This episode will be a special installment of the podcast, because we are building up to our fourth annual Pitch Festivus! free online pitching event on Dec 7.
In years past, when we had a physical location in New York City, we used to have our annual holiday party in our physical location. Having gone online now and becoming fully virtual as a school, we took that party online as well.
So now, instead of a traditional holiday party, you are going to get a three-hour free pitching workshop with top faculty members at Jacob Krueger Studio. You’re going learn how to pitch from some of the best in the business.
And we’re going to be picking writers from the group who get to pitch their scripts and get feedback from Jacob Krueger Studio faculty members. It’s all free – and you have a chance to win prizes. It’s super fun.
So what do you do if you get chosen to pitch? Well, I’m going to tell you how to prepare a great three-minute pitch. And this isn’t only going to be helpful for you when pitching at Pitch Festivus. There are countless events (like Austin Film Festival, for example) that culminate in these awesome pitch opportunities.
So we’re going to look at how to create a winning three-minute pitch.
A three-minute pitch for your screenplay or TV show is much different than the kind of pitch that you would give if you’re actually in a meeting with an executive or an agent or a manager.
A lot of people call a three-minute pitch an “elevator pitch.” And before I teach you how to make one, I’d like to remind you that the idea of an “elevator pitch” is based on a little bit of fiction.
The concept of an elevator pitch is: “Oh, wow! I’m on an elevator with Martin Scorsese. He’s going to floor 13 and I have to pitch my script before we get to his floor!” The idea is that you have to pitch that fast.
But that’s not really true. In the real world, even if you are on an elevator with Martin Scorsese, if he’s interested, he’s gonna be like, “Yeah, keep talking. Come walk with me.”
And the same is true in a real-life environment. Let’s say you’ve just been invited into a producer’s office. Sure, you don’t want to waste their time. You don’t want to wax poetic. You don’t want to bore them. But no one is checking their watch going, “Oh, sorry, that’s two minutes and 58 seconds.” No one’s checking their watch. It’s more of a feeling of whether a pitch is a reasonable length or just too long.
At the same time, learning how to create a three-minute elevator pitch is a valuable skill. Pitch fests, which usually have these kinds of time limits, are wonderful opportunities to get attention for your script, often from very famous people. It’s a chance to get heard and it’s a chance to practice, but it’s also a little bit artificial.
Pitching a producer, agent, manager, star, director, executive or anyone else in the industry is a lot different than the kind of pitching you’re going to be doing at Pitch Festivus! or at any pitch fest.
At Pitch Festivus! we’re going to share a ton of details about how screenwriters can succeed at real-world pitching. How to pitch if you are scared of pitching. If you’re an introvert. If you’re shy.
We’re going to talk about pitching if you’re not comfortable pitching. How to pitch without feeling like a used car salesman.
We’re going to talk about all that at Pitch Festivus. But today, we’re going to talk about how to create the best possible three-minute elevator pitch for a contest like Pitch Festivus, or any of the other wonderful pitching festivals or contests out there.
So here’s where you want to start.
Pitching Tip #1 – Don’t Rush Your Pitch!
You are going to have an urge to rush your pitch, because three minutes seems like so little time.
Don’t do it!
What I’d like to suggest to you is that three minutes is a tremendous amount of time.
It’s actually very rare in the real world that you would talk uninterrupted for three minutes. Imagine hanging out with your friends and someone just keeps talking and talking and talking. For three minutes. That rarely happens in the real world. Our conversations are much more poppy. We don’t speak in long monologues.
Three minutes is so much more time than you think you have.
But when you start to talk fast and try to squeeze the whole thing in, you completely destroy the value of the pitch. Because sure, we heard it, but did we get it? Do we care? Do we actually connect? Did it move us? Did it mean anything to us? Did it make us want to read the script?
Your job is not to fit your whole script into a three-minute pitch. Your job is to capture the essence of the script that makes the person listening go, “Oh, that sounds really freaking cool. I want to know more. I want to read it. I’m curious.”
