How to Pitch a Movie: A Complete Guide for Screenwriters

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Photo Source: “BoJack Horseman” Courtesy Netflix

You have a dazzling idea for a great film on your hands—but now what? From financing to casting to opening day, getting a screenplay from idea to filmic reality is complicated. You need a solid movie pitch to catalyze the process and get your screenplay produced. In this guide, learn about how to write a movie pitch, what makes a good one, and the ways to submit your screenplay synopsis.

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What is a movie pitch?

Pitch meetingLitvinov/Shutterstock

A movie pitch is a brief summary of a hypothetical film’s components, including plot, setting, themes, and characters. Movie pitches are used by screenwriters who hope to see their idea become a film. There are two types of movie pitches, and you should refine and practice both. 

Elevator: You should be able to make your elevator pitch in the time it takes to ride an elevator—we’re talking a normal elevator ride, not like the creepy, way-too-long one in “Candyman.” It should be a 20- to 30-second presentation of the main premise. The elevator pitch has a hook, extended logline, comparisons to other films, and a strong finish that leaves listeners wanting more.

Standard: The 20- to 30-minute standard pitch usually uses pitch decks, or some kind of visual supplement, along with a longer version of the elevator movie pitch. Keep reading for more information on movie pitch essential elements.

How to write a movie pitch

Writing pitchFabio Pagani/Shutterstock

Crafting the movie pitch can feel more daunting than writing the entire screenplay, but following this format can help guide your process. Your standard movie pitch should include:

Title: An engaging, brief title for your film project.

Author name: Your names as well as the names of any other contributing authors.

Logline: The logline is your story distilled into one or two punch-packing sentences. It introduces the film’s core concept, protagonist(s), and the stakes in 25 to 50 words. Unlike the tagline, which is a dramatic, provocative statement, the logline should lean descriptive. Here are some iconic loglines:

  • “The Godfather”: The aging patriarch of an organized crime dynasty transfers control of his clandestine empire to his reluctant son.
  • “Little Miss Sunshine”: When a wannabe child beauty queen learns that a spot has opened up in the “Little Miss Sunshine” pageant, she convinces her dysfunctional family to make the cross-country trek, despite her father’s (and society’s) protestations that she may not have what it takes to win.
  • “The Help”: An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.
  • “Bird Box”: Five years after an ominous unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, a survivor and her two children make a desperate bid to reach safety.

Genre and themes: Briefly address the film genre (for example, comedy, action, or horror) and major themes (for example, motherhood, coming of age, or sacrifice).

Summary: Write a three- to five-paragraph synopsis in the traditional three-act structure (beginning, middle, and end). Summarize the story and provide core elements of the script without explaining the plot.

Characters: Include descriptions of the main characters and their story arcs.

Filmic approach: If you’re relying on a unique cinematographic approach (is the movie claymation? is it a silent film?), mention that here.

Comps: To figure out your comps—or comparisons—take an objective look at your film’s genre and potential audience. This will provide a familiar reference point for your brand-new project. It’s OK to use literary or TV comps, but you should include at least one other film or film genre. Consider:

  • This-meets-that: The this-meets-that approach shows that your film project exists at the intersection of other relevant, money-making, or otherwise interesting projects. Your zombie horror movie set on a spaceship, for example, would be “Night of the Living Dead” meets “Alien.” 
  • Big—but not too big: A vital part of your movie pitch is convincing people to spend big bucks making your film, so it’s helpful to compare your project to other box office success stories. However, don’t compare your film to a movie that’s become synonymous with its genre or with success, such as “Star Wars.” The exception to the rule is if you’re intersecting it with something so disparate that it’s fun and engaging to use such a ubiquitous comp (for example, “Star Wars” meets Norwegian death metal).
  • Themes and tone: Excavate the story behind the story to find useful comps. While “Black Swan” is about ballerinas, its nuanced portrayal of grief, trauma, and mental illness makes it more comparable to horror film “The Babadook” than ballet film “Save the Last Dance.” At least one of your comps should match with your film’s underlying themes and tone.

Closing lines: After your comps, conclude on something strong and interesting that entices your listener/reader to want to see your movie. Leave them wanting more, but don’t be overly vague or end on a complete cliffhanger. You can do this by asking a question or by teasing an extra element to your story.

What makes a movie pitch good?

Jeremy Piven in Entourage“Entourage” Courtesy HBO

To persuade the powers that be (studio executives, agents, producers, directors) to read your pitch and make your movie, your pitch should be:

Conceptually appropriate: It’s helpful to consider if your film is low concept or high concept. Low concept films (for example, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Lady Bird”) can be more difficult to pitch, since the main premise is structured around nuanced components like character development, dialogue, or style. Alternatively, high concept films (for example, “Jaws” and “Taken”) are easier to pitch, since they contain an easily summarized, communicable premise. Make sure that your pitch capitalizes on your film idea’s specific conceptual elements.

