Let’s be honest, pitching is hard. Once you get your script in front of an agent or producer they want to hear a great logline or premise. A quick way to lose their interest is to send them “the whole screenplay”. It may seem obvious but it bears repeating that screenwriters should start with the best possible logline or premise.
How many of you have gotten feedback “great idea but needs work”? This is the most frustrating comment to hear because it’s so generic and non-specific. Generally, this means there is no market for your story or that your script isn’t good enough to sell.
To fix this problem, focus on crafting a great cold pitch. A cold pitch is not overly detailed, just a simple one-sentence statement of what your film is about. It should be concise and specific with an identifiable protagonist facing a clear goal with stakes attached. The more concrete details you can attach to your main character or world the better since these are what make the reader feel invested in the material immediately.
How do you Write a Good Cold Pitch?
Make it specific.
Don’t say “my script is about a man who…” Instead, tell us that your protagonist is “a disgraced cop who hunts down the killer of his wife” or that your movie is ” about a small town where a 10 year old boy goes missing”.
Make it clear.
Don’t tell us your protagonist’s goal is to find his son, then immediately after saying he wants to get him back from a cult. This makes no sense and will only confuse your audience. Describe the obvious goal, not some generic ambiguous goal.
It’s easy for any story to sound interesting when you make up details but if you don’t attach big consequences to your main character reaching their goal then what’s the point? If we know nothing bad will if your hero fails then there is no urgency or suspense. So when you pitch, make sure your protagonist’s goal is in jeopardy
A Good Premise Checklists with the Following
Protagonist (who) Goal (what) Stakes (why it matters to them) Antagonist (who/what blocks them from their goal) Context (where and when). Every well-written cold pitch will include all of these elements even if they are left out of the actual logline. If you’re pitching a sequel then you can safely assume context and stakes but it’s still important for any story to include each of the other three ingredients.
Don’t Be Generic
Don’t write “my script is about a family” because we all know every family is unique. This pitch may be fine for a family film but if your story is about a scorned woman seeking revenge then you need to frame it in that context. It’s never enough to say “my script is about….” because there are dozens of scripts on the market with the same basic synopsis.
Be Specific and Detailed When you can
If at all possible, include names and titles of characters and places (unless your main character doesn’t have a name). Don’t use generic statements like: “It’s like Die Hard meets The Long Kiss Goodnight”. This isn’t helpful because we don’t know anything concrete about either one of those movies or what makes them similar or different from each other. You want to make things as easy as possible for the reader so they can quickly understand what your story is about and if it’s worth reading, so give them everything you can.
Use Powerful Verbs
Some examples of strong verbs: chases, searches, come to terms with, battles, grapples with, must confront. These words will help create vivid images that stick in the mind of your audience and make your script more interesting to read.
Always use “to be” Sparingly
Don’t write weaker sentences like: The young girl wanted to be free from her captors or he wanted to be a comic book hero because this makes you sound like you don’t know how to write stronger action verbs such as: “The young girl fought to escape from her kidnappers” or “He aspired to be a comic book hero”. If you can replace all your forms of “to be” with an action verb then do so because it will make your work stronger.
Avoid Clichés and Tropes
They may sound like a good idea but if we’ve seen them countless times before then we won’t even bother reading your script. We’ll assume we know where the story is going and that it won’t bring anything new or interesting to the table. Every writer uses tropes and devices in their own way, there’s no escaping this, but you want to give us an original spin on those familiar elements so we don’t feel like we’re reading something we’ve read a thousand times before.
Read it out Loud to Yourself
If you can’t finish your pitch in one breath then it’s too long. This happens when writers get lazy because they are afraid of deleting anything from their work, even if it’s boring or unnecessary. Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings but don’t do it by making your logline too long to read without taking a break.
Start with the Most Interesting Detail
It may not make sense for some stories but if possible, always start with the most interesting moment, character or place in your story because this is what will hook your audience and make them want to hear more about what’s going on.
Don’t Talk About the Weather
Even if your story is set in a specific time and/or place or involves some kind of high concept hook (such as time travel) it’s always best to avoid including these details unless they’re absolutely necessary for understanding the core of your story. Always assume that readers know nothing and first and foremost you want to tell them what the most interesting thing is about your script, then provide extra information if needed.
Avoid Being Vague
It doesn’t help anyone when writers are intentionally secretive or mysterious just for the sake of intrigue, especially if their pitch ends with something along the lines of “you’ll have to read it to find out”. This is a sign that they didn’t have enough material for a solid pitch and just wanted to get us intrigued so we’d ask them about their script. Don’t be this guy because all you’re doing is wasting our time.
Do show, Don’t tell
Even if your story has a lot of exposition or character insight dialogue, try not to write the details of what’s happening or who these characters are in the logline because it’s better to hint at them through visuals and action instead. Loglines aren’t meant as an opportunity to explain every little thing about your story, but rather as a tease that intrigues us into wanting more information. Showing us images or actions first will make us more curious to learn about the characters and what’s going on.
Don’t Assume that it’s Your Job to Educate us
If you’re writing a script that deals with some complicated issue or particularly challenging subject matter then consider adding a short paragraph at the bottom of your pitch that briefly explains what this is all about just in case we don’t know anything about it. But if you start telling us about how interesting your story is instead of showing us why it matters, chances are we’ll leave before reaching the end of your logline. In most cases, showing comes before telling so always put images and actions before character analysis or exposition unless absolutely necessary for understanding the core of your story.
Don’t try to sell us on Your Writing Skills
You think that if you do this then producers or development executives will read your script but it’s not true, all they see is someone who lacks confidence in their story which means they don’t believe in themselves either. Writers need to understand that readers aren’t interested in how funny your dialogue is or the clever way you worked some interesting magic into your world because these are details that can be evaluated once the screenplay is actually read. Loglines are for selling the concept of a story, not selling yourself as a writer unless what makes you stand out from other writers is the unique way you tell stories.
I hope you found these pointers helpful and that they’ll help make your pitches more effective. However, something to keep in mind is that even if you are able to follow every single one of the above guidelines, it doesn’t mean that you will sell scripts. There are plenty of professional writers who don’t do any of what I’ve described here and still manage to sell their work.
So it’s not about using the right words and saying all the right things, but more about having a strong enough story to back up your pitch and be able to tell it in an interesting way. The fact is that no matter how good your idea is, if you can’t communicate it well then nobody will be interested. And this is something that no one can teach, it’s just a matter of experience and practice until you get good enough to attract attention. Why not start now?