Do you have a movie idea script but don’t know how to present it to producers? If YES, here’s a complete guide to pitching a movie idea to a production company like Netflix, Disney and Warner Bros.
There is a saying that coming up with creative ideas is easy; selling them to a stranger is hard. This couldn’t be truer when making a pitch about a movie. Everyone has an idea for a story, but whether their story can be made into a movie is a totally different issue. According to the US Box Office Mojo, an average of about 700 movies is produced yearly in the USA. The number however does not include every movie made in the United States of America.
Tons of independent movies and documentary skip the process of going through the MPAA and as such are not properly accounted for. These movies must go through a lot of processes of which pitching them is one of it (irrespective of if the movie is an original, a spin-off or a sequel).
This goes to show that production companies are always in need of fresh, new, creative and captivating stories to translate into movies, but sieving the chaff from the grain can be quite a daunting task. The truth is that we are in a digital age and the market is quite saturated with products and ideas. For you to be heard and accepted, you will have to go the extra mile and put in a lot of effort.
Ideas for screenplay, series or films that have been written or done by a writer are sold to studios, production companies or producers through a process that is called pitching. A pitch, otherwise known as a sales pitch is an oral presentation that lasts for roughly between five to fifteen minutes, during which a screen writer is expected to present an idea for a movie or TV series to an audience (which could be a studio, Production Company or a producer).
During the pitch, the writer is expected to present his characters, character development analysis, plot outline and in general a brief synopsis of his story. The ultimate aim is to make a movie go beyond the ideas. The pitch that you present has to be able to be translated into a movie that can engage an audience for about two hours and to do that, it has to be rich in details, complex and compelling.
If a pitch is to be accepted, the screen writer has to understand who he is trying to connect with i.e. the producer. The producer is like the general manager of a movie project. He is tasked with finding suitable materials to produce (whether a novel adaptation for screen, an original screen play or a true life story), sources of finance and investors in other to see the project through its course, assemble the team and resources to bring the film to life, superintend the production process, sell the finished work and recover money for the investors. There are over 7500 individuals who are registered in the producer’s Guild of America.
Can a Movie idea Be Stolen in a Pitch?
Jeff Grosso, the author of a screen play named “the shell game” claimed that Miramax (a production company) stole the ideas and plot of his script when it produced the movie (Rounders). In 1995, he randomly mailed his manuscript to many people and studios (Miramax being one of them) he thought might be interested in his work.
In 1999, he sued Miramax for copyright infringement but however lost as his implied contract claim was found to be without merit. With this example in mind, it is clear that there is a probability that a script can be “lost” to a production company.
It should be known that you can’t really protect a pitch if the pitch in question is just merely an idea. Copyright protection according to the American constitution does not cover ideas per say, but the expression of those ideas as screenplays or treatments.
No one can really steal an idea because you can’t really own an idea. An idea for a movie may come to your mind and seem unique to you, but, you may be surprised that a dozen people have had the same idea. It is just a question of who gets it out to the world first. Here are a few tips to protect your work from copyright infringement.
- Before anyone has access to your script, endeavour to register it at the United Sates Copyright office.
- Document the exchange: One of the ways to do this is by email. State clearly your intentions to submit your material for sale along with your services as a writer; if possible, make sure that the email is acknowledged and replied to. The essence of this is to make it explicit to the producer or Production Company that the offer is to sell your services so make sure it is clearly spelt out.
- Carefully record all the people who you send your manuscript to. This includes friends, studios, production companies, producers and their assistants. Just like it was stated above, an email can be used because it provides evidence that such an exchange happened.
- Deal with reputable and trustworthy individuals. Most established production companies do not need to steal ideas from anyone because the can afford to purchase those ideas.
In 2004, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals stated explicitly that when a screen writer pitches an idea to a production company, an implied contract is said to exist. This means that a writer expects that the production company will pay for his services and give him credit should his script be used. This also provides an additional backing to any writer.
4 Tips on How to Make a Pitch to a Production Company
1. Be Prepared
Before you make the pitch to the production company, you must be prepared. A good idea or script can be ruined by a poor pitch. It is necessary to condition your mind to believe that when you are making the pitch, you are pitching as a sales person and not just a writer. You have to be able to convince the production company to buy your idea. Take your time to study and familiarize yourself with your story, characters and their motivations.
Begin with the end in mind and anticipate possible questions that they may ask and potential ways to tackle those questions. If you deem it fit, put down some points on paper that you could use during the pitch. This is totally acceptable. The jottings will enable you to exhaust all your points and leave no stone unturned. It can also come in handy if nervousness blocks your thoughts.
During the process of preparation, it is of extremely important to practice, practice and practice. The practice section can be in front of a mirror or a pet, but most preferably in the presence of friends, family members or colleagues. Allow them to ask questions, offer their criticisms (constructive and otherwise) and take corrections. If they find your script convoluted and difficult to understand or relate to, it is most likely that executives or producer at the production company will not get it too.
2. Be Brief and Concise
An ideal pitch should be short, straight to the point but yet engaging. Think of it like a commercial for a new product; if it lasts for 20 minutes, you will definitely get bored and turned off. A pitch should be able to entice and seduce a production company into taking the desired action, which is first seeing your script and then buying it.
3. Audience Appraisal
The key here is to approach production companies that share a similar vision to what you have at hand. Trying to sell a romantic comedy pitch to a company that is into action thrillers with lots of special effects will run you into a brick wall. So, before you even set out to try to sell your pitch, you should make sure that the buyer is interested in what you are selling.
Audience appraisal also includes modifying your pitch to suit the audience whom you are making the pitch to. The way you make a pitch to production company A may not be the same way you will do it for production company B.
4. Be Disciplined
Despite whomever you are pitching to, endeavour to show a high level of discipline. This encompasses showing up early to the venue of the pitch and being respectful and polite. Furthermore, do not mock other movies in a bid to praise your own. Try to present your pitch without putting movies or studios in a bad light.
4 Things to Avoid When Making your Pitch to Movie Producers
a. Streamlining your idea: when making a pitch for a movie, it is an added bonus to present it as an idea that will appeal to a wide variety of people. Movies that are made to appeal to smaller demographics will most likely not be a financial success, so keep this in mind. Making it appeal to a large number of people will increase the probability of your pitch getting accepted and being made into a movie with high commercial appeal.
b. Don’t be a pushover: don’t be too easily swayed to change your mind about some key components of the story. Instead of just throwing away an idea, you should try to defend it instead. Don’t say my main character can be a male or a female simply because someone suggested using the opposite sex. However, you should also have an ear for good advice and be flexible. Being overly argumentative can be obnoxious.
c. Don’t cram your pitch: when delivering your pitch, try to sound energetic and lively. A robotic pitch can rub off as memorized from a book. During your pitch, it pays to be passionate and excited rather than lukewarm because such attitudes can be contagious.
d. Avoid sounding desperate: don’t sound needy and desperate. Nobody cares if your lifelong dream has been to see your story on the television. Your strength should be better spent in providing a good pitch that can entice production companies to take the desired decision you have in mind.
Granted, making a pitch can be a nerve wrecking exercise, but with a good idea, adequate preparation, an engaging and succinct pitch, your script may one day be on the big or small screen.