Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How to Pitch Your Script in 60 Seconds, with Dreamworks’ Ricky Roxburgh

Can you pitch your screenplay in less than a minute? You should be able to, but not for the reason you probably think.

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To be honest, when we asked screenwriter Ricky Roxburgh (Disney Animation Television writer, Dreamworks story editor) how to pitch a script in just 60 seconds successfully, the question stemmed from the idea of that chance encounter opportunity that we creatives always hear about. You know, the one where a celebrity gets their big break by meeting a studio exec in an elevator and proceeds to wow them with their perfectly timed elevator pitch.  

This is not real life, and it’s not why you need to be able to sum up your screenplay in one minute or less. It turns out that elevator pitches are not meant for elevators at all.

“I don’t know that it’s important to necessarily pitch your pitch in one minute,” Ricky began. “If somebody’s not giving you the time of day, the likelihood that your pitch is going to be received well is slim.”

Valid point. But Ricky didn’t write off the question entirely.

“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,” he said. “If you’re fishing for what that is, then you personally probably don’t know what’s great about it or why it will sell.”

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. If you’re fishing for what that is, then you personally probably don’t know what’s great about it or why it will sell.
Ricky Roxburgh

So, you should be able to explain your screenplay in 60 seconds or less, just not for the reason previously thought. Of course, there’s a time and a place to pitch your script, and we have a guide for screenplay pitching as well.

I’ve heard of professional screenwriters who take on this exercise before they ever start writing, which is smart. It sets you up for success before you start in on a story that goes nowhere or has little chance of being sold. (I still think you should write a story that means something to you, even if it has no current chance of being sold, and screenwriter Bryan Young agrees for this reason.)

Consider these points when condensing your screenplay into one minute:

  • Logline

    This will quickly sum up the inciting incident, the protagonist, what will happen, and the antagonist your hero is up against—no need to explain the plot.

  • Hook

    How do we get the audience engaged?

  • Theme

    What is the theme in your screenplay – the more profound meaning? What will viewers get out of watching it?

  • Relevance

    How is your story relevant to the current climate? How will it meet a need that we have right now? Relevance doesn’t mean that your story takes place in current times or around current events, but it could. It could also be a relevant message or a relevant character.

  • Audience

    Who is going to watch a film or TV show like this? Is there a market for it? Remember, just because there’s no audience for your story now doesn’t mean there won’t be one in the future. Always hang on to your scripts because sometimes it takes decades for your story to find an audience.

60-Second Screenplay Pitch Example:

The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son. We get a personal look at the complexity of the people in the Italian mafia, not just a caricature, with heavy themes of power, crime, justice, and the collapse of the American dream. It’s aligned with our current reality, while America is embroiled in the drama surrounding Watergate and Vietnam. It’s a film for people who crave an inside look at this underworld and want a deeper look inside Italian-American culture.

Now, that’s not my movie, of course. That’s Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather.” I did not write the logline, but I did write the rest, and using that exercise, you can see why the movie was a major hit for reasons beyond its brilliant filmmaking. It was a film that made sense for the time that had relevant themes, that was fresh and new, and that people wanted to see.

“[That’s] more for you and less so for, you know, like actually walking into an elevator and running into somebody that’s on their way to something else,” Ricky concluded.

So, do you know what your story is really about?

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