So you have an idea for a new film — that’s great! But it’s important to know how to pitch your movie idea. Do your research, develop a compelling creative pitch, and know the essential “dos” and “don’ts” of selling your idea. Here are some tips from top Hollywood producers in the industry on creating, pitching, and selling a movie idea.
1. Create a Pitch
A pitch is a concise presentation of a film idea, typically made by a screenwriter or director to a producer, executive, or financial sponsor. The elevator pitch is a short description of your film, usually encapsulated in 90 seconds to two minutes. The 20-minute pitch, also known as the “story” pitch, an in-depth description of the film.
Here are six tips for creating a fantastically compelling pitch for your movie idea:
- Find a void in the marketplace: Take advantage of proven concepts in the market, and then put a different spin on it, such as adding a different cultural view. By doing this, you’re catering to a “void” in the market but not forcing decision-makers to take a leap of faith on a concept that has never been done before. For inspiration, read about the successful Bravo show “Jersey Belle.”
- Appeal to the biggest demographic: The bigger the target audience, the better. Remember — buyers want a payout. The more appealing to all consumers, the better.
- Partner with someone with experience: Try to partner with someone in the industry who not only has a proven track record, but also shares your vision, process, and goals. The film “Girls Trip ” had a monumental opening weekend, making $30.4 million — and this was the result of a remarkable partnership.
- Develop your creative deliverables: While you can pitch a movie idea without a screenplay, having a treatment, script, and other supporting materials readily available during a pitch is best. It’s also important that every deliverable covers the stakes, protagonist/antagonist, and conflicts in your film, so take advantage of script coverage services to up your game. Develop the following deliverables to give you the strongest footing to prove your concept:
- Know your buyer’s genre and style: Research the producers or companies you want to sell to, and know what genres and styles they have historically made deals for. You wouldn’t pitch a rom-com to a film company known for gritty action films.
- Extend your successful idea into a franchise: Think of a few examples of the potential longevity of your brand. For example, the film concept for “Jersey Belle” was turned into a book, “The Southern Education of a Jersey Girl.” Now, that book is being turned into a series! If you’re pitching a pilot for a TV show, you have other factors to consider, too.
Here are even more ways to cater your idea and pitch to your dream company.
2. Prepare to Sell Your Pitch — and Yourself
It’s important to not only prepare your concept but also your professional reputation. To make a good first impression and protect your work, make sure you consider the following:
- Make a list of producers you want to pitch to: Investigate what genres of films they’ve produced in the past.
- Prepare a cover letter: The cover letter should be friendly, professional, and to the point. Be sure to include:
- A short synopsis of the script
- A direct overview of your qualifications and experience as a writer
- Your phone number
- Your address
- Your email address
- Protect yourself: Register your concept through Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) or get it copyrighted.
- Contact everyone on your list: Consider mailing hard copies that include a self-addressed stamped envelope so producers can easily respond to you.
3. Pitch Your Idea
Now that you’ve learned the basics, let’s break down each step of the pitch process to ensure you are prepared to give a professional, compelling pitch. For example, the home-invasion drama “Breaking In” that was released in 2018 is has a noteworthy pitch that lead to inimitable success.
- Watch professional pitches: Watching pitches of existing films is a great way to get a feel of the process. Here’s David Russo with his pitch, “The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle.”
Here’s another great pitch from Mat Whitecross for “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll,” which really gets the point across in a concise yet engaging way.
In Jac Schaweffer’s pitch for her film “TiMER,” you can see the importance of an immediate hook in the first sentence of your pitch.
- Structure your pitch: Take a look at a typical pitch meeting structure to get an idea for how you should structure your pitch and expect the day to go.
- Waiting to be seen/drinking water (1-5 minutes)
- Hellos and small talk (1-5 minutes)
- The screenplay pitch (1-20 minutes)
- Q&As (5-20 minutes)
- Wrap up (1-2 minutes)
- Know how to make a good first impression: Make note of some of the best things you can do when pitching your script or movie idea in a meeting.
- Be inviting and establish rapport.
- Start the pitch by establishing the genre of your film idea.
- Pitch as quickly and energetically as possible to allows your passion to shine through.
- Be sure to include a hook, the audience, the most important beats of the film, and the budget (optional).
- Ask if they have any questions.
- Don’t lose your spark: Be sure to have a clear understanding of the things you should avoid when pitching your idea.
- Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs
- Any mention of politics or religion (unrelated to the plot of the film)
- Overrunning your time
- Trying to “oversell” or argue with the buyer’s perspective
- Being defensive
- Not answering questions
- Taking rejection personally
- Comparing your screenplay to existing movies
- Mentioning specific actors
- Follow up politely: Don’t be afraid to follow up in a week or so after a meeting. Be sure to thank them for taking their time.
4. Sell Your Idea
So you’ve made your film pitch, and now it’s time to talk numbers. Here are some things to keep in mind when selling a script in Hollywood.
- Know the scope of your budget: Not only does the film need to be original and sellable, but it needs to have a realistic budget for its genre and the company you’re selling to.
- Get the rights to anything based on a real event or person: You don’t want to lose a deal because you didn’t clear the rights of any part of your concept. If it’s going to be mentioned in the pitch, the rights should be obtained prior to the pitch.
- Try a pitching service: Sending your idea through a pitching service is a great way to workshop a pitch pre-sale and put you on a trajectory to talk numbers immediately.
- Hire an agent or manager: You’re assumed to be much more marketable if you’re represented. Hiring an agent or manager gives you the right connections and a leg up on the selling front.
- Become a salesperson: Once you’re talking numbers, it’s no longer about your story and how great it is. Put on your negotiation hat and be prepared to ask for what you’re worth.
- Hire an entertainment lawyer: A legal representative can review any and all contracts before signing a deal. This way, you’re protected if something happens and the other side falls through.
- Keep your day job: The production of a film takes years, with setbacks and road bumps. Often, you won’t see a payout for three years or more after you sell a film idea. Here is some more information on how much you could make selling your script or idea.
There are many other steps you can take to make sure you are informed, prepared, and able to navigate the selling process.
5. Follow Up With Producers
Too many sales can fall through without a simple follow-up. This reminds the producers that you’re not only still interested in working with them, but you’re also professionally invested in their work. You can follow up with producers by:
- Sending an email
- Calling their professional phone
- Dropping a postcard in the mail
Some things to keep in mind when following up include:
- Time-frame: You’ll want to follow up approximately four weeks after your initial inquiry.
- Be professional: You want to be kind and friendly but not pushy. Keep in mind your tone in your follow-up message.
- Be prepared to receive no response at all: Many producers don’t have time to respond to every query. Don’t lose hope just because you don’t get a response right away.
6. Continue to Learn, Grow, and Educate Yourself
Here are some resources to help you further your research:
- Books: Get in-depth insight on pitching and selling from these top books.
- Videos: Watch author, writer, and producer Marc Zicree speak about one of the rules from, “The Art of the Pitch.”
Get honest insight from Jack Perez here on an executive’s point of view during the pitching process.
In this video, CEO of Stage 32 Richard “RB” Botto breaks down the importance of having a solid script to back you up during the pitch and establishing a good repertoire.
Film and TV careers come with their unique challenges, especially when trying to make the leap from page to screen. While a film pitch may seem like a daunting task, there are many things you can do to ensure you’re adequately prepared. If you’re interested in learning more about pitching, apply to Nashville Film Institute to gain professional qualifications as a filmmaker.