You don’t have to tell us every detail. In fact, you don’t have time to. It’s more important to actually make time so that you can breathe. So you can pause, so that you can use the room. It’s actually much more important to take your time.
Pitching Tip #2 – Start Your Pitch With Something True About You
Making the choice to start with something true about you is likely going to run counter to everything you think you should be doing. You’re going to want to rush through your introduction. “Hi, I’m Jacob Krueger. OK, let me talk to you about WriteYourScreenplay.com…”
No. That is not what you want to do.
When people connect to your pitch, yes, they are connecting to your project. But they are also connecting to you. And there’s actually so much muscle, there’s so much efficiency in telling a little bit very quickly about yourself.
So if I wanted to pitch you my screenwriting school, and I just started off saying, “You know, Jacob Krueger Studio is a great screenwriting school that does the following things…” You have no connection, right? It just sounds like I’m trying to sell you something.
But if I start off saying, “You know, I came up as a screenwriter. And I had a lot of really powerful mentors. But the mentor who taught me the most about screenwriting was actually also the most damaging person in my life. And one of the reasons I created Jacob Krueger Studio is because I wanted to give new writers and emerging writers the kind of mentorship that I needed when I was coming up, the kind of mentorship that actually nurtures you and grows you rather than tears you down…”
You see, I just pitched you. I didn’t tell you anything yet about our program. I didn’t tell you how it worked. I didn’t tell you the details. I just told you something true about me. One hundred percent true.
But do you see how just sharing that little detail about being hurt by my mentor– how I would not be the writer I am without him but also I would have been a much healthier person without him– just sharing that little piece with you, hopefully, you went, “Oh, I feel connected. I understand. I get why this is the guy who created this school and what going to a school that was created with this intention is probably going to feel like and do for me.”
And the same thing is true for your script. If you just start by telling us just a little snippet, 10 or 15 or 20 seconds about you and about why you wanted to write your screenplay, why this matters to you, now we don’t feel like you’re a used car salesman trying to get us behind the wheel. We feel like you are a person who is sharing something important. And that makes us perk up our ears. That’s what makes us care.
So even though it’s counterintuitive, even though you’re going to think you just wasted 20 seconds of your precious three minutes – no, you didn’t waste it. Because from that little share, we are going to garner so much information about your script, and we’re going to start pitching ourselves on what your story might be about.
Even if you’ve never taken a class at Jacob Krueger Studio, you probably started to tell yourself a story about what our program might be like, just from hearing me share something true about myself.
So number one, I want you to start with something true about you. Don’t spend a minute and a half on it. Just tell us something that matters to you, that connects to why you wrote this. And that’s going to help us care emotionally.
Pitching Tip # 3 – Do Not Read Your Pitch
Please do not read your pitch.
It’s fine to have a couple of notes if you’re concerned about getting lost. But if you read your pitch off your iPad or a piece of paper, I’m not seeing your face. You’re not connecting with me. Even in a three-minute Pitch Festivus! pitch, the moment you start reading, you lose all that connection.
And even if you’re smart enough to put the pitch on your screen so it looks like you’re looking at us, you’re still losing the benefit of all the intuitive connection that happens when you meet somebody’s eyes.
If you’re looking at your pitch, you are not looking at their eyes. And if you’re not looking at their eyes, you have no idea if your words are landing.
I don’t want you looking at your pitch.
Of the thousands of pitches I heard as a development executive and now as a teacher, there have been maybe a couple of rare instances when a writer reading a pitch worked. But it hardly ever succeeds. Don’t do it.
In general, in any pitch, if there are multiple people in the room, you want to first figure out who has the most power and you want to primarily make eye contact with them. Who’s the decision maker who actually has the ability to say yes?
If you’re pitching at a contest, you want to make eye contact with each of the judges. You want to be reading their faces and you want to be asking, “Are they having fun? Are they bored? Are they confused?”
