The Pitch: 7 Essential Elements Screenwriters Need to Consider
November 16, 2020
In the marketplace of TV and film, the pitch is your key sales tool. It delivers a thorough but brief summary of your film or TV idea.
Your pitch can help you navigate your way through an outdoor in-person meeting or a Zoom call.
And it's always up to you and your reps whether (and when) you actually share your written pitch document.
The pitch document can be a one-pager or three to five pages. It defines your story idea from logline to TV season arc or film plot for the executives who can option and greenlight. And you can easily tailor your pitch to suit the brand of each potential buyer.
This is your one-sentence elevator pitch. It's the slingshot of your TV or film idea. The logline gives your central conflict, plot and beating heart. Hook us emotionally. Tell us in one breath why we should care and settle down to enjoy the unfolding. Your logline should be so undeniable that you can't exit the pitch meeting without an offer.
With the help of a German bounty hunter, a freed slave rescues his wife from a brutal Southern slave owner.
The Silence of the Lambs
A young FBI cadet collaborates with a cannibal to catch a serial killer who skins his victims.
Relating your story to iconic movies or TV shows can help convey your idea. References convey clarity in brief.
Is it James Bond in outer space? The L Word on the campaign trail? Is it Friends meets Soul Food? How about The Devil Wears Prada in the world of sports journalism?
References can efficiently convey story real estate without taking up much of your pitch.
You know and love your idea but it's a lot of info to convey. How do you begin? How best do you bridge the logline to all the juicy details in your brain?
Take us on a journey.
First, in conversational language like you would tell your best friend, describe how your story looks from the airplane window at 35,000 feet up. Is it Dunkirk? Leaving Las Vegas? The Wolf of Wall Street? La La Land?
Next, give your best friend the scoop from a helicopter's altitude of 10,000 feet. Is it the Los Angeles SWAT team versus drug cartels? A beach town full of summer tourists versus a great white shark? Or a dinner party visible through a living room window?
Your concept gives us the biggest, broad strokes picture. Specifically, it evokes the establishing shots of your story in one or a few paragraphs.
Your cast is the true engine of your story. Each character is driven to choices and actions from which there is no return. One by one, describe your characters' vital statistics like age, sexual lifestyle and finances but really define them by their fatal flaws, their addictions and ambitions. Try to trim your descriptions to a single crisp paragraph for only your main story-driving characters. Be patient with yourself; it can take many long, fatty drafts to get all your important ideas onto the page and edited in a smart, tidy way.
Tell us where your story unfolds. The 1950s desert. World War II Germany. Harlem in the 1980s. The Jim Crow American South. Or an animated world imagined on a speck of dust. Really make meaningful choices that make your story action optimally dramatic.
For a Western or a sci-fi tale, you can take a serious tone like Star Wars or comedic vibe like Super Troopers. Is your tone magical realism like Amélie or the futuristic romance of Joaquin Phoenix in Her?
Your vision, your decision.
7. Story Springboarding
You can marry your elements together and delineate three to five paragraphs of your provocative film story.
Or you can blend your elements into three to five hot premises for the first season of your TV or streaming series.
Once you have your pitch document complete, you can alter it to fit the needs of a woman-focused network like We TV or Oxygen or a network like Spike, which caters to men.
Compare your basic pitch document to specific brand characteristics.
Are you pitching to a younger network like The CW or a celebrity-driven one like E!? Tailoring will make your younger characters or celebrity dynamic more pivotal to the story.
Urban channel like BET or country & western one like CMT? Maybe your take on rebooting Dallas or The Honeymooners will have an all African-American cast. Or be located on a working farm.
Imagine and exercise the power of choice.
You can then expertly hone your pitch elements to best suit your potential buyer.
Best of luck with your pitch journey!
Written by: Tanya YoungTanya Young is an Afro-Indigenous filmmaker and VR/AR artist focused on comedy and harm reduction using narrative storytelling and 360° immersive experiences. Her teleplay won the 2001 George Foster Peabody Award and the 2002 Literacy in Media Award. She enjoyed eight years as a Development Executive at MTV Networks before becoming a Producer with Simmons-Lathan Media Group. Her Indigenous requiem for George Floyd will be featured in upcoming American arts festivals. Tanya currently works as Head Writer of an improv sitcom and Producer of a zombie film. She was appointed Director of Development for the California Men’s Group Film Festival in West Hollywood, Administrator of the Native American Casting Group, and Board Member of the HIV Writers Workshop at Cedars-Sinai. This socially-conscious dramaturge is a graduate of The Onion’s 2020 Diverse-As-F*ck Comedy Festival, the UCB Sunset stage, 2020 David Axelrad Screenwriting Fellowship, and Columbia University.