There are two ways to pitch your scripts: in person, or via query letter.
Learning to perfect the verbal pitch, though, only makes sense for writers who already have representation.
For everyone else, I suggest learning pitching’s holy trinity.
Let me explain: companies only schedule pitch meetings with A-listers who’ve had at least one box office hit, or who’ve written scripts that they’ve read and really liked. Sure, you can attend live pitch events at writing conferences IF you’ve already written a script your pitch is based on.
I’ve never heard of anyone selling a script
by attending a writing conference.
But in these cases, you have to be willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money on conference fees, travel expenses, and lodging. Besides that, most execs attend pitch events for the freebies involved or to meet other pros, and I’ve never heard of anyone selling a script by attending a writing conference.
On the other hand, many writers have found representation or made script deals via the written pitch, which most scribes do online now via cold querying or through websites designed specifically for Hollywood access.
The goal of every written pitch is not to sell your script, but to get it read. This is good news, because perfecting your written pitch so that someone will say, “yes, please send it to me,” is something any writer can accomplish. This is because a) query letters are short, and therefore don’t take much time to improve; and b) there’s an actual formula to it. In fact, to help make things easier, below is a guide that we use with clients and for our own projects.
The goal of every written pitch is
not to sell your script, but to get it read.
Just one note of caution before getting into the three pitch biggies and the guide. That is: never send out your script before it’s good. This means it must be strong in terms of structure, story, and dialogue. The number one mistake screenwriter’s make is pitching their scripts before they’re ready.
Never send out your script before it’s good.
One way to avoid this all-too-common faux pas, is to get your script read by at least two or three objective pros before pitching it. Assuming you’ve already done that, here’s pitching’s holy trinity:
Your query letter must be perfectly written. This means that your pitch must be, a) formatted correctly; b) free of any spelling or grammar mistakes; and c) individualized to the person you’re writing it to, i.e., it’s not a mass letter. Nothing will get a pro to press the delete button faster than a form letter with a “Dear Mr. such and such” written in by a query service.
- An 11–year-old must get it. Seriously: test your pitch out on your son or niece before sending it out. Make sure the “story about your story” is very understandable and clear. Otherwise the person reading it will stop reading. Less is more. Don’t bog the pitch down with unnecessary details. What’s perhaps most important here is that we know who the hero is, what his goal is, and why this goal is highly important to him. Be sure the stakes are high or else your reader will lose interest pronto.
- The story must be marketable. You have to pitch something that the person you’re pitching it to can ultimately sell. This means it must fit into an existing genre, i.e. comedy, action, romantic-comedy, and that it has a target audience. Comparing your story to recent hits is one good way to get your script’s tone across.
Be sure the stakes are high or else
your reader will lose interest pronto.
Here’s the template:
Dear FIRST NAME OF PRO,
My name is INSERT YOUR NAME HERE and I’ve written a INSERT YOUR SCRIPT’S GENRE HERE (E.G. COMEDY, THRILLER, ACTION, ROM-COM, ETC.) spec called INSERT YOUR SCRIPT’S TITLE HERE (IN QUOTES). IF YOU HAVE SOLD/PRODUCED/OPTIONED/PUBLISHED OTHER THAN VIA A VANITY PRESS/WON OR PLACED WELL IN ANY WRITING COMPS, MENTION THIS HERE.
INSERT YOUR SCRIPT’S TITLE HERE is written along the lines of HERE, INSERT THE TITLE OF A RECENT (LAST 12 MONTHS ONLY!) BOX OFFICE SMASH SIMILAR IN CONTENT AND/OR TONE and IF YOU LIKE, INSERT THE TITLE OF ANOTHER RECENT HIT, SEMI-RECENT HIT, OR CLASSIC FILM SIMILAR IN CONTENT AND/OR TONE. The script is about HERE BRIEFLY DESCRIBE, IN ONE SENTENCE ONLY, YOUR HERO, WHERE HE/SHE IS IN HIS/HER LIFE WHEN THE STORY BEGINS, AND HIS OR HER “PROBLEM/GOAL.” BE EXTREMELY SPECIFIC AND CLEAR. THEN IN ONE SENTENCE ONLY, BRIEFLY DESCRIBE THE MAIN EVENT IN ACT 1. BE EXTREMELY SPECIFIC. THEN, IN NO MORE THAN 4 SENTENCES, BRIEFLY DESCRIBE THE 3 MAIN EVENTS IN ACT 2. BE EXTREMELY SPECIFIC. THEN IN ONE SENTENCE ONLY, JUST HINT AT HOW THE STORY MIGHT END.
HERE, IN NO MORE THAN ONE SENTENCE, BRIEFLY DESCRIBE WHY YOU THINK THIS SCRIPT WILL BE A HIT AND/OR ITS UNDERLYING THEME. BE AS SPECIFIC AS POSSIBLE. Please let me know if I can send you the script, and thanks for your time and consideration.
INSERT YOUR NAME HERE
I’m confident that if you learn pitching’s holy trinity and follow the above guide, you’ll get script requests. And that’s exactly what the written pitch was made for.
-David Kohner Zuckerman
David Kohner Zuckerman is a Hollywood producer whose latest feature “Strictly Sexual” has become the most watched film of all-time on Hulu. David’s latest MOW, “All I Want for Christmas,” was a hit for the Hallmark Channel, and he’s served as a producer on “Catalina Trust,” “Chump Change” (Miramax) and “Caught in the Act” (Lifetime). David is a member of the Producers Guild of America as well as president of VirtualPitchFest and ScriptCoach.
More questions about the virtual pitch? Log in to Twitter this weekend as Scriptchat will have Nevada Grey (@NevadaGrey), Vice President of Virtual Pitch Fest, as a guest for both the EURO and USA twit chats on Sunday, May 16, 2010.Photo Credits:
fountain pen: a.drian
hand writing: manojvasanth
letter box: JohnnyEnglish
trashed letter: psyberartist
Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in acquisition, development and production. He has trained students worldwide, and worked with half a dozen Academy Award nominees. Karel speaks more European languages than you have fingers on your left hand, which he is still trying to find a use for in his hometown of Sydney, Australia. The languages, not the fingers.
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3 thoughts on “Pitching’s Holy Trinity”
Great advice, David. We’re thrilled to have Nevada on #scriptchat this weekend. Maybe you can pop in too for a special appearance ;)
Living on the East Coast, I’ve done both live pitchfests in LA and used Virtual Pitch Fest. There’s nothing like your services to gain access without leaving my home or spending a ton of money. Thanks for bringing Hollywood to our laptops.
So what about “The Screenwriters Bible” approach to querying, which puts the logline and summary at the top of the letter? My understanding is that the less chatty and the more to-the-point your query letter is the better.
Obviously, if you have something to address directly to the person you’re querying (i.e. So and so recommended I contact you or I think you’d be interested in “title” because) but what about a completely cold query?
Excellent tips. We need book adaptation spec screenwriter for a new action-packed spy thriller, and would welcome constructive feedback on the subjects. Thanks.