7 Steps to a Perfect Pitch

By Ruth Atkinson • July 30, 2021

In previous posts I talked about theme and how you can use your protagonist’s arc to clarify what your story is about. You can also use this arc as the spine for pitching your story.

Knowing how to pitch your script can be a challenge particularly deciding what’s essential information and what you can leave out. Everyone is different and it takes time to find your pitching “voice” but one way to approach it is by looking at the protagonist’s arc over the course of the story and using this as the spine of your pitch.

In general your pitch should include:

1. Title – Um, well, this obvious, right?

2. Genre – It’s ok to mix genres a little bit here but try to stay within generally accepted genres i.e. comedy, comedy-drama, thriller, action-thriller. Not sure? Check out imdb.com to get an idea of the most common genres.

3. Hook – This is the one idea that makes your story unique. In The Artist this would be the fact that it’s a silent movie. If you don’t have one don’t worry – not all stories do.

4. Protagonist – One or two sentences that briefly summarize your main character. For example if you were pitching The Descendants you might say, “Matt is an emotionally awol, self described back-up parent.” Or if your story was Up you could describe Carl as a curmudgeonly recluse unable to connect with anyone since his wife died.

5. Goal – Clarify the protagonist’s main external goal. In The King’s Speech this is for Albert to overcome his stammer. Or for The Descendents it would be for Matt to find and confront his dying wife’s lover.

6. Problem/Obstacles – In many ways this is the crux of your pitch and also the most difficult. The challenge here is to know just how much detail to go into and how to succinctly describe the series of escalating problems your protagonist encounters. This is where it can be really helpful to know what your story is really about and how your protagonist grows over the course of the script.

What you’re looking for here are the main turning points of the second act. The beats that move your character forward externally and internally. The first of these is the main problem which generally falls around the end of the first act.

In The Descendants this is the fact that Elizabeth, who has to be taken off life support, was having an affair. With The Artist this is when George is proven wrong and talkies start to become popular. In Drive this is when Driver (Ryan Gosling) offers to help Standard (Oscar Isaac) and the robbery goes awry.

From here your pitch should include how your protagonist handles this problem(s). Think 3-4 beats that form the central spine of your story be sure to include the end of the second act turning point and the climax.

7.  Resolution – This is how the story ends. It shows how your protagonist solved their central problem and whether or not they achieved their goal. It also reveals what your protagonist has learned over the course of the script and is where the theme is mostly clearly articulated. In The Descendants this is  Matt’s tender speech to Elizabeth which shows us he’s finally able to reconcile her transgression and tell us that The Descendants is ultimately a story about forgiveness.

Spin Your Pitch

When giving your pitch you want to “spin” your story not tell it plot point by plot point. If this means you put the main events in a slightly different order, leave out a character or compress a subplot it’s all good. Succinct is always better so just stick to the key events that tell us what happens and what your story is about. The goal here is to link the main story beats together in such a way that it feels conversational and entertaining. Imagine you’re having a few drinks with your friends and telling them about this great movie you just saw. The pitch should entice the executive you’re pitching to to ask for more information and hopefully to see the script.

Pitching well takes practice, lots and lots of practice, and is an art form all of its own, but having a good sense of your character’s arc, epiphany and transformation can give you the framework you need to hit it out of the park. (Hey, at least I waited until the end to use such an obvious pun!)

Ruth Atkinson

Ruth is a Los Angeles-based script consultant and story editor who has worked in the film and television business for 20 years. Films Ruth has consulted on have won awards at festivals and been distributed around the world including  My Awkward Sexual Adventure  screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and named one of Canada’s Top Ten best films, acclaimed short  film ‘Lil Tokyo Reporter, The Perfect Family starring Kathleen Turner which was the closing Gala Film at Outfest 2011, released theatrically and aired on...