“A pitch is a verbal presentation of your dramatic story. It is a concise presentation.”
A logline is a super tiny pitch. A TV guide presentation of your story. Two or three sentences.
If you ever want to sympathize with Hollywood executives watch the DVD “The Inside Pitch”, a workshop that turned into a TV show in LA where Christopher Lockhart and Jack d’Annibale (then both were ICM executives) listen to pitch after pitch from emerging writers who gathered in downtown L.A. in hopes of seeing their ideas become films (or at least winning a story conference with Lockhart and d’Annibale). It’s a little bit like Amerian Idol and America’s Got Talent, except people are specifically pitching their movie ideas. And like those other talent shows, the talent is all over the place.
The sincerity of the people are never in question—but the quality of their ideas is often pretty weak. Sometimes the idea is strong and the pitch is weak. It’s entertaining stuff as Lockhart and d’Annibale try to wade through the pitches. But the real benefit of the “The Inside Pitch” to you as a writer is the comments that Lockhart and d’Annibale give the audience as they critique a pitch they’ve just hear. Here’s are five samples of their pitching insights:
“If you can grab our attention in a minute with a logline, or a good pitch, or just a zinger, that’s the same kind of process in terms of being succinct, being simple, being sexy, being interesting, being engaging, being chilling, being thrilling—that is the key. The key to screenwriting is very, very simple, but it’s not easy. And the key is make it simple, make it clean, but make it damn good.”
“It’s important to know what the thoughline of your story is…if I don’t hear a throughline, I don’t think you have a dramatic story.”
Hook & Ladder:
“The hook is the entry way into the main body of the story. The hook of Die Hard is that moment when Alan Rickman rolls in win the terrorist and they take over the building. It is literally the moment where the writer is giving us a wink or a peek into what this story is going to be about.”
“The metaphor I sometimes like to use instead of a throughline is a ladder. So the ladder is sort of the spine or throughline of the story. Literally how we climb from the bottom of the story to the top of the story.”
“High concept goes for the extremes. So you take one character and put them in an extreme situation. So like in Sister Act you have a Reno lounge singer who finds herself in a convent. It’s a complete antithetical setting to where she starts off.”
“The Inside Pitch” is an Emmy-nominated program that contains an hour of material and can be order online for $19.95.
If you teach a class or can gather a small group of writers, one way to improve your pitching is to pitch hit films, classic films—basically any story that works. That will do two things; A) Tune your antenna to what makes a good story, and B) Improve your speaking skills, because if the pitch isn’t engaging then you know it’s not the story that’s the problem.