Friday, February 10, 2006


You go in. Tell your story. They show you the door.

In between, they may interrupt you to take a phone call, or answer an email, or close their eyes (hopefully in a good way). They may listen to your pitch, ask a few questions about the characters and make a couple of suggestions for the plot. Naturally their suggestions are all fantastic and insightful, these guys know story yeah, that’s why they pay them the big bucks.

There are great articles on the web about pitching from more experienced scribes than me. Do a Google search and you’ll get hundreds. But Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio’s column about pitching was particularly useful when I got the opportunity to pitch an idea to Working Title a couple of years ago. Most of you will have read the WordPlay article but I decided to take its advice on board for my pitch. After all, if it’s good enough for Katzenberg and Spielberg, then it’s good enough for Working Title in the UK, right?

Absolutely. Let me just say that everything that Elliot & Rossio say in that pitching column happened to me (bar making a sale, goddamit). Basically, for those who don’t know (go and read it now), they suggest outlining your pitch on index cards and pinning them to a corkboard. Then you bring it along to the studio like a schmuck (through traffic, elevators, reception) but it’s worth it because the pitch becomes an interactive meeting and all attention is on the board rather than you. It’s great.

When I pitched, the stress level went down as soon as I saw the exec’s eye on the board, working out the story ahead of me, and I was able to relax more into telling the story. Afterwards, the exec told me that no-one had pitched to him like that, definitely one of the better ones he’d received (he was doing a big solicited call for pitches). He really liked the concept and the story, appreciated the work I put into it, and was willing to take me to the next stage to pitch to the Head of Development.

Foolishly, I gave the exec a six/seven page outline of my pitch, told him to use that for reference but subconsciously I was pleading with him not to make me perform to the bigwigs, please tell them what you liked and give them the outline. Well he did, and they thought it over, but they passed. It was a great experience though, one of my first big time “Hollywood” pitches.

Another notable pitch was with Hammer Horror. They liked one of my scripts (a horror natch, not a romcom or anything) but had certain reservations about the plot. I went in to meet the exec and we discussed what needed to be done. After some interesting discussion, he suddenly asked me to pitch him the potential new story for the script. My heart skipped. I started to speak and the exec closed his eyes (in a good way). He was nodding his head to my words like he was listening to Danny iPod. His eyes were closed so he could focus. So I went all Keyzer Soze and took anything I could from around the room to give me inspiration.

Most pitches will be in writing. One page outlines, two page outlines, outlines, treatments, sample scenes, series bibles, beer mats. Anything that can express the concept and appeal of whatever project you’re trying to sell.

For one-on-one pitching, it takes a certain amount of preparation and confidence to try to convince the person to take your story on board. It’s hard. Some bad writers get their gigs by doing good pitches. If you’re “good in the room”, then half the battle is won. For written pitches, it’s down to your talents as a writer, the appeal of your concept, and the special spin of your pitch. Whatever its form, pitching is the key element that kickstarts the whole exciting process of getting something made.

It could be your agent on the blower to an exec about your latest epic or you down the pub telling your mates about your cracking new idea or running something by a colleague to see if the premise is any good. It’s all pitching. Conversing, querying, and communicating. We do it all the time. It’s only when we become consciously aware of the ‘pitch’ that our mind begins to generate nervous excitement and the fear of fluffing it up. Fear not. Tell the story. And everything else will follow.


the englishman said...

i always imagine pitching to be the most difficult and scariest part of being a scriptwriter. but it's gotta be done!
how's bournemouth these days? run between the piers yet? great blog by the way.

Grubber said...

Sorry you didn't get the sale, but thanks for that rundown, every bit helps. Really appreciate it. Best of luck for the next one, at least you are getting real-life experience, and you have found something that works for you.

So, next time, would you leave an outline?:)

Danny Stack said...

I would most. definitely. not. leave an outline next time. Even if they said: you wouldn't happen to have an outline of that? I'd say something like, no, just my notes, which wouldn't make any real coherent sense as an outline, so call me in again if you'd like me to pitch to your boss...

