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How to Pitch a Movie Idea and Sell Your Script With Style

Using Screenplay Pitch Examples and Our Step-by-Step Guide

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by Script Reader Pro in How to Sell a Screenplay
March 14, 2019 0 comments
how to pitch a movie idea

How to Pitch a Movie Idea and Sell Your Script With Style

You’ve learned how to write a screenplay. You’ve written a few Grade A spec scripts that have received ringing endorsements from script coverage services or acquaintances who work in the industry.

You’ve learned how to sell a screenplay and now, finally, the moment has arrived… A studio executive really likes your work and wants you to come in for a meeting. Or maybe you just ran into him at a party.

In either case, now’s the time to learn how to pitch a movie idea. And that’s what this post is all about.

Here’s What’s Coming Up:

♦  What is a film pitch?

♦  What happens in a meeting to pitch a script?

♦  How to write a pitch for a movie

♦  How to sell a movie idea: prepare, prepare, prepare

♦  How to pitch a movie idea in a meeting

♦  Following up on a film pitch

So, let’s dive on in. (Full disclosure: this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you purchase something via one of these links we get a small commission at no additional cost to you.)

What Is a Film Pitch?

A “film pitch,” “screenplay pitch,” or the phrase “to pitch a screenplay,” simply means verbally selling your script to someone in the industry who may be interested in it. These people are usually studio executives or producers.

The Elevator Pitch

The most common form of screenplay pitch is the “elevator pitch”—so named as it should only take around sixty seconds to deliver. Ninety seconds is fine, but anything over and you’re probably going into too much detail.

You may be called upon to deliver one of these if you’re invited in for what’s called a “general meeting” to discuss your script. But you need to be ready to deliver one at the drop of a hat in case you run into an exec somewhere randomly like, say, an elevator.

The Twenty-Minute Pitch

These tend to occur more often in general meetings. A twenty-minute pitch involves getting into much more detail—laying out the story act by act, sequence by sequence.

You have much more time to describe characters, themes and specific scenes, but the general principle remains: stick to what’s essential for the listener to know.

In either case, a screenplay pitch is basically a sales pitch by telling the story in a brief but exciting way. Hopefully without sounding too aggressive or “salesy.”

Overall, the primary goal of a movie pitch is to get people excited about the concept, characters and story and working with you.

General vs. Specific Meetings 

A general meeting is usually it’s an informal chat about you and your projects. This is so the exec or producer can get an idea of the kind of writer you are, your writing “voice,” etc. and what you’re working on.

It’s the most common form of meeting and, in the main, what we’ll be discussing in this post.

On the other hand, you may be called in to pitch for a specific job, such a rewrite or a new project. These can get tricky because the game these days is that exec and producers will pull in a dozen writers and get a dozen different takes. Then pick the take they want and choose a writer, even if it wasn’t their take.

If you snag a one-on-one with an exec or producer about a specific project, it can help to leave a one-pager behind. Leaving a look book or pitch deck is also encouraged these days because the more you can add to your pitch package—the more you can make them see and feel your film—the better off you are.

Some Scripts Are Easier to Pitch Than Others

Movie ideas with a high concept are easier to pitch than ones with a low concept. A film like A Quiet Place, for example, would be much easier to pitch than, say, Roma.

Here’s the logline to A Quiet Place:

In a post-apocalyptic world, a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing.

Just from this logline, it’s easy to visualize the poster, the trailer and the movie—all the juicy stuff execs and producers love to do.

This is because the conflict between protagonist and antagonist is clear, and it would also be easy to break down this plot down into an exciting sixty seconds.

On the other hand, here’s the logline to the 2019 Oscar winner, Roma:

A year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.

If, like Roma, your movie is a slow-burner that’s light on plot, you need to find another way to engage the listener and sell the script in its best light.

The best way to do this is by crafting a pitch that also focuses on what the movie’s about, rather than just what happens. This means spending more time on character, theme and maybe broader social/political issues than would be normal for a high concept movie.

You don’t want to just talk about Cleo’s journey of “love, loss and redemption” entirely, though, at the expense of plot. All theme with no context can lose the listener, so striking the right balance is essential when pitching low concept movie ideas.

Can You Pitch a Movie Idea Without a Screenplay?

Despite what you may have heard, there isn’t a market for stand-alone movie ideas. You can’t sell a movie idea. You can’t copyright a movie idea. There’s no special place you can go to submit movie ideas.

Movie ideas are essentially worthless because anyone can come up with them. It’s the execution of an idea that matters. Click to tweet

Execs and producers looking for movie ideas are looking for the whole package: an idea, a script and a writer they can work with.

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What Happens In a Meeting to Pitch a Script?