I was just at the Austin Film Festival, where they do a truly wonderful pitch fest. Four of our students were finalists, and one of them took third place. I’m so proud of all of them: Erik Potempa, Jonathan Finnegan, Kelly McAllister and Nancy Safavi (our 3rd place winner!).
But the feedback the judges gave for so many of the less successful pitches was so similar, and so easily avoidable: “Well, I didn’t really understand this.” “I didn’t get this until the end.” “I didn’t realize what you’re saying.”
Almost every writer in the finals made the mistake of facing the crowd as they pitched instead of looking at the judges.
But if they had just faced the judges, they would have seen the confusion in the judges’ faces. And they could have slowed down. They could have explained. They could have deepened. They could have paused.
If you read it, if you memorize it, you’re like a freight train. You’re going to keep going no matter what’s coming back at you.
But real pitching is a personal interaction. So look at the eyes of the people you are pitching. If you’re pitching at Pitch Festivus, there are going to be two faculty members on each pitch. Look at those two people. Make sure they’re following.
Or if you’re really scared, find a face in the Zoom room that you connect to and make eye contact with them. Someone who’s given you a lot of love, because it’s going to make you feel good.
But in general, you want the information. So don’t read your pitch. Don’t even memorize it. Tell the story like you’re telling it to a friend.
Pitching Tip #4 – Practice, Practice, Practice
Don’t read your pitch. Don’t memorize your pitch. But do practice your pitch. Practice it and practice it and practice it.
But don’t practice it in front of a mirror; that’s going to feel staged and rehearsed.
Unless you are a profoundly talented actor, memorizing your pitch like a performance is going to feel rehearsed. It’s going to feel awkward. And again, you’re going to get that freight-train feeling. “No, this comes next. No, I say it like this. No, this is how I practiced it.”
Here’s a little metaphor about the dangers of memorization.
My brother doesn’t know how to dance. So for his wedding, he and his fianceé choreographed their wedding dance. They worked on it for months. And he was so nervous about it. But he had every step planned.
When the moment for the “first dance” finally came, everybody circled around them. We were all so proud and happy and just wanted to celebrate with them.
And they began their totally memorized dance. But of course, when they memorized it, they didn’t know that they were going to be encircled by all these wedding guests.
So, they got to the first turn and he turned her into the crowd, because that’s how they had practiced it. And the circle started to frantically move to try to make room for the bride and groom. And then they turned again, back into the crowd, and the circle started to dash in the other direction to try to make room for them… over, and over, and over.
And we love them! It was actually fun. It’s one of my favorite memories. But it was also such a clear example of the kinds of insensible decisions we can make when we’re concentrating on “sticking to the plan” rather than reacting to what’s actually happening in the moment.
A lot of writers are like that with their pitch. They’re making the audience or the judges deal with their rigid plan for the pitch, whether it’s working or not, rather than just reacting naturally to the judges in the moment and making the adjustments that would make everything so much easier for everyone!
So how do you practice? Go to a bar. Or go to a free event where there are writers, like Thursday Night Writes and hang out in the breakout rooms. Practice pitching your script, but not the same way every time. A different way every time.
Set a timer on your phone to go off so you know when you hit three minutes.
Start your pitch with something true about yourself– but use one story for one person, another story for another person. Make sure they’re both true, but start off with different stories.
Pitch your script in lots of different ways. Practice and get used to that timer going off, so you can develop the sense of how long three minutes is. So you can physically feel what three minutes is like.
One thing you’ll notice, when you practice pitching with lots of different people, is how you start to recognize which kinds of people respond to which versions of your script.
“Oh, when I’m pitching a ‘Sally,’ I always pitch it like this. When I’m pitching a ‘Lisa,’ I pitch it like that.”
You’re going to start to realize that different kinds of people like different kinds of pitches. You’re going to start to realize when you read the judge’s face, “Oh, she’s a ‘Sally.’ I have to pitch it more like this. Oh, she’s a ‘Lisa.’ I’ll pitch it like that.”
