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by Script Reader Pro in How to Sell a Screenplay
September 16, 2017 52 comments
pitching a screenplay

Pitching a Screenplay: The 4 Keys to Writing the Perfect Synopsis

If there’s one plight that aspiring screenwriters share, it’s getting a screenplay read by producers… But one of the most overlooked devices when pitching a screenplay is a tightly written synopsis that sells the core concept and story.

When a producer or agent has a rule of dumping a script if the first five pages aren’t stellar, a great synopsis can be the counterpoint that will cause them to buy into the story before they even read the script. And perhaps love the story so much that they want to figure out how the never-perfect-enough script can work.

They’ll hold on for just a few more pages, and just a few more scenes, hoping what is promised in the pitch comes to life in the script.

Keep the following in mind when writing your synopsis and don’t let your screenplay miss another opportunity because of a lackluster pitch.

How to Pitch a Screenplay Key #1. Know The Core Idea That Drives Your Story

Knowing how to pitch a film or TV script means having a clear understanding of the core story. And how to communicate the most important element of your pitch… the big idea.

Putting it into written form as a synopsis means first learning how to write a logline. Just like the synopsis sells the screenplay, the logline sells the synopsis. It’s not a tagline for the movie, or a teaser.

A good logline explicitly tells us what the story is about, and what our protagonist is up against, in two sentences.

If the idea is good, the logline for that story will trigger the reader’s imagination and make them want to read the pitch. Here’s a quick reference for some professional insight on pitching TV scripts.

Writing a Logline 

Below are two potential loglines for American Beauty.

Weak version: 

A depressed, middle-aged man dives head first into a mid-life crisis, leading to extreme behavior and his own demise.

Stronger version:

When a suburban middle-aged man, frustrated with terrible relationships at home and at work becomes infatuated with his teenage daughter’s best friend, it sends him on a journey of self-improvement with catastrophic consequences.

Here’s a good drill to train your mind to see the core idea in a story:

Write ten loglines, one for each of your favorite films. Then write five different loglines for your screenplay.

Take a fresh look at the five you’ve written, identify the best one, and you’ll know it when you read it.

How to Pitch a Script Key #2. Less Is Always More

Just like the pacing in a screenplay needs to be brisk and always moving the plot forward, the same applies to a pitch synopsis, but with even more efficiency.

One exercise is to ask yourself if the page you wrote could be condensed to one or two paragraphs. And can any of these paragraphs be communicated in one sentence? If the pace slows down with too much exposition, the reader loses interest.

Your talent lies in your choice of effective words that tell the story in an efficient manner.

Hesitation in life causes accidents and missed opportunities. The same is true when it comes to writing. A writer must step off the edge of the cliff and immediately fly. That means get right into the action.

Too often we make the mistake of opening up with a long preamble. This is because we feel that by giving context ahead of the actual story, we’re increasing the odds of the reader getting more out of it. That’s a big mistake. We’re cheating the reader of the thrill of discovering their own immediate connection with the story.

A reader will be able to judge and create their own perspective, so don’t lose them by telling them how they’re supposed to think.

Get right into a very important scene and circumstance that will catapult the story and give us a very clear and clever example of our protagonist’s character. Then continue the synopsis by hitting only the pivotal turning points and events that define and drive the story.

Pitching a Screenplay Key #3. Highlight the Heart of the Script

Even though you’ll be writing an abbreviated overview of your screenplay, always take the time to spell out the emotional growth of the main character. It’s one of the very few times you’ll pull out of the linear narrative and give commentary.

You’re taking pause to establish personal turning points for your character. For example, “she’s finally accepted the truth of her marriage, but instead of grieving, she gives in to a primal need for vengeance”.

Or “It was at this moment he knew his ultimate downfall was unavoidable, and being a man with nothing to lose would finally shake his enemies to the core.”

Taking the time to highlight those moments where the character evolves, makes them human. Then, get right back into the story beats. Outline only the most important events and turning points.

These are the things managers and producers are looking for when you’re pitching a screenplay.

Pitching a Screenplay Key #4. Drill Into the Most Dramatic Moments

Choose one or two critical moments in the screenplay where your protagonist experiences an intense turning point. An ultimatum, or a revelation. This will pull the reader into the story more as they read a scene that reveals the character, as well as the style of your storytelling.

Use this sparingly, and only for the most profound moments in your screenplay. Then, once again, pull out of that detailed writing and back to the broader beats to wrap up your pitch.

Being able to distill a 110-page screenplay into a handful of pages is a great litmus test for the viability of your story. It’s also a terrific tool for referencing as you develop and refine your script.

Know your core idea, write efficiently, identify the heart of your story. Magnify key dramatic moments, and watch more producers, managers and agents commit to reading your screenplay.