Here’s a rough guide on what to expect if you get invited in for a general meeting to give a screenplay pitch:

 Waiting to be seen/drinking water (1-5 minutes). Some of the most nerve-racking moments any writer spends are in a production company waiting room. Try to stay calm, maybe by practicing some breathing routines.

♦  Hellos and small talk (1-5 minutes). First impressions mean a lot, so here’s where you try to immediately build rapport by being friendly and outgoing.

♦  The screenplay pitch (1-20 minutes). The most important part of the meeting, obviously.

♦  Q&As (5-20 minutes). Your chance to explain anything they didn’t understand, but also a chance for you to ask them a question or two.

♦  Wrap up (1-2 minutes). Time to finish that water, give a firm handshake and exit.

We’ll go into more detail soon on how to navigate a pitch meeting like a pro.

Drink Water. Pitch Script. Repeat

If your screenplay starts to generate some serious “heat” you may be asked in for a series of pitch meetings on what’s known as the “water bottle tour.”

On this tour of sorts, you’ll get to pitch your screenplay to a variety of different execs and drink 60 percent more water than you usually consume.

It’s an exciting time and quite possibly the beginning of your screenwriting career. It’s also the moment you realize that writing a Grade A screenplay was just the beginning.

Now you have to sell not only your work but yourself.

How to Write a Pitch for a Movie

The key to crafting a great screenplay pitch—whether it’s an elevator pitch or a twenty-minute pitch—is to stick to only the most important beats in the story.

Approach the screenplay pitch as if you have one minute to tell a friend about your fantastic movie idea. Here are some general do’s and don’ts to keep in mind when learning how to write a film pitch:

How to Pitch a Movie Idea: Do’s

♦  Start the pitch by establishing the genre and maybe giving a brief introduction as to how you came up with the idea. This will help create context for the exec before you plunge into the main story.

♦  Stick to what’s important and lose everything else. What’s important is the struggle between protagonist and antagonist and the trauma you put them through. Not scene description. Not dialogue. Not minor characters. And definitely not the title.

♦  Spell out the most important beats: the inciting incident, call to action, big event, Act 1 turning point, etc. There isn’t really a hard and fast rule as to whether you should reveal the ending or not. Some writers like to leave them hanging. Others prefer to tell the whole story and both options are perfectly viable.

 Exploit genre. If you’re having a hard time making a comedy sound funny, or a horror sound nerve-shredding, there might be a problem with the script rather than the pitch.

How to Pitch a Movie Idea: Don’ts

♦  Don’t overrun your allocated time. You run the risk of boring the audience if you go over the one or twenty minutes you’ve been asked to sell your screenplay in.

♦  Don’t compare your screenplay to existing movies. Saying “think La La Land meets Memento” isn’t particularly helpful. It also makes your project sound derivative rather than fresh and original. On the other hand, some writers do this to good effect, so this one isn’t set in stone.

♦  Don’t mention specific actors. Your tastes might not jive with the exec’s so it’s best not to mention who you’d love to see in the film. If asked, mention a few possibilities but make it clear you don’t really mind. You’re open and easy-going.

Screenplay Pitch Examples

One of the best ways to learn how to pitch a movie idea is to watch other writers do it.

Here are three very different screenplay pitch examples by three different writers. Pay particular attention to how engaging they are, and how they condense the story down to its most important beats.

Run a search online to find more great movie pitches and learn from the best.

How to Sell a Movie Idea: Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Some writers overly prepare for their script pitch and it ends up coming off slightly robotic. Most, however, under-prepare. Here’s how best to strike the right balance when preparing for a screenplay pitch.

Research Who You’re Pitching Your Script Idea To

It’s amazing how many writers go into meetings without knowing anything about the company or studio they’re pitching to.

Find out what they’ve produced and who their key players are. Have an answer as to why you think your script would be a great fit for them.

Practice Your Screenplay Pitch

Practice your pitch to get the sixty-second (or twenty-minute) timing down pat. Say it to yourself in front of a mirror and maybe record it too. You’ll notice things when you watch a recording of yourself talking that maybe you’ve always missed.

Once you’re comfortable pitching a film idea to yourself, it’s time to practice your pitch in front of other people.

Get different reactions from anyone who’s willing to listen: friends, family, co-workers, etc. and pay attention to their non-verbal cues as you speak. Do they look engaged or fidgety?

If you’re feeling really brave, test your screenplay pitch out on strangers, or acquaintances you hardly know. This will really test your nerves and prepare you better than pitching a movie script to your wife or husband.

Research More on How to Pitch a Movie Idea

If you feel you need more guidance on how to pitch a screenplay in a meeting, here are some resources. These are probably the two best books dedicated to pitching movies.