You will start to realize that you don’t have one pitch in your pocket, you have a bunch of elements that you can pitch in a lot of different ways. So you’re going to practice it in a bar, you’re going to pitch to a bunch of distracted people.
Don’t rush through it – if you don’t finish, that’s OK. You’re just going to share it, you’re going to share it in different ways until you get comfortable. And until that timer is kind of in your head.
Pitching Tip #5 – Breathe
This is one of the hardest elements for writers to accept. You have to breathe.
Breathe, breathe, breathe.
I’ve heard so many pitches where the writer is literally out of breath because they have not stopped talking!
When you complete a thought, take a breath.
It gives the audience a moment to process the big idea you just gave them.
It also gives you a moment to think about where you want to do next.
And finally, the breath will calm you.
Not to mention how much more authority you have when you’re not afraid to breathe, how you can command attention.
When you let yourself breathe, that pause is actually your friend. So breathe– complete a big thought– breathe.
The more nervous you get, the more you need to breathe. It’s going to let your audience process and it is going to help you figure out what you want to say next. And it’s going to give you more authority in the room. What more could you ask for than that?
So you’re not going to memorize, you’re not going to read. You are going to practice with other people, not by yourself. You’re going to breathe.
Pitching Tip #6 – Most Pitches Contain Some Version of the Same Elements
In a world where… one person … with this dominant trait … finds themselves in this incredibly ironic situation … and must overcome this impossible task … before this terrible thing happens.
That is the structure of literally every movie trailer. You’ve heard it 1,000 times.
That doesn’t mean you should follow that formula. That means you are building your pitch out of those elements. You might include all of them or you might just have some of them.
World. What’s the world of your story? If the world is modern-day New York City, you just might need to say, “New York City.” If the world is the New York theater scene, that’s a different world. If the world is the subway tunnels under New York City, you might need to tell us a little bit about what’s cool about them. If your world is New York City 2094, you might need to tell us a little bit about the city in 2094.
If your story takes place in New York City A.D. 1000, you might need to tell us a little bit about what that world was. Five hundred years before Europeans came to the island we call Manhattan, what was going on? There’s something about that world, right? And you’re trying to share – again in a quick way, not every element– but what makes it cool to you?
Who. The next most important element is who. Who is the main character? What do they want? If we don’t know who they are, what they’re like, what they want, it’s really challenging to appreciate their journey.
If I know she’s super uptight and then she loosens up, I can feel happy. But if I don’t know she’s super uptight and she loosens up, that doesn’t mean anything to me. If I know that she is super brave and then she becomes cowardly, I can cry for her. But if I don’t know who she was at the start, then I can’t appreciate her journey.
So you want to start with who she is, how she is…
But don’t just use an adjective… don’t just say “she’s friendly.”
Give us something cool, something fun that helps us understand who she is. Tell us a little story about her. Tell us your first image. Tell us a little vignette.
Let us know what she wants. If we don’t know what she wants, we’re not going to feel her journey. We’re not going to feel your structure.
What Makes it Hard? Make sure you’ve captured what makes it hard. What makes it hard enough to sustain a movie or a series? Or even a play or a novel– whatever you’re pitching, make sure that we know what’s going to make it hard.
Journey. Make sure that you hit some of the big choices she makes, so that we can feel the twists and turns off her journey. What goes wrong? What ironic situations does she find herself in? What ironic consequences come out of her actions? What’s the final choice she makes? And why does that matter?
So we want to know the who, we want to know the world, we want to know the characters’ how, we want a sense of her journey, and we want to understand what makes it hard.
These are the same elements you already know if you’ve taken my Write Your Screenplay class. These are the profound and fundamental elements of structure.
You’re not going to be able to tell us all the plot, but we want to know the kinds of things that happen. You might list three choices. She does this, this and this and that all leads to that. You’re giving us the 20,000-foot view.
