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March 9, 2022

How to Pitch & Sell Your Script

Pitching your script might seem like a nerve-wracking experience. You might worry that even if you've written a great script, polished it up, and formatted it correctly, you won't be able to summarize it effectively, and you'll lose out on that all-important green light from agents and executives.

However, pitching your script can be a fun experience! By following these formatting guidelines, you can make sure you write a pitch that wows agents and executives and gets your script sold.  

How to pitch your script

Pitching your script is more than just selling your idea; it's a chance to show potential investors and collaborators how you connect to it. It's an essential, important skill, and with a few tips, you can pitch your script easily.

What's in this article:

What is a film pitch?

A film pitch is different from a film treatment which is more of a summary of the events in your screenplay. A film pitch, by contrast, is where you both outline your idea for your film, summarizing its key themes and plot, and try to sell it.

It should consist of a log line summarizing your film in one sentence that should grab any executive's attention and a more extended elevator pitch that should last for around 20 minutes when spoken out loud.

A film pitch should contain highlights of all the major plot points and characters in your film, including the ending giving the readers or listeners a sense of what makes your movie original and how it fits into the production company's current output.

You must get this right as executives and agents are busy people, and the pitch document will likely be their first interaction with your screenplay. This goal is to hook those that read it so that they will proceed to read your entire script.

Different types of pitches

Film pitches come in different varieties. There is no standard format for a pitch since every agent and executive wants something different.

Depending on how well connected you are, you may sometimes be required to make your pitch in person at a pitch meeting.

Some pitches may require you to have a better grasp of the details of the market, and other times your pitch might simply take the form of your cover letter.

What is a pitch meeting?

A pitch meeting is where a screenwriter will present and pitch their script or story idea to a decision-maker. For example, it could be a scriptwriter pitching to agents or a scriptwriter with his agent pitching to an executive or a director.

What to expect in your pitch meeting

Generally, there are a few minutes of small talk and introductions followed by a pitch of 15-20 minutes and then a quick Q& A followed by a wrap-up.

Your goal in a pitch meeting is first to connect with the decision-maker and indicate that you respect them. If you don't make a good impression, they may decide they don't want to work with you. Instead, listen to their feedback and accept it and answer questions honestly but try to exude confidence and warmth.

Next is the pitching itself. Here you want to indicate that you are a professional. Memorize your pitch, hitting all the key plot points and characters rather than just making it up as you speak. However, don't recite your pitch like a robot! Know your material but avoid appearing too scripted.

You mustn't wing it during the Q& A phase. Instead, have statistics and market research data on hand to back up your points. Don't be afraid to admit you don't know the answer to something: this is far better than waffling or being dishonest, which could ruin your working relationship further down the line.

In the closing segments of your pitch, be sure to thank the decision-makers for their time, and if you think it's appropriate, you can engage in some further small talk with them once the pitch is over. Don't pressure decision-makers or go overboard with the sell. Remember, a great pitch and screenplay will sell itself.

Can you pitch without a screenplay and just an idea?

It is possible to pitch to an agent or executive without a screenplay. However, it's not advisable. Most new screenwriters write on spec - this means they write their script intending to sell it after it's finished.

This might sound less glamorous and more challenging work than getting a commission and a big check to live off while you finish writing it. However, as a new screenwriter, you will most likely have to prove you can write. A production company generally wants proof that you can execute your idea since you are a new writer with no track record.

Where do I find opportunities to pitch?

This is arguably the most challenging part of an emerging writer's career. Entire books and sub-industries are dedicated to navigating this, and there's no one way to do it. However, some of the ways writers have done this in the past include:

Win a screenwriting contest or fellowship

For many contests, even a placement will get your script and name on a list that goes out to producers, managers, and executives, and many winning scripts are guaranteed meetings. (Though no promise that anything will for sure come from the meetings.)

Meet at a film festival

Attending film festivals is a great way to connect with other collaborators, especially if the films you're seeing are of the same type that you write. You'll see who might be interested in the same kind of work.

