So it finally happens. You get the call: A studio exec likes your idea and your script and wants to hear the pitch. You celebrate for, conservatively, nine hours. Then panic sets in. What the hell are you going to pitch?
I'm going to share my pitch notes with you today! Now, these are not gospel. These are just notes I've used and found to be successful. The most important thing to remember is this:
Confidence. You need to own the room. You need to control the space for the 20-40 minutes you have inside.
Many times, the exec isn't meeting with you solely for your script. They want to know you. At the end of the day, you are the more valuable property, and that's where the money goes. If you aren't a good bet, then they won't take the risk.
Now, without further ado, here is a basic template for pitching your idea:
Note, this is the template for pitching a TV show. For movies, you need to amp it up and drop the last section.
SET UP (Why this, Why now, Why me)
TV shows don't happen naturally. They are a culmination of preparation, passion, and perseverance. If you look at the best shows in the past decade, they almost all trace back to engaged creators with stake in the material.
The show needs to have a reason to exist. Like any story, you need to ask yourself why it needs to happen at all. Why Breaking Bad? Why make Scrubs? You have to know why this show deserves to be on the air before you walk through the door. Heck, you should know that before you spent the time to write it.
Why now? Is this topical? Did something just happen to bring it into the zeitgeist? Or is the market for genre-bending post-apocalyptic dog shaving competitions hot at the moment? Know your business.
And why you? What makes you the ONLY person who can take this show from cradle to grave? Don't just sell a product. Sell yourself as a creator.
Name of the Show
Don't forget to name your show. If the exec loves the pitch, but can't remember what the hell show it was for, you did not have a successful day.
Type of Show
Is this a one-hour drama, a comedy, a sitcom, a reality show? What is it? This would also be the place for a "this meets that" comparison. Some writers don't like using those analogies, as they can feel like a crutch. Do what you think is best to express the tone and pallet for your show.
World of the Show
Where does the show take place? What are some sets that would need to be created? What does this show look like?
This might seem like a throwaway section, but you really need to think like a business person here.
Sets mean money. Locations mean money. A post-apocalyptic dog shaving competition means money. If you are Aaron Sorkin, you can make demands. If you're Janet Nobody III, you cannot.
Sometimes called a "Cold Open," the teaser is the smash-cut intro to your show. Within 5 minutes, I need to know what the hell I'm watching or I'm changing the channel.
Now, that isn't to say I need to have a clue what's happening. But I need to know:
The opening to Breaking Bad is phenomenal. It's perfect. It sets the tone, the stakes, and asks SO MANY QUESTIONS.
The intro to The Expanse is wonderful. I know it's sciency, there's a crazy WTF moment that drags me further, and the setting is terrifying (silence is better than jump scares, people).
Sometimes your teaser will introduce your main character (this is always a good idea), but it doesn't always need to. Find the storytelling devices that work best for you.
Okay, here's things get tricky. You might have 100 characters in your show. I don't care about them all. I care about the A squad and the B squad, how they relate to each other, and a broad strokes review of their arcs.
John is the hero, he's got a secret, and he's married to Jane. But he's in love with Steve.
The exec on the other side of the room is already dream-casting in their head, so don't oversell by throwing out celebrity names (unless you have one attached). Just make your characters memorable.
One thing to keep in mind (for the entire writing process): Your main character needs to be a HERO. They need to be memorable, capable, and the ONLY person to take on the plot.
Seriously. BROAD STROKES.
You do not have time to go beat by beat through your script. I need to know key moments of action, a few set-pieces, and some fun anecdotes. Then get out of the synopsis.
First of all, a synopsis is usually boring. Everyone has that friend who can't tell a story. No matter how much they prepare, they just overload it with detail and drag it out forever. Don't be that person.
Get in, get out, sell the pitch.
For a show, you need to let the exec know that this pilot isn't a one-off. What does an average episode of the show look like from here on out?
Note: The big challenge of a pilot is that it HAS to be an average episode of the show IN ADDITION to setting up the world and characters.
Where does the main character go throughout the season? Who's the big bad? What changes? What stays the same? Why am I watching this show week after week?
Do all of this, perfectly, in 20-40 minutes, and you might just land yourself a deal with a studio.
Now go practice!
And always be write!