Pitching TV Producers and Executives can be either thrilling or unfulfilling. Its not personal…and its not always business. It’s more often about connecting with a like-minded person that gets excited about how you view the subject or story you’re pitching. When we see Journalists cover news subjects and stories, not all take the same angle. It’s the one who finds the more compelling facet and view of the story that triggers curiosity and resonates with viewers, just as your unique approach with any idea you have would connect with producers above others pitching the same subject. Having a clever sensibility with ideas and subjects you pitch makes your pitch more compelling.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT MOVIE IDEA? Some ideas when pitched are very clear in entertainment value, with such a clever premise and plot that the idea itself is marketable. This is “High Concept”. The Producer can see the potential for entertainment value based on the set-up, and unique twist in the plot. What the new writer has to be careful of, especially when trying to sell a pitch, is pitching an idea that is very subtle and relies heavily on the execution of the screenplay and actual film-making. Both are good things, but assuming you’re not already a bankable screenwriter, they need to fall in love with the highly unique idea and story you’ve constructed for a pitch- enough to want to then develop and produce it as a feature film. The goal is to create a pitch that holds the most compelling components (Premise, and Character’s plight) that together fuel the story, and from that they can see the entertaining results.
“DRAMAS OFTEN DELIVER SUBTLE DETAILS AND NUANCE HEAVILY RELIANT ON EXECUTION OF A GREAT SCRIPT…COMEDY IS MORE ABOUT THE BIG INGREDIENTS SET AGAINST EACH OTHER”
If you’re going to sell a movie idea, that idea has to be extremely original, with a premise, plot and resolution that makes us want to see that film. Often, when a concept works, you’ll easily see how the story can play out, and a Producer will have confidence that it can grab an audience as a film. Gravitate toward subjects and premises that haven’t been explored yet. Too often a pitch may be clever, but the content is too familiar. That being a fact, there’s still an exception to the rule. If you can find a new angle on a subject audiences are familiar with, that surprising and fresh approach to the subject can work well. Also keep in mind that Comedy plays very well in selling pitches. While dramas often pull us into subtle details and nuance that is heavily reliant on the execution of a great script, comedy is more about the big ingredients that are set against each other to create ironic, unexpected, funny moments and episodes in the journey of our characters. Then, even with that, keep in mind that the best comedy often results from dramatic conflict. So again, its all about making strong contrasting choices.
WHAT MAKES A GREAT TELEVISION SERIES IDEA? When pitching a dramatic scripted series, you’ll need to convince Producers that there’s an appetite for the subject, the premise, and circumstances of the characters that will drive a storyline in multiple directions that dramatically and ironically collide, and that your main protagonist has the type of dimension and character traits (with flaws) that viewers will become emotionally vested in. A great dramatic series is most often a study of the human condition in a unique world built around a character struggling to survive.
“AT ITS BEST, IT’S BRAIN CANDY THAT TAKES US INTO A WORLD OR EXPERIENCE WE’D NEVER FIND IN OUR OWN LIVES”
Reality TV has also given the creator and producer a huge spectrum of opportunities in factual-based programming, with outlets for subjects and stories that would never have found a home on TV in decades past. Viewer appetites for documentary style programming is very high, and reality TV (for the most part) is no longer just a stunt for ratings. At its best, its brain candy that takes us into a world or experience we’d never find in our own lives. Its truly a genre where anyone from any corner of the country may have an idea that can translate into a series. Look at your life and world, and you may just find a great premise for a docu-style series. Unique lifestyles, professions, families, and other adventures can all translate into entertaining content for reality TV.
IN THE ROOM: Pitching in person isn’t about memorizing a script. Its about memorizing key points and carrying the executive listening through the clever and compelling flow of the show, telling them what we’re watching in both broad and specific beats. The “specific beats” are the most important. That’s where you describe a specific moment in detail. It must be a turning point, and ultimatum, or any moment that defines the main character or propels the plot. The most important thing is to get the critical details of your pitch across, and not get bogged down by fumbling for details under unusual pressure. Do your homework, and know your pitch inside and out. If you rehearse enough with friends, and by yourself, you should be able to sit down with anyone and take them through the story with ease.
“COME FROM THAT PLACE OF EXCITEMENT YOU HAD WHEN YOU FIRST CONCEIVED OF THE STORY, AS IF YOU’RE TELLING YOUR BEST FRIEND ABOUT THE MOST AMAZING THING THAT HAPPENED”
When you’re under a bit of pressure, and feeling the anxiety, use that energy to focus yourself and express your passion with a subtle urgency. Come from that place of excitement you had when you first conceived of the story, as if you’re telling your best friend about the most amazing thing that happened. Not overselling it, but simply communicating with urgency and focus. It relaxes the executives mind, allowing them to SEE your story.
If you’re pitching without referencing a page, that means you know your story and concept inside and out. But don’t obsess over reciting word for word the pitch you had developed. Often with the bit of adrenaline you’ll have, you may race over a few details, but what your mind is actually doing is filtering out the less important fodder, and focusing only on the most critical aspect of the story you’re telling. This is why doing cold pitches for practice with your project is the best way to refine and understand what really works.
In the end, we’re all wanting the same thing; to discover fun, entertaining, inspiring stories. Our business is a contact sport, so take advantage of it and make connecting creatively with anyone you meet the priority.
Learn more about creating and pitching TV show ideas at the TV Writers Vault.
Feel free to post your questions below. I look forward to sharing more with you – Scott