Comprehensive but concise: The pitch should give a big-picture view of your film’s premise, genre, and comps, while still being short and sweet. Only include information about the project itself—not you as the writer.

Clear: Your pitch shouldn’t be filled with purple prose and elaborate descriptions. Clearly introduce the film concept using key elements like story, conflicts, and characters.

Captivating: Instead of explaining the plot point by point, summarize the narrative’s core ideas, stakes, and themes.

How to pitch a movie idea

Hollywood Netflix series“Hollywood” Courtesy Netflix

People who have written a screenplay pitch their idea in hopes of having a movie producer turn their written idea into a film. Agents are imperative in helping get screenwriters to the pitching stage. Studios and producers who accept unagented submissions are few and far between, so be sure to seek representation so you can get your pitch heard. 

Once you’ve completed your pitch, it’s time to start sending it out. Be sure to:

Protect yourself: Register your project with the Writers Guild of America or have it copyrighted so no one steals your idea.

Find the right fit: Appeal to the right crowd by researching studios, producers, and financiers in the same realm as your film. You don’t want to pitch a romance to a horror film studio or a racy thriller to a children’s film studio. Compile a list of producers you think would jive with your film based on previous films they’ve produced.

Write a cover letter: The cover letter is a mini-pitch for both you and your project. It should be a one-page synopsis of the script that also includes your contact information and an overview of your own work and experience.

Grind: Ask friends, family, and colleagues if they know anyone interested in producing a film. Tease your project on social media and attend pitch festivals (both virtual and in person). Reach out to indie film studios to see if they have interest in unsolicited pitches.

Perfect your pitch: Don’t just go with the first draft. Ask people you know and trust or online forums to review your pitch and let you know if it intrigues them. Rehearse and time your verbal pitch and revise as necessary. 

Prepare: If you land a pitch meeting, practice your pitch and anticipate questions ahead of time so you’re not caught off-guard. Make a strong first impression by introducing yourself and your film genre, title, and logline. Try to make your verbal pitch as compelling as your written one.

Be confident but conversational: If you’re invited to the room where it happens, now you need to keep your audience interested in your movie idea. To do so, make your pitch feel like a conversation instead of a rehearsed speech. Speak slowly but with passion, be prepared for interruptions, and remember to watch the clock—going over your allotted time is a film pitch faux pas. Be prepared to answer questions, particularly the three whys: Why make this movie? Why now? Why you? 

The producers, execs, and studios you pitch will likely have questions about your screenplay or comments that show they don’t understand it. While this can be a clear indication that they don’t get the story (like the studio executive that called the main character of “Promising Young Woman” a “psycho” after hearing the pitch), it can also be a great time to clarify any misunderstandings and really sell your script.

Follow up: Reach back out to producers and studios if you haven’t heard from them within a month. Remember to remain professional and courteous; reputation means everything in the industry, so you don’t want to sabotage your chances before you can even get started.

Be comfortable with rejection: Going into pitching with the mindset that you’ll experience rejection can help ease the way. The producer (not even the screenwriter) of “Forrest Gump” spent nine years pitching it to studios before it was accepted; it’s likely you’ll receive some rebuffs as well.

Listen to the experts: If studio after studio rejects your film, it might mean that the pitch—or the screenplay itself—isn’t up to snuff. Be open to revising or even entirely scrapping a project if necessary.

Where to go to pitch a movie idea

Barry“Barry” Courtesy HBO

Knowing where to send or present your pitch is the next step. Here are a few different places you can submit your film:

Pitch sites: Pitch sites like those offered by iPitch.tv, Movie Pitcher, and the Black List allow you to send in your one-page pitch or a video recording of you making your pitch. If chosen, they help with the rest of the process.

Film festivals: Submit to film festivals on FilmFreeway, a highly efficient way to enter over 10,000 of the world’s best film festivals and screenplay contests.

Writing competitions: Get discovered by submitting pitches and screenplays on Coverfly, which connects you with industry contacts, financing, and competitions.

Pitch festivals: Check out local and virtual pitch festivals like the Hollywood Pitch Festival, Austin Film Festival’s Pitch Competition, Pitch Now Screenplay Competition, and Virtual Pitch Fest.

Film investment companies: Companies like Peacock Film Finance, Sundance Documentary Fund, Marco, and Premiere Pictures provide funding for films they deem worthy based on their pitches. Many of these also assist with production, sales, and distribution of films to major studios.

Studios accepting unsolicited scripts: Read through sites like Unsolicited Scripts and the Screenwriter’s Market to see updated lists of companies accepting unsolicited pitches and scripts, including BBC Studios, LA Productions, and Omnifilm Entertainment.

