Friday, February 18, 2005

[Script] Lessons from pitching, so far

If I were designing a pitch from scratch today, here’s what I’d do:

1) Define the Title, Genre, and overall Effect.
2) Be succinct.
3) ‘Emotion’ and ‘character motivation’ are more important than duration or plot.
4) Be visual.
5) Start pitching to other people ASAP.

Get more info on how to pitch …

What is a pitch?

In Hollywood terms, it’s whatever sells a movie – so a pitch could be as short as ‘Jaws meets The Sixth Sense’.

But in scriptwriting terms, it’s telling someone your storyline. It’s a quick way to get feedback – to see what’s entertaining and what’s weak. But the important thing is to create an accurate (and short) impression of your story.

So, to expand on the above list:

1) ….. Define the Title, Genre, and Emotion or Effect you’re going for.* If it’s a comedy, what sort of stuff are we laughing at? What is the basic comic tension?

2) ….. Be succinct. A five minute pitch (or even two minutes) is preferable. The maximum duration you should be thinking for a presentation is 10 minutes; and entertaining someone for 10 minutes is hard work.

I’d start the pitch as short as possible and from there build up the moments that you think are weak and unconvincing.

You’re not really telling a ‘this happened and then this happened’ type of story in a pitch. It’s more about describing the broad sequences of your movie. See this Wordplay column for advice on how to accomplish that.

3) ….. ‘Emotion’ and ‘character motivation’ are more important than duration or plot. Of course, if you’re pitching a comedy it’s important to make the listener laugh.

But here’s some stuff I learned:
..... a) To connect two sequences smoothly, link the emotion at the end of one to the start of the next.
..... b) Clearly communicate the emotions of each sequence. Figure out the emotion you want each sequence to convey. Then, change the pitch’s language so it’s not so much about what’s happening but how I feel about what’s happening.
..... c) Pitching is acting: trying to find your film’s ‘character’ and convey its emotions.
..... d) Rely on your performance (rather than emotive words) to convey the feeling.
..... e) If there’s a choice between describing plot details and a simple emotion, choose the emotion (at least, I found that when pitching a thriller).

4) ..... As much as possible, be visual.
Have a board with the sequences and photos of the key characters on it for the person you’re pitching to to follow along.

'Imagining the action' seems to be key for me. I like to act out the events, to dramatise them.

5) ..... Start pitching to other people ASAP.
Pitching to someone else is fun. You learn lots about your movie quickly.
I’d recommend pitching to one new person a day – and if you can find people who are willing to listen to it multiple times, come back to them after a week of pitching to everyone else.

The Goal:
Engage and entertain the person you’re pitching to.
Create an accurate impression of your story so they can give you feedback.
Pitch to several people.
Are you getting the same feedback from all of them?
Fix or address these issues (if necessary).
Start pitching again.

* (from the Bo Zenga article in Creative Screenwriting)


Svend said...

It strikes me that there may be valuable lessons here for people who like to tell war stories - it *is* possible to entertain people with accounts of games past, but it's not as common as it might be.

On the other hand, no-one is going to give you money to run a game. :)

hix said...

War Stories: Absolutely. In fact I think the rule should be, you get one minute to tell an RPG anecdote and at the end of that you really look hard at the listener's body language to see if they're interested - and if there's any doubt, you ask.

If you're telling the story to someone you gamed with at the time the story happened, maybe you get 2 minutes. Maybe.

Another Pitching lesson: Films, unlike games, usually have an inherent structure. I found it useful to ask "What are the 3 big things that happen in Act 1? In the first half of Act 2? In the second half? What are the 3 big things that happen at the end of your movie?"

It really simplifies things down to its essence. At the very least, it forces you to start deciding what's important to describe.