♦  The Hollywood Pitching Bible by Ken Aguado and Douglas Eboch

♦  Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds by Michael Hague

These short videos contain some useful information too:

Plan Your Night, Day and Journey

You don’t want to miss an important meeting because you got stuck in traffic for half an hour on the 405.

Get to bed at a reasonable time the night before. Plan your journey to get there earlier than you need to. Research parking spots, subway times or cabs. Wait in a nearby coffee shop if you’re too early and try to relax.

Any snags before a meeting can cause unnecessary nerves to kick in, so try to remove as much stress as possible by planning every detail.

How to Pitch a Movie Idea In a Meeting

Here are the main do’s and don’ts to remember as you deliver your screenplay pitch.

How to Pitch a Screenplay In a Meeting: Do’s

 Establish rapport. You’re much more likely to get a favorable response from an exec or producer if you get to know them a little. Rather than launching straight into a movie pitch as soon as you enter the room, establish some common ground. Ask how their weekend was. Look for common interests and ways to connect.

♦  Be interesting. Execs and producers get pitched a lot. If there’s something unique or interesting you can say about yourself it will help you stick in their mind. If you breed rare cats, for example, or used to be in the FBI, slip it into the conversation.

♦  Be the kind of writer they want to work with. In this business having a great script is not always enough. Make a point of being as open, interesting and charming as possible. Try to come across as easy-going but willing to work hard.

♦  Be passionate. When delivering your pitch you want to get across your enthusiasm for the project. If they can sense that you don’t believe in your story 100 percent, they’re unlikely to either.

♦  Ask if they have any questions. At the end of your pitch, listen to exactly what they want to know and answer as succinctly as possible. Avoid long, rambling answers that dive back into the story and attempt to fill in all the gaps.

How to Pitch a Screenplay In a Meeting: Don’ts

♦  Don’t drink alcohol before a screenplay pitch meeting to “loosen up.” (Or imbibe any other mind-altering substances.) Yes, a glass or two of wine may help you relax but it can also make you nervous if you start to feel its effects more than you expected.

♦  Don’t mention politics or religion or express strong opinions about anything without first knowing what they think. Saying you just left Chicago after six months because you hated it so much might not go down well with someone who grew up in Englewood.

♦  Don’t be too passionate. While passion and enthusiasm is great, you don’t want to overdo it. Saying things like “This story is like nothing you’ve ever heard,” “You don’t want to miss this opportunity of a lifetime,” or “My script will make you 10 million dollars, guaranteed,” is not recommended.

♦  Don’t get defensive and prickly. If an exec suggests a terrible change to your story, say you’re “open to it.” Avoid being coming across as arrogant and precious about your movie idea. Accept all suggestions gracefully and save your opinion for the bar.

♦  Don’t get flustered by difficult questions. This can happen if an exec wants to see how you react under pressure. If they try to throw you off, simply answer the question with a smile and keep your emotions in check.

♦  Don’t take rejection personally. Often the reason why an exec or producer doesn’t want to move forward isn’t to do with you or your pitch. There may be many reasons why they pass, so remain upbeat and friendly. You don’t want to burn any bridges before leaving the room. Hollywood’s a small place.

Following Up on a Film Pitch

Having pitched your movie to an exec or producer, it can take anywhere from seven days to seven weeks to hear anything. Or longer. So don’t despair if you don’t hear back for a while.

Many screenwriters fail to follow-up and consequently miss out on assignments or sales. Don’t be one of them.

As we mentioned earlier, being interesting and stand out from the crowd can come in handy here. Rather than simply emailing the exec or producer after your pitch meeting, send a small gift as a thank you for their time. Here are some ideas for creative ways to say thank you.

We recommend then following up on your screenplay pitch after three to four weeks. Then, if you don’t get a solid answer on your script, ask when it’d be okay to check in again. You don’t want to become a nuisance, though, so make sure you leave plenty of time in-between queries.

How to Pitch a Movie Idea: Conclusion

Learning how to pitch a script can be nerve-wracking for many writers. It depends to a certain extent how gregarious and charming you are to begin with. But these skills can also be learned.

Consider taking acting classes, joining a toastmaster group or getting out of your comfort zone in some way to make your screenplay pitch less scary. It’s true that a lot can ride on a pitch, but if you look at it overall as a two-way conversation rather than a speech, it should be okay.

Finally, remember every single professional screenwriter has been rejected at some point in their career. Rather than getting depressed about it, keep working on other projects. If you keep refining your writing and pitching skills, you’re likely to succeed in the end.

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We hope this post has helped you learn how to pitch a movie idea and given you the tools to move forward with confidence. How many film pitches have you given? How did they go? Have you made a sale after a screenplay pitch? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Liked This Post? Learn More on How to Pitch a Movie Idea and Sell a Screenplay…

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