Agents: Agents help get your writing in front of the right people and advocate for your best interests in the industry. Only reach out to an agent if you have at least one full-length marketable screenplay on your hands—although most agents prefer that you have multiple samples so they can see your versatility. The best approach is to send over your best work but have more scripts on deck. Here are some best practices for finding an agent:

  • Make sure your screenplay is ready by asking for feedback from friends in the industry or from professional script coverage services. 
  • Perfect your query letter following the same basic outline as your pitch: title, genre, logline, synopsis, and a brief line about yourself.
  • Choose an agent franchised by the Writers Guild of America East or West. You can also find agents on social media or in trade publications. Reach out to them on social media, through query calls to agent assistants, or by emailing or mailing your query letter.
  • Make sure agents work with your specific genre. There’s no point sending your letter to an agent who isn’t interested in your type of film.
  • Follow each agent’s specific guidelines so you’re not immediately sent to the slush pile.

Agents look for writers with a unique personal style and robust writing portfolio to back that up. Strive to get really good at a particular genre if possible, and like Alexander Hamilton, write “like you’re running out of time.”

Movie pitch examples

Jaws“Jaws” Courtesy Universal Pictures

These elevator movie pitch examples are pithy and powerful. 

“Jaws”

Setting the scene with clear but thrilling language, a little humor, and a fascinating comp, this elevator pitch doesn’t need a bigger boat: 

Imagine a tourist island that is ravaged by an unstoppable great white shark that nobody can catch. ‘Jaws’ tells the story of a killer shark that unleashes chaos on an island resort—and it’s up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down before it kills again. It all builds to the final moment of the police chief—remember that he’s afraid of water—alone on the end of a sinking boat in the middle of the ocean with a rifle pointed at this gigantic and menacing great white shark that is swimming towards him with a barrel of compressed air stuck in its jaws. Smile you son of a bitch. Boom! It’s slasher flick meets ‘Moby Dick.’ ”

“A Quiet Place”

This pitch invites you into a dangerous, dystopian world, establishes the stakes, and introduces characters and comps—all within a mere six sentences: 

“Imagine a world where dangerous creatures have killed most of the human race, leaving just a small percentage of the population left in hiding, struggling to survive—only these survivors can’t make a single sound because the quietest noise instantly attracts the creatures. My script is called ‘A Quiet Place’ and tells the story about a post-apocalyptic world where a family is forced to live in silence while hiding from monsters with ultra-sensitive hearing. It all builds to the final moment of the wife having to give birth while her family has left her alone. And she has to do it in silence to avoid triggering the creature’s sensitive hearing. And the father has to sacrifice his own life to save his children by drawing the creatures away from them with a scream! It’s ‘War of the Worlds’ meets ‘Hush.’ ”

Movie pitch expert advice

Pitch meetingJacob Lund/Shutterstock

For more insight on what makes a movie idea stand out, consider advice from these film producers. Keep in mind, pitching preferences are subjective. Should you find yourself in a room with a producer, see if you can learn their personal preferences ahead of time.

Steve McQueen: The producer-director for “12 Years a Slave” and director of “Shame” and “Hunger” told The Guardian that he wants more multifaceted representation in film. He hopes that producers hear pitches from people of diverse backgrounds and then give them “more opportunities to make interesting movies. Fantastic movies.”

Robert Kosberg: Kosberg feels that the plot is “essential” in a pitch. The producer for “My One and Only,” “Commando,” “Man's Best Friend,” and “12 Monkeys” says: “Character-driven and dialogue-driven dramas do not translate into pitches. They may make wonderful scripts, but they are difficult to sell as pitches.”

Patricia Weiser: “I’m most interested in pitches that present a whole package: creative idea plus identifiable audience,” says the producer for “Bigger, Stronger, Faster*,” “The Best and the Brightest,” and “D.O.G.S. of Mars.” “At the end of the day, independent filmmakers have to take ownership of the whole project from beginning to end, create a compelling story idea, and pitch who your audience is and how you’re going to get them.... It’s important to know who the characters are and what conflicts they have to overcome, and you have to make me feel a connection to them,” she adds. “If you don’t believe in yourself, why should I?”

Will Packer: Known for films including “Think Like a Man,” “Stomp the Yard,” “Obsessed,” “Ride Along,” and “Girls Trip,” Packer would like to see more pitches outside of the mainstream. He told Revolt: “Even now, where we have a lot more stories around Black people, Black culture, Black themes being told, we still don’t have nearly enough, because when you look at mainstream stories, they’ve been told for years. For generations, they’ve been told over and over again, and in every which way. We don’t have that yet.”

Vincent Grashaw: The producer for “What Josiah Saw,” “And Then I Go,” and “Coldwater” advises that originality is key for movie ideas. “I respond to a fresh vision and an original voice. Writers are not simply pitching one project,” he says. “They are pitching themselves. From a producer’s perspective, I suppose I am more interested in building relationships that could potentially last longer than one film.”

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