Anonymous said...

hmm yeah. I LOVE pitching (slightly more than I love smoked haddock with broad bean salad) I mean its the chance you/we/I've all been waiting for isn't it?
In the embryonic stages of my career I 'won' the chance to pitch to Mr Bevan at Oxford Street after coming runner up in a newspaper scriptwriting comp. He was literally 'laid back' on a chaise longue - so it was left to me to be all twitchy. At the end he concluded "Mmm its a bit cheesy isn't it?" and that was it.
So I got the worse case scenario very early on - and have never looked back...
Nuffsaid but Danny there's a difference between pitching a project you've already written (hopefully to perfection) and pitching an unwritten script..?

Danny Stack said...

Good point A Nonny Mouse.

There's a significant difference between pitching a project you've written as opposed to pitching something you want to write...

More conviction and desperation about the one you want to write but the development fee will be lower than the 'sale' of your completed script...

Fran said...

Danny, I've only ever pitched once. Even this wasn't really a 'proper' pitch as it was to a producer friend of a member of my family who had agreed to read my script and was basically a ten minute chat over coffee as I handed the 120 pages over. The thing I found was, the more I got into the pitch (and could see I was getting some excitement generated) the less I wanted to reveal the ending as I'd much prefer that the surprises were revealed as I'd written them. I think I compromised over the final act by summing up with "and then the hero has to make a decision". The question is, do you always 'tell all' in your pitches?

If I can sneak another question in here, what courses do you recommend? I've devoured basically every screenwriting book and I've done McKee's seminar. I see Truby is in town next month and I was wondering whether to scratch together the fee. Have you done his course? He certainly has some great reviews.


Nick Ostler said...

Hey Danny, another great topic, nice one. This is something Mark (my other writing half) and I have been discussing a lot recently. Just this week we were in the hallowed halls of Working Title and others, having friendly "catch up" meetings, which inevitably segued into casual pitching meetings. It's not a bad way for it to happen - a more laid back "we're developing something called X and generally speaking its about Y". Thinking of it as just storytelling rather than pitching can take the curse off it somewhat. One thing we've learned that's important for pitches, whether verbal or written is to say what the story's "about" rather than just what "happens". Structure is boring. Story is exciting! If you see what I mean. That said, we've just completed a spec script, because although we'd casually pitched the idea here and there last year, we realised that to do a really good pitch we'd actually have to write the damn thing. Of course to spec or not to spec is a whole different discussion, but getting into the habit of both pitching well and specing fast are top of our New Year resolutions.

Finally if I can just butt in on the last comment - I've read loads of these screenwriting books too and have favourites (Writer's Journey, Seger's books etc) and I think you should read them, dip into them when you have a specific script problem, but don't fall into the trap of getting obsessed with them. Gut instinct and your own film watching experience is just as valuable. Nowadays I tend to read less how-to books and more stuff by people who actually have - eg "The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Screenwriters" compiled by Karl Iglesias. And of course Wordplay website etc - often more insightful than the drier how-to manuals. I'm skeptical about the paid courses - granted, anything which motivates you is good, but they're often very overpriced and nothing you can't get in a bookshop or for free on the internet.

Nick Ostler

Danny Stack said...

I read all the books too, they're great and much better value than the seminars/courses. I got fed up going to courses and realised it was just side-tracking me instead of inspiring me, so I gave up. I consume Creative Screenwriting magazine instead, all the other blogs I like, and as many scripts I can get my hands on.

It all depends on your level and experience I suppose. When I started, everything was an illumination, now it's like 'yeah been there, what next?' So the gurus/courses are worthwhile (check out the post I did called 'Guru Gaga') but eventually the time will come to stop, and just write.

And with regard to pitching endings, I say pitch it, it's not like your ending is going to shatter them with its breathtaking originality or twist. Or if it genuinely has a deadly twist or whatever, say that, "and the hero goes to press the button but there's one last deadly twist for him in store that he didn't see coming."

See if the pitchee (new word?) can guess it and if he can't, say 'nah, sorry, i'll tell you when you commission me'... Ha!

Anonymous said...

Hi Danny,

Did you ever enter anything to that New Drama for BBC One Writing Opportunity you mentioned a couple of months ago? There is nothing on the Writersroom Website or any mention of when/if results will be announced. Considering it was such a big opportunity/open to all it's a bit odd.

S Gray

Danny Stack said...

I did submit something in for that slot. I think they're getting back to people in March... but I could be wrong so if anybody has any details or insider info...

Anonymous said...

bang2write mentioned getting a rejection Feb 25th. Anyone else heard anything?