###

This was a guest post by the founder of TV Writer’s Vault, Scott Manville on pitching a screenplay the smart way. Scott has served as producer for Relativity Media, is a former development executive for Merv Griffin Entertainment, and founder of TVWritersVault.com

If you’d like help pitching a screenplay or preparing one for pitching get in touch or check out our script coverage services by clicking the banner below:

pitching a screenplay

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[© Photo credits: Unsplash

52 Comments
  1. Tyler Benjamin says:

    Great tips. My logline will be stronger after applying this!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Tyler!

  2. Harvey says:

    I have everything in my head.. It just really hard for me to put it on paper.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It’s one of the many problems with writing 🙂

  3. Harvey says:

    Very frustrating..

  4. movieplatinum21 says:

    Nice article! Very informative!
    but.. how to make it easier for put all of the things on my head in a piece of paper? 🙁

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Be focused on the one clear conflict you want to get across. We have a post on the protagonist and antagonist conflict here that may help.

  5. Keith Reilly says:

    I get a lot out of pitching a screenplay from this. God Bleѕs you man. Haѵе a niϲe day.
    Bye

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Keith!

  6. Declan N says:

    I’ve been looking for a site like this on screenwriting my whole life it feels like. Thanks for such great info!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad to have you on board, Declan!

  7. Jess Collins says:

    Can I pitch you my idea?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We have a Story Analysis service if you’d like feedback on your pitch?

  8. Philip Brackett says:

    Whiⅼe you talk a lot about pitching I want to know more about actually writing a script How do I write a good script that will be good enough to pitch?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re in the right place, Philip – we have a ton of info on writing scripts if you head over to our blog.

  9. Scott Manville says:

    Glad you liked the article, Tyler. The logline is a touchstone for your entire process writing your screenplay. Always revisit it, and ask if the story is still serving the logline. That core idea is the anchor and point of departure for everything.

  10. francesca Capra says:

    Very useful tips!
    Thank you a lot!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Francesca!

  11. Otto Girvan says:

    Great blog post. Now I just need to write a good enough screenplay haha.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck, Otto. We’re here to help if you need it.

    2. Alex nduka says:

      I have a lot of scripts I’d like to sell but dunno how to go about it Amy advise

      1. Script Reader Pro says:

        This post on how to get an agent and manager is a good starting point if you haven’t already seen it.

  12. Asinya Kings says:

    this is very educative. thumbs up.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for the feedback 🙂

  13. Asinya Kings says:

    thumbs up guys.
    I just need to always recall whenever I am up to write.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Asinya!

  14. Dennis K says:

    Thank you for putting this together very helpful in my scriptwriting knowledge.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      No problem, Dennis!

  15. Lauren says:

    I constantly get nervous when I have to pitch. What’s the best way to get over this?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Do things that take you out of your comfort zone, like taking acting classes or get involved with Toastmasters. This should help with your nerves when it comes to pitching a screenplay. 🙂

  16. Detria "D" says:

    Wow! This article is GREAT! I’m so glad I stumbled across it and your site ! Thank you !

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      And thanks again 🙂

  17. Detria"D" says:

    Amazing article! So HAPPY, that I stumbled onto your sight !!!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Detria!

  18. Abel Strootman says:

    I’m coming to LA in JUNE TO PITCH!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good luck, Abel!

  19. Daniel Lee says:

    Question: when you pitch a screenplay with a “down” ending, should you be prepared with a happy-ending alternative just in case the executives ask?

  20. Arzu Dinçer says:

    Now I decided to send the snopsis to the producer instead of the scenario and I was in a hurry to prepare the snopsis.
    Thank you for your valuable information.
    If Snopsis gets a positive response I’ll write to you again.
    yours affectionately

  21. Aldous says:

    Can i pitch a screenplay virtually like on skype? I don’t live in the US.

  22. Huraton says:

    Thanks I feel more comfortable knowing about pitching a screenplay now..

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good stuff!

  23. Joshua says:

    an example would be a better improvement to this page.
    Btw I am not saying this in a bad way

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      No problem, we’re going to update the post soon 🙂

  24. Harvey says:

    Has anyone used Ink Tip for pitching scripts?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes, they’re one of our top 3 recommend pitching sites.

  25. Brian says:

    I want to know where to read treatments for film? Can you post some?

  26. Sarah Matlock says:

    It’ѕ good advice at the right time for me . I am just starting on a new treatment now and this really helps.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Good to hear, Sarah!

  27. Pablo says:

    Awesome post!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Pablo!

  28. rick e says:

    I’m pitching my screenplay to an executive next week. First one ever and I’m super nervous.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Best of luck, Rick. It’ll go fine, don’t worry 🙂

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