Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

Experts Explain How to Pitch a Movie

Almost every screenwriter or filmmaker will have to pitch their movie idea at some point in their career, whether that's to a producer, studio executive, or even a friend or family member. Pitches put you front and center with decision-makers who can fund, make, or vouge for your screenplay. You'll want to get good at writing a compelling pitch and learn the other in-person techniques it takes to land the deal for your film idea.

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Lucky for you, three experts stopped by to graciously lend us their knowledge and experience with this very topic. Take their collective knowledge and incorporate it into your own pitching process and read our pitching guide below for maximum results. 

In this guide, we'll cover: 

  • Movie pitch definition and what to expect in a pitch meeting

  • How to write a perfect film pitch

  • How to sell an idea for a movie

We've also included some pitch examples you can lean on to build your own pitch outline. 

Our expert screenwriting lineup includes:  

What is a movie pitch?

In the film industry, you'll hear about pitch meetings and general meetings. The agenda for a general meeting is for the executive, agent, manager, or producer to get to know you, understand your point of view, what you're working on, and what kind of screenplays you have in your arsenal. However, a pitch meeting is called for a specific reason: for you, the screenwriter, to sell your movie idea or screenplay in hopes of having it made. 

A movie pitch is a short document or presentation that summarizes a potential feature film's plot, characters, setting, themes, etc. It should be written so that someone unfamiliar with the project could read it (or hear it) and immediately grasp its basic premise. This means keeping things simple and concise while still conveying all necessary information. 

Types of pitches screenwriters will need prepared

You'll have different opportunities to pitch your screenplay in different scenarios in your career, so you'll want a different type of pitch prepared for each. Some writers choose to test their pitch process at pitch fests, though there's usually a fee involved and specific pitch requirements. Pitch fests also don't require a screenplay, and in real life, there's not really a market for a great pitch with no script to back it up. To begin, we'd recommend having at least the following pitches prepared, practiced, and perfected. 

20-minute pitch for an in-person meeting

The 20-minute pitch is explicitly designed for when you meet face-to-face with executives, investors, agents, managers, producers, casting directors, etc. You may even use this one if you are attending a conference or workshop where they ask attendees to present their projects. 

A twenty-minute pitch could actually range from 10 to 30 minutes, or maybe even longer if the person you're pitching likes what they're hearing. To prepare for a pitch meeting like this, you'll want a few copies of your script, your synopsis, and your logline, and a digital pitch deck that expands on your vision for your film. You may also want to print the pitch deck to be safe. Suppose the person you're meeting with doesn't want to see a deck. In that case, you'll need to rely on memory to expound upon the awesome elements of your film, including a summary, characters, any unique elements, who's already interested or attached, and why you're the person to make this vision come to life right now. 

Often, if one person's interested in meeting with you, there will be many, many more twenty-minute pitch opportunities. You've got something good on your hands. In these instances, your agent or manager might send you on a "water bottle tour," as it's called in the industry. This means that you'll have multiple pitch meetings scheduled in a day or a week, and the water bottle refers to the beverage you'll be offered at every meeting. Take the water! It will help rehydrate you when nerves kick in. 

30 to a 60-second elevator pitch for networking 

The elevator pitch is a type of pitch that lends itself to quickly attracting someone's interest at networking events or in other instances where time in front of that person is limited. An elevator pitch is basically a short sales pitch of your project that lasts no longer than 30 to 60 seconds or the time it would take you to travel up or down an elevator. It's meant to capture the essence of your project in a few concise sentences, including what's great about your project and why you're the person for the job.

The beauty of elevator pitches is that you can practice it on screenplays that you haven't even written yet. It's an excellent exercise to have this pitch ready before you even start writing your screenplay, even though that may seem premature. If you know what makes your story great and why it matters, you can use this as your north star while writing. Screenwriters often use their logline for this purpose, too. 

