I imagine you’ve heard a pitch like, “It’s Avatar meets Die Hard!” or “It’s The Hangover meets Bridesmaids!
The most popular pitching formula in Hollywood takes successful movies and smashes them together in form of: “This Meets That.”
This common practice often backfires. Here’s why:
1. It Encourages Incorrect Assumptions About Your Story
Anytime you reference a produced movie, you activate associations with that movie in the decision-maker’s mind. Those associations can be different from what you intend.
As an example, let’s suppose you reference Pulp Fiction. This could mean (among other things):
- Your project has multiple narratives woven together.
- There is gritty, realistic violence.
- Your heroes are criminals.
- The tone is dark, but also humorous.
What if your project has several narratives, but lacks criminal heroes or gritty violence? What if you’ve got Tarantino-esque criminal characters in a single narrative?
Multiple possible associations makes it easy for the decision-maker to make incorrect assumptions about your story.
2. You May Activate Negative Associations
You may be referencing a critically-acclaimed film. However, decision-makers may have a negative association to that film because:
- It underperformed at the box office.
- They worked on the film and it was a tortorous experience.
- They have a personal dislike for the star, director, producers, or other people involved.
I remember when I was newly promoted to being a studio executive, and had found a script that I loved. I pitched it in the staff meeting as being “similar to Election” and my boss went ballistic: “Never say that movie again in my presence, that movie made eleven dollars, it was for a tiny audience and no one cares….”
3. It Shows A Lack Of Imagination
When you use “This Meets That,” even if you choose your references with great care, it can still sound like you just hacked two things together—because that’s what so many people do.
The Purpose Of Referencing Other Movies
Comparing your project to another movie is a good way to give the listener a sense for the tone and the rating of the project. Just to make sure we’re on the same page, tone refers to the kind of violence, sexuality, or comedy in the film, e.g., funny violence vs. hidden violence vs. graphic violence. The rating refers to whether the project is intended to be G, PG, PG-13, or R.
“This Meets That” doesn’t do this effectively because it’s almost always used in the beginning of the pitch. As a result, while you’re pitching your story, the decision-maker is trying to make the connections between your story and the “This” and “That” projects you referenced—instead of actually listening to your pitch.
Solution: Reference Other Movies In The Q&A
During the meeting, decision-makers are likely to ask you some version of, “What project is this most like?” This typically happens in the Question & Answer stage of the meeting.
The question within this question is: “What is a successful, recently produced project which has a similar tone and rating?”
Your answer to this question should contain one carefully-chosen reference, e.g.:
- “I want it to have the same feel as The Social Network.”
- “It’s fast-paced, adolescent humor like Ted.”
Most of the time, “This Meets That“—or worse—”This Meets That Meets Something Else” confuses the listeners. Cut the references at the top of your pitch and just tell your story. This makes it easier for decision-makers to pay attention, and for your pitch to sound fresh and original.
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