Network through a mutual connection

Whether it's another creator in the industry, or the friend of a cousin of your college roommate, connecting through others is a tried and true way to at least get on the radar of people that may want to meet with you and develop your idea.

Put your work (and yourself) out into the world

It's rare, but sometimes writers are invited to meetings simply through someone that saw their work (or even just thoughts) on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, etc. So it's not exactly a strategy that you can control, but being yourself on social media is a way to shine your specific beacon out into the world and see if anyone comes to light.

Work with your rep

If you're fortunate enough to have a manager or agent, then work together to find pitch meetings in which a) you're a good fit for them and b) they're a good fit for you. And remember that while they are there to help you, you are the one in charge of your career, and you can't expect them to do all the work in finding you meetings.

Pitching your script requires having a thorough understanding of what you've written and how it fits into the market. Summarize your main ideas into several sections and choose the essential aspects.

Study all the major streaming networks and film schedules for the next few months, including which films have been box office hits and which ones have panned, and try to see how your film would fit in.

How to prep for your pitch meeting

In the pitch meeting, you're looking to communicate the plot, the characters, the tone, the feel, the look, and the commercial viability of the project. But you're also looking to tell a story both about the film you've written and about yourself.

The key elements you are trying to convey to the decision-makers are:

  • You've written a coherent, well-structured film that fits into a specific genre and format.
  • Your film is likely to generate a return on investment based on hard data.
  • You are a professional that will respond well to the pre-production process and work well with the cast and the rest of the team, developing a long-term relationship.
  • You are likely to deliver more scripts that generate a return on investment.

Here are some actions you can take to prepare for the process and ensure you convey all four of these things to the decision-makers.

Plan out your day

You wouldn't turn up to a job interview late, so make sure you are on time for your pitch. Being late doesn't just give a bad impression; you are likely to arrive harried, exhausted, and apologetic, putting you on the back burner.

The best way to avoid being late is to plan out your day. If you're taking public transport such as a train, bus, or flight, take the earliest option you can so that even if you have to take a later flight or bus, you will still make it in time. If traveling stresses you out, invest in luxuries. Arrive the night before and stay in a nice hotel to be well-rested or travel business class.

If you're driving, assume there will be lots of traffic and plan the route out in advance.

Plan out your lunch so that you're not hungry, whether that's making a packed lunch or researching restaurant options nearby to the venue of your pitch meeting.

Dress smartly and in comfortable clothes. Wash your clothes and iron them beforehand. Again, if these tasks aren't your forte, invest in having them professionally washed and ironed.

Prep your script

Don't assume this meeting is just about your pitch; the decision-makers might wish to look at your complete script. Give it one last polish, print out several copies to carry with you if they ask for it, and keep a spare PDF on your main computer and in the cloud.

Prep your pitch deck

Some writers create a pitch deck or lookbook. This is different from a show bible in that this is a forward-facing document and might not go into as much detail as a bible. However, it may not have any written details if you're only using it as a visual reference.

Consider cards

You could use cards to lay out your story piece by piece and revise it. It's a great way to let the story, and elements of the story, unfold piece by piece in your mind. You could try using them in a pitch, but only if you can carry it off effectively.

Consider additional visuals

It's possible to create materials like posters, sizzle reels, or even fake trailers. It can be a lot of upfront work for something you may not ever get paid for, and these tools aren't exactly the right fit for every project, so be careful. (But it worked for A Quiet Place.)

Whatever tools you choose to employ, remember that they are there to support the pitch, not be the pitch. Your project should be front and center; otherwise, some of these tools can come off as gimmicky.

Once you've decided on the best tools you want to use, it's time to get to work. I always recommend that writers think of pitches as an iterative process, and don't be afraid to ask friends to be "practice recipients" of your pitch.

You'll want to know your talking points but be able to pivot and maneuver through different parts depending on the people you're meeting with. Some ask many questions and treat it like a discussion, while others sit back and wait until you're completely done. Practicing your talking points without sticking word-for-word to a script will allow you to handle whatever type of meeting it turns out to be.

