Preparing Pitch Materials for Movies or TV
The entertainment industry has substantially changed since the heyday of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” director Ed Wood, who had made a habit of successfully launching his micro-budgeted films by the sheer force of his personality.
For the purpose of this article, we will discuss the conventional method of selling or setting up feature films or television — pitching an executive at a production company, streamer, network, or studio.
For those of you who have not seen my previous articles on “insider realities” of the entertainment business, you can review those here:
10 Insider Realities of the Movie and Television Businesses They Don’t Teach in School
You can make a fortune. You can also pull your hair out of your head.
10 MORE Insider Realities of the Movie and Television Businesses They Don’t Teach In School
My first sequel.
A quick note: As I mentioned in the articles above, both the film and television industries are akin to the Wild West. There are no rules. However, in terms of what an executive expects to see from a successful pitch, the following are general deliverables a creative should prepare prior to entering “the room.” You will not need them all, but the better prepared you are the more opportunity you will have to impress.
- A completed screenplay. Yes, you can still walk into an executive’s office and pitch an idea in the hopes of being paid to write your project. If you are an experienced screenwriter, a combination of other pitch materials as listed below may best serve that purpose. However, with the thought that more accomplished screenwriters may bypass this article, for those less established I strongly recommend a completed script, or at the very least a writing sample that proves your ability. Note: Two more “insider realities” of the film business is that a) an executive will most frequently only read your script if it can “pass” a reader first, via a “coverage” usually written by a development employee who acts as a gatekeeper of sorts, and b) if said reader cannot get past the second or third page, your script will be rejected or possibly trashed outright. Remember, film companies receive numerous scripts on a weekly basis. Yours must stand out.
- A pitch deck is most often a digital presentation — though it can also be printed — frequently created by PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi and used to provide an executive with a quick overview of your film’s business aspects. For more information on pitch decks, refer to this comprehensive article from Script Magazine:
What is a Pitch Deck and Why Should You Create One?
The Pitch Deck is becoming an essential tool for Film and Television Writers. Nick Sadler explains what a Pitch Deck is…
3. A comprehensive treatment is very important. Many companies prefer to see a treatment first, basically an extensive scene-by-scene summary of your project, before reading a full script. Effective treatments run typically 20–30 pages. Some run up to 100 pages, based on the complexity of the project.
4. A pitch (“sizzle”) reel. Also known as a “proof of concept” reel, your pitch reel sells the “sizzle” of your project. Think of a movie trailer and keep the tease to no longer than 3–4 minutes, as it is always effective for an executive — or a gatekeeper — to watch footage so they can best understand your vision. If money is an issue, cell phones and iPads are inexpensive ways to be creative and shoot what is needed.
5. Miscellaneous: Mock movie posters are very popular, as are storyboards. Nothing is off-limits, so long as the material represents your project.
To be clear, a writer or producer does not need all of the above material to pitch a project; however, to reiterate, the more preparation, the better.
- A completed script. If you are pitching a television series, a completed pilot script for a writer of lesser experience is pretty much a must. Yes, as with film, a combination of some other elements as listed below could serve as a vehicle to be paid to write the pilot, but this is relatively rare in the TV realm for newer writers.
- A show bible. The most unique “show bible” (or simply “bible”) I’ve seen is that for “Stranger Things,” which was originally called “Montauk.” A show bible is similar to a pitch deck, but is more story and show-oriented. “Stranger Things” was rejected several times prior to its ultimate sale to Netflix, but from there it has made streaming history as among the most-viewed streaming programs ever. See below for the history of its sale, and also a copy of the original “Montauk” show bible.
How to Sell Your TV Series the Stranger Things Way - ScreenCraft
The title itself has become the perfect pun - Stranger Things . Stranger things certainly happened when the unknown…
3. A pitch deck. See above for Films. The idea is very much the same, adapted to the business of television.
4. A pitch (“sizzle”) reel. Again, similar to the above in Films, but in this instance you want your pitch reel to reflect your series, as opposed to a single episode. Hint: Write a script first that will both reflect the series and maximize impact, and keep it 3–4 minutes. See here for more information:
5. Miscellaneous. The same as above: posters, character designs, drawings, storyboards, etc.
There is actually not much difference between pitching films and television programs. For the newer writers here, understand that everybody has a starting point.
You may want to team if you can with an accomplished writer-producer, or even find a mentor, to help guide you through the maze of this process.
Regardless, by following the above points you will be more prepared than most.
Thank you for reading.
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