How to write a film pitch

The recipe for a great film pitch is no mystery, and I've outlined its elements below. But the magic of your story is not something any guidebook can explain to you - that's work you're going to have to do. Get to the root of what makes your screenplay or movie idea special, then use the outline below to build out your pitch. A pitch can be presented in a few ways, from in-person meetings to Zoom calls, slideshows, and more. My recommendation is to memorize and practice pitching your idea without any supporting documents so that you know you can if you have to. Then, build out written collateral and digital assets that you can take into the meeting to fall back on.

Research and customize

Once you have your pitch script ready, you're going to want to customize it to the person you're pitching. Learn more about them, what makes them tick, and what they're looking for in a story idea, then make sure your pitch to them aligns. They'll appreciate that you did your research.

You'll also want to research who you think will be the audience for your movie. Does it have broad appeal, or is your story idea only going to resonate with a small audience? Investors, executives, and producers will want to know who and how big the audience might be. 

You'll also want to research comparable films and their performance stats. It's not to say that you can only do what's been done before, but when it comes to movie production, execs need sure bets. They also need to have a general understanding of what it will cost to produce the film you have in your head. Know whether you've got a "Titanic" or a "Blair Witch Project" on your hands. 

Introduction

Start your movie pitch with a speedy synopsis of the idea, narrowing in on the theme, genre, logline, and title. Where did your story idea come from? Is it fiction, a true story, or an adaptation (in which you want to note that you've acquired the rights)? If this particular story has special meaning to you, quickly explain why. 

Summarize your movie plot and premise

Without getting too deep into details, explain the central premise of your movie and the general plot. We're not talking about all 18 or 22 plot points here. Where does the story begin, what happens to get in the protagonist's way, how do they overcome their antagonist?

Characters

Audiences are hooked on characters and their arcs, not just the plot. Describe your protagonist, antagonist, and any interesting secondary characters that impact the story's outcome. How are their arcs relatable, and what exciting traits do they have that will engage an audience? 

Special elements

If there's something standout about your story idea and the vision you have for presenting it, mention it here. Maybe it's shot entirely in black and white, or maybe there's a particular song that you plan to use that will really make the idea pop for the people you're pitching. These ideas can add milieu to your pitch, with or without visual aids. If you do have visual (or even better, audio!) aids, use this section to set the mood and tone of your story. 

Wrap Up

A great way to wrap up your pitch is to unveil the ending. Or, if you want to keep that as a teaser to get the person you're pitching to read the screenplay, you can sometimes use that tactic effectively, too. Know if your ending is good enough to do so.

You'll also want to talk about the budget you think it will take to produce the movie (see research section above), if any investors have expressed interest or, even better, signed on, and if any actors, directors, or other industry folk have been attached. 

This is not the place to say that someone has already expressed interest in buying your film, especially if that's not true. Most execs will not be swayed by competition unless your screenplay is really. that. good. It's a risky move. 

Templates and Examples of Film Pitches 

Famous movie pitches

There's an air of mystery to pitch meetings for writers who have not had the opportunity to experience one for themselves. It doesn't help that there's not much documentation of what actually goes down, which writers use decks, who gets away with pitching without one, and how the pros approach these meetings. It is even rarer to find an actual screenplay pitch example used for a movie that we've all seen. But, there are some industry standards to pitch decks that are widely accepted, so pitch deck templates like this one from Shift do exist. There are also elevator screenplay pitch examples for famous movies that script out what might have been said in a pitch meeting. Some incredibly helpful screenwriters have shared the decks that led them to secure independent financing for their film, such as this deck from Ken Miyamoto over at ScreenCraft. You'll see how pitch decks for independent films sometimes include slides on the team (if already secured), the timeline, and how funding will be used. 

Over on YouTube, you can also find some screenplay pitch examples, such as these example movie pitches from David Russo, Mat Whitecross, and Jac Schaeffer

If the thought of pitching your movie idea and all that it entails is making you tense up, you'll appreciate the hilarious Pitch Meetings series over on Screen Rant's YouTube channel. There, they satire what went down in the pitch room for some of the biggest films today. Though humorous and hypothetical, there are some key takeaways to glean here. 

