How to Pitch YOUR Script
By Jacob Krueger
The first thing you need to know when you pitch a script is what the producer is actually buying! In today’s market, nobody is going to buy your idea.
It used to be you could sell a script off of an idea. You could say to a producer, “here’s an idea, here’s a two page treatment” and if they liked it, the producers would show you the money.
And then the Producers got wise and realized, “oh my G-d, we’ve spent millions of dollars on these ideas, and very few people can actually execute them in a way we like at all.”
They’ve also started to see that sometimes bad ideas make really great movies.
Lars and the Real Girl is the worst idea ever, right? A man falls in love with a sex doll and everybody accepts the sex doll as if she were real, and it changes his life and brings the whole town together.
That’s a horrible idea. In fact, the bad version of that movie was already made! Remember Mannequin?
Instead, Lars and the Real Girl is a serious drama…about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll.
But look at the execution of that movie. It’s beautiful. That movie is incredibly moving. It’s funny, it’s poignant, and it’s real. He goes through every phase of a relationship with a sex doll.
And that’s the real pitch.
The real pitch is not “dude falls in love with a sex doll” because that’s not even the feeling that Lars and the Real Girl delivers.
The real pitch is, “a guy falls in love with a sex doll, and goes through every phase of a relationship with her, in a way that takes him from a place where he can’t even be touched, to a place where he’s ready to let her go for a real relationship”. And that’s actually a beautiful idea for a movie.
So if you want to pitch a script, you have to understand what the Producer is buying. The primary thing that a producer is buying is the “genre experience” of the script. Because the genre experience is the reason people go to movies.
In fact, the genre experience may be only reason people go to movies is for a genre experience.
So what is a genre experience?
A genre experience is the feeling a movie gives you. If you go to a Romantic Comedy, you are going to get the feeling that love is possible. That’s why you go to a Romantic Comedy in the first place- because you want to feel like love is possible.
If the movie gives you that feeling, then you’re going to leave happy. If the movie doesn’t give you the feeling, you’re going to leave angry.
That’s why they changed the end of When Harry Met Sally. Originally, in When Harry Met Sally, they ended as friends. Then somebody said, “If we do this, the audience will eat us alive.” Because the audience wants to feel like love is possible. They want the genre experience of love is possible.
Charlie Kaufman writes romantic comedies. That’s why Synecdoche, New York failed where all those other movies succeeded. Now, I love Synecdoche, New York. But it didn’t make money, and all those other movies made tons of money even though they were totally experimental.
His other movies provided a genre experience known as “Charlie Kaufman.” When you see a Charlie Kaufman movie, the genre experience that you’re shopping for is: “this is going to be weird, I’m going to laugh and I’m going to cry.” At the end of the day, for all the wackiness of his experimental approach, Charlie Kaufman simply writes romantic comedies that make you feel like love is possible.
Synecdoche, New York does not make you feel like love is possible. Synecdoche, New York makes you feel like you don’t want to be a person anymore. And so, there are a lot of people who want to see that movie, but those aren’t the people who generally go to see Charlie Kaufman movies. So in the genre of “Charlie Kaufman,” he didn’t give them what they expected and they ate him alive.
So, people go to movies seeking genre experiences. If you give them the genre experience that they want, you can get away will almost anything else. So, if you’re writing a movie about consumerism that happens to have zombies in it or you write a zombie movie that happens to be about consumerism, great! The producer doesn’t care about the consumerism. They care about the zombies. But as long as you make it gross, you’re going to be fine! Just think Dawn of the Dead.
If you’re writing a movie about a big blue Avatar creature that looks like your ex-wife and you’ve got a tin ear for dialogue, and you’ve got a bunch of scenes that don’t make any sense at all, and you’ve essentially stolen the plot of FernGully, BUT you deliver the genre experience of an action-love story, the audience and the Producer will both forgive the fact that what Avatar actually does thematically and politically, is to take a mainstream American audience, and make the look at the Gulf War from the point of view of an Iraqi citizen. That’s what that movie actually does.
As long as you deliver the genre experience of crazy big blue creature, exciting action, beautiful images, they’ll let you get away with your very politically charged movie.
The Producer is buying the genre experience of your movie because the genre experience is what the audience is shopping for when they come to see your movie.
Now, that doesn’t mean that you should come up with a genre and write a movie that does that. That means you want to look at what’s already great about your movie, and ask what’s the feeling of that and make sure you’re delivering that in spades.
So, if you’re making an IFC movie that’s going show at the little independent IFC cinema, then it might be really great if the genre experience is “I don’t want to feel like a human being anymore.” Think about a movie like Amores Perros and how that delivers on the promise. Think about a movie like Requiem for a Dream and how that makes you not want to be a person anymore. There are all kinds of feelings that people come to movies looking for. And the one you deliver should ultimately be the same one you felt when you were writing it!
The genre experience is not something you impose upon your movie. Don’t put a zombie in there because you think you’re going to sell your movie. But if you find yourself writing a movie and there’s a freaking zombie in it, make sure you do some cool zombie stuff!
The genre experience is the primary thing the audience is buying, which is the primary thing the Producer is buying.
If every time you went to see a movie, you actually got the genre experience you were promised, then that would be the only thing a producer would need. You would just be able to say to a producer, “it’s a romantic comedy.” And they’d say, “great! I make romantic comedies.”
But the problem is that neither Hollywood nor screenwriters have any credibility whatsoever. Most screenplays are bad, meaning most screenplays don’t deliver on their own genre promises; they don’t actually deliver on the feeling that they promise. And most movies are bad, meaning that most movies don’t deliver the feeling that the audience was promised.
You can go to see an action blockbuster and not feel your adrenaline pumping. And that sucks! You can go see an independent film and not have your intellect stimulated in any way. And that sucks too!
So, because of that, there’s this idea called “hook,” which is the second thing you need to know when you pitch your movie. Hook tells the person who’s listening why your version of the genre experience is more likely to be cool than somebody else’s version of this genre experience. What makes your version slightly more exciting, slightly more alarming, slightly more likely to be a good use of their $12 or of their two hours of reading time? What makes this one likely to be good?
When you pitch your script, you’re pitching the only thing a producer can actually sell.
You’re pitching the answer to a really simple question. It’s the question that every audience member asks when they’re standing outside the theater and their friend says, “Let’s go see this.” The question that every single person asks is “what’s it about?” When you pitch your script, all you’re really doing is supplying the answer to “what’s it about?” That means the answer has to be really simple, because even someone who’s not a trained film scholar, or trained writer, or trained producer, or trained salesman needs to be able to sell their friend on what your movie is about in a way that delivers the feeling of the genre experience that your movie delivers.
Develop your skills with both your written and verbal pitch at my upcoming Logline Seminar and Pitch Party, Friday September 12th, 7:30pm at Videology in Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn.
Learn how to write a logline that captures both the hook and the genre experience of your screenplay, and then make some new friends and practice your pitching skills at our free pitch party immediately afterwards.
As a friend of Jacob Krueger Studio, you get half off when you sign up in advance. Just use discount code: GENRE50 and you’ll play only $25 bucks (normal price $50).
Can’t make it live? A Video-on-demand version of the seminar will be available on September 18th. Pre-order now to take advantage of the discount!