Threat. You may or may not need to have a threat. It may just be implied. If she wants to rob a bank, we already know what the threat is. But if there’s an unlikely threat or a unique threat to the particular bank, you’ll want to tell us that.
But sometimes we can imply the threat. In Jaws, we know there’s a shark. It’s going to eat people. The threat is obvious. But it’s not obvious that they won’t shut down the beach because they don’t want to lose the money. That’s exciting. It’s fresh and new (or at least it was back when Jaws came out). You need to tell us about that threat.
You want to find what’s fresh and new – whether it’s the world, whether it’s character, whether it’s want, whether it’s obstacle– you want to give us something fresh and new and cool.
Pitching Tip #7 – Irony is Your Friend
This is probably the most important element to pitch. “The character finds themselves in this incredibly ironic situation.”
Pitches require irony. This is one of the ways that pitches are very different from real life, and even different from screenplays.
In a screenplay, sometimes your script works because the dialogue is just so freaking beautiful or because the character is so well rendered or the execution is just so good.
But in a pitch, we need to shorthand the story so that we get it in a couple of minutes, so that we can see what’s cool about it without being dependent on your brilliant execution.
One of the best ways to do that is through ironic twists.
Now irony only works in relation to who the character is and what they want. If I don’t know who she is and what she wants, then the ironic twist doesn’t mean a thing to me. I don’t know her, so how is it ironic? I don’t know what she wants, so how is that ironic? I don’t know the obstacles, so how is it ironic?
Ironic twists let us know that there is more up your sleeve than we expected when we first heard your pitch. “Hey, audience, you think you know where this is going… but here’s an ironic twist you didn’t see coming… oh, now you think you know where this is going, here’s another ironic twist.” Maybe there’s even a third ironic twist.
When we find irony, we also start to create a feeling of journey in the pitch, of surprise, of challenge– the pitch is going beyond where we expect.
So these are the basic elements of a pitch for a screenplay or show with a single main character, but there are a million ways you can do it.
If it’s a buddy movie, you might need to do this for both buddies, so we can understand what the pressure is. If it’s an ensemble piece or a show, you might need to do this real quickly for the different members of the ensemble.
But generally you want to build your pitch around the main character first, or around the two buddies first, and then thread those other characters in so that we can get to know them.
So now, you know the foundational elements of a pitch. These are the elements you’re trying to land.
Pitching Tip #8 – Remember the Purpose of Your Pitch
The purpose of a pitch is to distinguish your piece from others in the genre and to help people connect – not only to your story but also to you.
Why is this important?
Anything you’re saying that’s “normal” for this kind of genre is implied and for that reason probably doesn’t benefit your pitch. You either want to move through it as quickly as you can so you can get to the stuff that differentiates. Or (ideally) you want to find more specificity or fun in the way you pitch that element.
It’s a heist movie. OK, they’re gonna rob something.
It’s a romance. Well, they’re gonna fall in love.
If it’s a romantic comedy, it’s all going to end well and we’re going to feel like love is possible.
It’s a thriller. Things are gonna get scary.
So if you find yourself saying things that you could imagine other people saying when they pitch this kind of piece:
“They have to overcome obstacles” … Well, sure.
“There are a bunch of cool set pieces”… Sure, right.
But those are the things that everybody is pitching. So if you’re pitching the same things that everybody else is, well, then your pitch isn’t doing the primary thing it needs to do.
Your pitch needs to shake us up.
“Hey, you think you know where you are? You’re in a heist movie. But here’s what’s really cool about my heist movie. You think you know where you are? You’re in this romance. But here’s the really cool twist in my romance.”
It might be the characters, it might be the world, it might be the threat, it might be anything.
Your job is to quickly let us know where we are. And then just show us where your piece, your character, your moment, your threat, your journey is unique.
So you want to push away anything that you feel is implied– don’t bother to say it.
Or if you do say it, say it in a cool way, in a way that feels like only your pitch would say it.
