Most writers don’t enjoy the luxury of having top talent attached to their project when pitching. We have to rely on other strengths. While there is certain content that every pitch should have, discussed in other articles on this site, writers still must choose where to lean in when pitching. Where you choose to focus your attention can make the difference between a listener who stays engaged and one who immediately checks out. Here are four different approaches to pitching your story, each highlighting a different strategy to consider focusing on.
THE PERSONAL TOUCH
Having a personal connection to the material you are pitching is one of the strongest ways to hold the listener’s interest. This doesn’t mean that the story you are pitching needs to be based on your life. Any sort of connection that explains why you have passion for your project is helpful. If your protagonist is struggling with romance, giving a bit of insight into your own struggles can strike a connection. If your main character is fighting against the system, a connection about your own battles might prove worthy of a mention. And of course, if your character struggles with an illness that you have suffered with as well, be sure to mention that.
Listeners are trying to identify why you are the perfect person to tell this story and understand your insights into its nuances. When Diablo Cody pitched Juno, she used her own life experiences of being a quirky outcast as a connection to the material. What qualities and experiences in your life might make your pitch more personal?
THE PRE-EXISTING INTEREST
Some stories have a bit of built-in interest. Scripts that take place in a particular historical period or around a historical character (that no longer requires life rights) can produce immediate interest in a listener, if that period or character is one he or she is interested in. The same holds true for popular genres and material that bares resemblance to a property that has already proved successful but may be just out of the public’s collective memory.
Few of us will ever have the opportunity to pitch the next Spiderman story, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find material connected to interests that already exist. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword didn’t fare so well at the box office, but it got made because there was a pre-existing interest in the material. Does your story connect to an interest that already has some sort of fan base? If so, it might mean greater chances for your project.
THE HIGH CONCEPT HOOK
Some pitches gain interest for no other reason than that they are simply a good idea that no one has made a film about before. These pitches often begin by asking “what if…?” What if there was a theme park filled with real dinosaurs? What if the man of your dreams became your roommate? What if a farm boy had an opportunity to save the galaxy? All these are examples of how asking “what if…?” can lead to a strong story and a strong pitch.
Fist Fight asked, what if a teacher at your high school challenged another teacher to a brawl? That simple one-sentence pitch brings a chuckle just to read. Our mind races with the possibilities for comedic humor. A great pitch gives the listeners just enough information that they begin writing moments for the story in their own head.
THE UNIVERSAL STORY
Some pitches connect because we can all relate to the underlying story or theme. Universal stories provide a short cut to needing to explain plot intricacies. When a boy struggles to win the approval of his father – we understand. When a woman seeks to find her place in the world without relying on others – we understand. When characters take out on the open road, looking for adventure and meaning – we understand. Connecting your material to a universal desire or need that we all share is one sure way to make sure that a listener has some resonance with your story.
What theme is reinforced in your script? Is that theme as universal to Kabul as it is to Kansas? A pitch for Boss Baby might go something like this: Have you ever felt like someone has come along and undeservedly taken what you had worked so hard for? Have you ever felt like you’re not seen? Tim sure does. His new baby brother is getting all the family’s attention and he needs to find a solution. While we only get a wink at the larger story in this pitch, we can all relate to Tim’s plight. We’ve all been there. That’s the exact feeling we want to create in the listener when they hear our pitch.
John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S. Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.