself and your project even if you’re unsure.
And one other gentleman sat down and said he wanted to do a reality TV series on a very general topic, which I won’t mention, but didn’t have any idea on an angle, hook or premise. And when I politely told him that we don’t do reality TV – he just kept pushing. There was nothing I could do for him, so when I realized he was going to sit there for the whole 10 minutes instead of letting me sneeze and breathe in peace, I had to tell him that he needed to go back to the drawing board.
If you just have an idea for something but no hook, angle, premise, concept, or story – guess what – you don’t have enough! You need to be specific and educated on the topic. I actually thought his broad concept could be an interesting half hour sports special, but it wasn’t not a series. And even if it WAS – I don’t do reality TV! Pitching me harder isn’t going to make me become a reality TV producer!
I think the most common note I gave was that the writers’ story wasn’t going in the best direction possible or the set up wasn’t as good as it could be. Sometimes a writer has such a good idea but you can see the minute where it just went off-track and you want so badly to pull it back on the road and set them straight. That’s what I tried to do in my pitches.
Out of the 30-40 pitches I heard, I asked for about 5 or 6 scripts, which is about an average number for these events. So who knows…maybe one of these will totally blow me away. I got a few pitches that really sounded great and I’m hoping the scripts live up to the hype!!
Sunday night was our Oscar Party and while it was perfectly nice and fun and the food was pretty darn tasty (not to mention the free vodka!), I was full blown sick. I felt like crap. I was coughing and sneezing and worried about the plane ride home I’d be taking in 24 hours. So, once Avatar lost and Sandra Bullock won, I decided to forgo the late-night festivities and actually went back to the hotel, got all kinds of fuzzy on cold pills, and passed out before midnight. When I woke up, I only felt slightly better but the cough had gotten worse as had my ears. I was afraid my ear drums would literally rupture on the plane, but I was going to have to brave that chance.
I bought ear-planes – the earplugs for planes that have been tested by like the Navy – so I figured those would help. And thankfully, I found a wonderful plane-buddy in Ellen Sandler, one of the other speakers at the conference and an Emmy-nominated exec producer and writer for “Everybody Loves Raymond.” She by chance had changed her seat and was now stuck sitting next to me. But we chatted the whole way about the business and writing and she even read my E-Book and loved it, which I took as a great compliment as her book is fantastic and quite successful.
She was even nice enough to drive me home….awwww….I was thrilled to have gotten to know her on this trip and hopefully we will work together soon. I finally landed – with only minimal ear pain upon landing – but I was half deaf with totally clogged ears. Small price to pay I suppose for a fun and productive weekend in Vancouver!
I want to send a big thank you to all the volunteers, helpers, sponsors, etc that helped put on a great event and chauferred my sick butt around! But most of all, I’d like to thank Danika Dinsmore who did a great job with the classes and pitchfest, Marcy Schacter, who put together a great event and kept it moving, and Joan MacBeth for suggesting that I attend!
For those wondering, I’m hoping to be back in Vancouver before the end of the year to do a weekend of classes with Biz Books and Capilano University. I’ll keep ya posted! And if you know of a conference or group in YOUR town that is looking for a speaker, please, let me know. And hopefully I’ll see you all soon!