Pitching Tip #9 – Have Fun, Don’t Be Perfect
You don’t have to do all of this perfectly, by the way.
These events should be fun. A low-risk opportunity to share some cool stuff. So if you don’t pitch your script perfectly… great, especially in our event.
Yes, we’re giving away prizes, but that’s not really what it’s about. What it’s really about is getting feedback, getting better, learning in a low-stakes environment, where you’re surrounded by people who are rooting for you, and you’re pitching people whose only concern is helping you get better.
So you don’t have to do all this perfectly, but these are the ideas I want you to play with as you work on your pitch.
Pitching Tip #10 – Hit the Right Tone
You want your pitch to feel like your movie or like your show.
If you’re pitching a comedy, be funny.
If you’re pitching a broad, laugh-out-loud comedy, make us laugh out loud.
If you’re pitching the kind of comedy where we kind of smirk, make us smirk.
If you’re pitching the kind of comedy where we’re laughing but we feel bad about it, pitch it so that we laugh but we feel bad for laughing.
If you’re pitching a thriller, make it scary.
If you’re pitching an action movie, make it adrenaline-pumping.
Come out with the energy of your piece. And make sure the words you’re saying fit the energy.
Don’t pitch Dumb and Dumber with some kind of formal explanation of the hook and structure and what it all says about the world. No! Make your pitch as silly as the screenplay. Make us feel what the screenplay is going to make us feel..
Making the pitch feel like the piece is potentially the most important element of pitching.
If your pitch doesn’t feel like the piece, we’re not going to get the elements of the piece. It doesn’t matter if your plot is perfect and everything’s perfectly planned. We’re buying a feeling, so you have to sell the feeling.
When we come to see a movie or a show we want a feeling, and when we decide we want to read a script, it’s because we believe that this writer not only has a good idea and a good plan for that idea but also we believe they can execute on that idea.
And the way you show us that is by pitching us. If the script feels literary, the pitch better sound literary. If you’re pitching Remains of the Day, it better be quiet and elegant.
So, I want you to really make sure to have some fun, get loose, pitch like your piece wants to be, pitch like your piece wants to feel. That is the most important element of your pitch.
What If You’re Scared To Pitch?
We’re going to spend three hours learning about pitching – for free.
Thursday, December 7
7-10pm ET/4pm-7pm PT
Be there. It’s going to be an amazing time.
And come ready to pitch. We don’t know who’s going to get picked. We’re going to put everybody’s name on a giant spinning wheel and pick people at random.
The person who wins will get a free pitch consultation with me. It’s worth $1,500. Someone’s going to win two months in my Master Class. Someone’s going to win a foundation class: Write Your Screenplay or Write Your TV Series.
So we’re giving away some awesome prizes. But I want you to come and pitch even if you’ve never pitched before– in fact, especially if you’ve never pitched before, I want you to put your name in the hat.
I want you to pitch.
If you feel scared to pitch, I want you to pitch.
If you feel like you’re not good enough, I want you to pitch.
If you feel like everyone’s gonna hate it, I want you to pitch.
If you feel like you’ve tried as hard as you can, but you haven’t worked it out, I want you to come pitch.
Because the only way to be good at this is to practice. And there is no safer, more nurturing, more loving environment than the group that you will find at our studio, online on Thursday, December 7.
So come have a good time, prep the best damn pitch you can, make sure that you can do it in less than three minutes. Give us the heart of it.
And we are gonna help you make your pitch better.
We’re going to help you build the skills you need to succeed in this industry. Not just to be a great writer and not just how to win a pitch fest, but also how to actually win at pitching in the room, how to get people to hear your pitch and say, “Yeah, I want to read that!”
We’re going to show you how to build connections, how to use Neurolinguistic Programming and advanced mirroring techniques to actually make people feel in rapport with you even when you’re terrified.
We’re going to show you how to overcome your fears of pitching.
Let’s have a great time together.