Writers should know their story inside and out before their pitch meeting.

After your pitch meeting

After your pitch meeting, it's time to wait to see what happens. This period can seem nerve-wracking. It's important to temper your expectations. You might not hear anything back at all. Getting a film made is a challenging task that takes lots of perseverance.

During this time, you are best to focus on something else. Get stuck into a new project, plan your following script, taking some time out to travel, or meet friends. Don't get hung up on checking your emails every day.

The standard wait time is hard to pin down. Every executive and every studio is different. Some make decisions quickly within a few days, while others have a backlog that they work through methodically.

Approximately four weeks after your pitch meeting, you can follow up if you think it's necessary. A polite email is usually the best way to remind them of your pitch and film and ask them if they've had any further thoughts on it.

Don't be discouraged if you still don't get a reply even after following up. Some agents and executives work on a system that only replies to the scripts they want to take forward to save time.

Screenwriting is subjective. Everyone has a different opinion about your work. You just need one person to see the potential. So, keep trying and don't feel discouraged. Remember, the more scripts you write and polish and the longer you spend on the process, the more likely you will be successful.

How to pitch your movie in 5 steps

To summarize, let's break down the process of pitching your script into five easy steps you can follow.

1. Write a complete script

Check yourself into your writer's cave for six months, splash the cash at a fancy hotel and bash it out or write a little bit every day; whatever works to get to the end of your script. Polish it, seek editorial advice, and don't stop until you've got a script you are happy with. Only then can you start to think about pitching it.

2. Search for pitching opportunities & network

Be on the lookout for pitching opportunities. Get talking to anyone and everyone you know in the film and TV world. Today, there are many opportunities to meet key decision-makers online. Interviews and networking events can be conducted via Zoom calls, but it still might be worth taking a trip to the film capitals of the world: Hollywood, London, Paris, Berlin, and New York.

Look for reputable agents and directors who are open to unsolicited submissions and pitches. Study what films they've previously been involved in or produced and get to know them as individuals so you can make the best impression.

3. Prep for your pitch

Do your market research and firmly establish where your film fits into other genres. Look at the budgets for similar films and adjust your script and pitch accordingly. For example, if you're writing in a small niche genre and pitching to lower-end studios, it's time to cut those expensive car chases through the city.

Condense your film down into crucial components. What makes it interesting to an audience? And how might it be marketed?

4. Pitch

Rehearse your pitch in the mirror, perfect it as much as possible, double-check your statistics and then put it to one side.

Get some sleep, and plan the day of your pitch so that you are well-rested and arrive on time. Be confident, dress sharply to impress, and be receptive to any feedback you might receive. Avoid coming across as arrogant or entitled.

5. Keep pitching

As soon as you walk out of the room, assume that you will get a no from that pitch and get working on your next one. That way, you'll be pleasantly surprised if you get a response.

Keep pitching and take advantage of any new opportunities you see. Utilize even the smallest nugget of feedback and if this doesn't work out for you, get to work on your next script. And above all else, don't give up.

Check out this video for more information on condensing your pitch: how to pitch your screenplay in 60 seconds.

Write your best script today

Every great pitch starts with a great script, and Arc Studio can help you get there. Take advantage of its planning tools like its beat planner and scene cards. This can make it easier to summarize your script when writing your pitch.

This industry-standard software also automatically formats everything for you to stand out from the crowd as a professional at any pitch meeting: this is a must in today's competitive market.

Try our industry-standard software out for free. Happy writing and the best of luck from everyone on the Arc Studio team.


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How to Pitch & Sell Your Script
David Wappel

David Wappel is a feature writer. Recent work includes the screenplay for Long Gone By, now available on HBO. He was named a Top 25 Screenwriter to Watch in 2020 by the ISA and is the 2019 Stowe Story Labs Fellowship winner. He is an avid Shakespeare and Tolkien fan.

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