If you’re having trouble finishing your script, here’s a wild idea: start pitching it!
What? Now? That’s bonkers! Everyone knows you have to have a completed script before it’s ready to pitch.
But… What if you were to make pitching a part of your writing process? Wouldn’t that strengthen the arc of your story and embolden you as its creator? Wouldn’t it also set you up for some killer meetings once your script is complete?
Still not convinced? Here are five suggestions toward crafting a provocative pitch that can both sell your script and help you finish it.
1. Find the hooks
The most important part of any pitch is the hook. It’s that thing that’s going to grab your listener, suck them in, and convince them you’re worth paying attention to. The hook is what will attract people to your project, so find your hook!
Brainstorm your favorite things about this script. All of them, even the parts that won’t end up on the page — like how it makes you nostalgic for campfires, or how your favorite great aunt will show it to her book club. Emotions, memories, characters, plot points… list it all in a ten-minute brain dump.
During the writing process it’s easy to get bogged down in the logistics of telling a coherent story and lose sight of why you wanted to tell it in the first place. This list will help you remember why you’re doing all this work!
2. Record yourself
This is just for you, so don’t fret too much about lighting or good sound. Set up a camera and practice delivering your pitch (try a few voice recordings first if the camera makes you nervous). Visualize yourself in a pitch meeting, with a person or two who really wants to hear about your script. To aid imagination, Bruce Romans has some stories which help paint the picture. Tell your story just as you would in a meeting.
Now, play it back. Were you able to convey the heart and the hook of the story in ten minutes? Is there a point where you lose your train of thought? Overuse a certain word? Hit the same beat twice? Make notes on your performance and try to improve it.
Then look back at your script. How many of these issues with your script are baked into your project? If your pitch starts off slow, maybe you need to find a more exciting way to open your story. If it gets dull in the middle, perhaps your character’s development plateaus there as well. Your pitch is a bird’s-eye-view of your script, and sometimes studying it can give you a refreshing perspective.
3. Friendly fire
Pitch to someone who knows and likes you. Your writers’ group, your mom, a colleague that analyzes Game of Thrones with you at the water cooler. Someone who cares enough about story that they can ask a question or two. Someone who is not a potential buyer (hang onto that person for step 5).
This is a great way to practice your pitch in a safe environment, and also get some (hopefully) honest feedback from people you trust and respect. And just like recording yourself, it could give you some unique insight into your story. You might find that other people get excited about an element of your project you haven’t given much thought to. And every once in a while, someone unburdened by the history and emotional attachment you have to the script might be able to easily solve a story or character problem you’ve been struggling with.
Perspective is such a useful writing tool, and this is a great way to solicit multiple perspectives without having to ask your friends to read your whole script.
4. Get off book
A pitch should be a conversation, not something you read from note cards. The only way to improve that conversation is to practice it over and over again with different people. So get out there and pitch! Again and again. And again and again and again and again and again!
So how will this help your screenwriting? Well, it could be a very useful cure for writer’s block!
Every script is full of dozens of little landmines: tiny logistical problems that can stall progress and derail creativity. And it often feels like the harder you try to solve these problems, the more mired in confusion you become. You’re not alone. Our brains actually problem-solve best when the weak connections of our subconscious take over. That’s why you come up with your best ideas in the shower!
The irony is that the only way to harness this power is not to think about the problem you are trying to solve. Pitching is the perfect compromise. It keeps the general idea of your project (the things you love, the parts of the story you know well) on the forefront of your mind, without delving into details. So the next time you get stuck creatively, put the script down for a few days and pitch, pitch, pitch!
5. Get on the elevator
By now you should have plenty of practice pitching, and hopefully your script itself is in a pretty good place. You’re feeling like a boss, now it’s time to start getting the word out. Boil your pitch down to its 30-second essence and turn it loose!
If you’re feeling especially bold, try it on some strangers. Writer/Producer Paula Landry has even recommended turning to someone in line and asking if you can get their knee-jerk reaction to your elevator pitch. Actually, we dare you to try this!
Of course, as you pitch to an expanded audience, you will start getting even more feedback. Roll with it. This is no time to get defensive and dig in your heels. The script isn’t done until the movie is shot, so carefully consider any notes you get. Maybe they’ll come in handy for the second draft. And it will be great preparation for actual pitch meetings, where improvisation and adaptation can be the difference between a “pass” and a greenlight. TV creator Amy Sherman-Palladino was struggling while pitching some WB execs until she improvised an idea about a mother/daughter relationship that’s more like a friendship (and Gilmore Girls was born).
Many writers resent pitching. There’s something phony about it. It feels like salesmanship, not creativity. But viewed in the right light, it can become part of your creative process. Practicing your pitch throughout the writing process makes it easier to think of it as an organic part of the project, and another way to share your exciting work with the world!