Once you've done the work outlined above, I'd recommend getting feedback from trusted sources. Ask friends, family members, teachers, mentors, professors, coaches, writers' groups, fellow students, anyone really. They don't necessarily have to read your entire script; all they need to do is give you honest feedback based on how well you understand your own work.

How do you sell a movie idea for a script

Here's where our panel of experts comes in. That magic element that no pitch deck or memorized summary will get you is the YOU factor. Sure, you're trying to sell your script, but equally important is selling yourself to the person on the other side of the desk. These are the soft skills you need to actually SELL your movie idea and make a compelling pitch, not just talk about it. 

Be enthusiastic

"You really, really, really want to give people the impression that you're enthusiastic and you're excited about whatever project it is that you're pitching and that you're the only person that has the passion to see it through," Bryan Young said. "And if they can see that in your personality, even if they don't buy it right then and there, even if they don't buy it at all, you've won in that meeting because they will remember that passion and excitement the next time they have you for a meeting."

A pitch meeting with an executive is not a time to be chill, quiet, or reserved. This is your moment to show why YOU and only you should be attached to this project. Show that you're passionate about the story and that you'll remain passionate throughout the often long production process. They want to know that you have what it takes to see this project through and that they'll like working with you for years to come. 

Be over-prepared

"What I think is important is to be able to condense the idea of your story and what's great about it into one minute," Ricky Roxburgh told us about elevator pitches.

Be ready, in any circumstance and with any amount of time, to pitch your story idea. Have different versions of it memorized at different lengths. Make sure you have an answer for every question that you don't already address in your pitch. 

Show that you have a vision

"A great pitch meeting is just one where you get across what you want to say about your story and make us feel something," Danny Manus explained to us. "Connect to us on not just a cerebral story level but also on an emotional level that makes us feel something specific about your story, the right emotion that you're trying to get across." 

In other words, share your vision. That vision includes the emotion and the drama that you want your audience to experience and making the execs feel it without having ever seen the movie. Sometimes, this is best conveyed through a proof of concept short, a relevant object or something tactile, or through mood boards and music that evoke a feeling within the person you're pitching. 

Follow up 

After you finish pitching your film idea, make notes to yourself about what went well, what fell flat, and what stood out to that particular exec or producer. Follow up with a short thank you email and include any short quips that stood out to you in the meeting. If applicable, include the next steps or another call to action. Always show sincere appreciation for someone's time, even if the meeting didn't go your way. 

Continue to learn 

Use all movie pitching opportunities or networking events as a chance to learn and grow. Most writers will face an overwhelming amount of rejection in their career, and it's all for naught if you don't learn anything from it. 

What happens in a meeting to pitch a script or movie idea?

Every movie pitching opportunity will be a little bit different, especially in COVID times, but you can generally expect the following to happen:

  • You'll wait for a few minutes in a waiting room. Be nice to EVERYONE you meet, even in the bathroom. The Water Bottle Tour begins. 

  • You'll meet the exec, agent, manager, producer, investor, etc., and get into some small talk. Have some small talk prepared in case this conversation doesn't happen naturally. You won't get a second chance to make a first impression.

  • You'll be invited to make your pitch. Try to imagine how this transition from small talk to pitching might go, so it feels more natural and not rehearsed. Confirm how much time you have and dive in! 

  • Leave time for questions and discussion.

  • Shake hands and say thank you, then take notes once you leave on everything that went well, what didn't, and what you might want to mention in a follow-up email. 

In summary, here are some tips:

  • Have a 20-minute and elevator pitch ready to go, with or without the use of visual aids.

  • Know what makes your story great. 

  • Show that you're the writer for the job, and the time is now.

  • If you get nothing else, you at least got a lesson. Never stop learning. 

Pitching is an aspect of the screenwriter's job that you're not likely to get around. You will need to nail a pitch at some point, and practice makes perfect! Be ready for your next big opportunity, and it may just become your first big break. 

Sell me on it,

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