Why the Pitch for “Snow White and the Huntsman” is Better Than the Pitch for “Mirror Mirror”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snow White and the Huntsman recently opened at #1 and has a sequel is in the works, whereas the competitive Snow White project Mirror Mirror opened at #3 when it was released at the end of March.

There are lots of reasons why certain movies perform better than others, but if we pay attention to how these movies with similar subjects were pitched to the audiences, we can learn a key lesson about pitching.

Here’s how the concept of Snow White and the Huntsman is pitched:

In the epic action-adventure Snow White and the Huntsman, Snow White is the only person in the land fairer than the evil queen out to destroy her. But what the wicked ruler never imagined is that the young woman threatening her reign has been training in the art of war with a huntsman dispatched to kill her.

Compare this with how the concept of Mirror Mirror is pitched:

A fresh and funny retelling of the Snow White legend, Mirror Mirror features Snow White as she fights the evil Queen to reclaim her birthright and win her Prince in this magical adventure comedy filled with jealousy, romance, and betrayal.

In my opinion, the pitch for Snow White and the Huntsman is much better because it has something the other pitch doesn’t:  genre-story congruency.

Genre-Story Congruency

For example, a writer I worked with recently has a project that is inherently dramatic but was pitching it as a romantic comedy because he thought it would reach a broader audience and be more attractive to buyers.  In fact, (as I told him) the opposite is true.

When an executive listens to a pitch, one of the things that is easily determined is whether the story fits the specific genre.  Another way to say it is that spy thrillers should be about spies, comedies should have comedic premises and funny characters, and heist movies should involve something valuable being stolen.

In other words:  will the story live up to the genre expectations of the audience?

This notion of genre-story congruency seems obvious but it’s one of the most common pitching mistakes even among established professionals—and I believe one of the reasons Mirror Mirror hasn’t succeeded as the studio intended.

Let’s look at these two Snow White pitches and analyze them for genre-story congruency:

Snow White and the Huntsman

Genre: Epic action-adventure

Story Elements: Snow White gets trained in the art of war by the Huntsman, an assassin dispatched to kill her; Snow White threatens the reign of the evil Queen.

The story elements of being trained in the art of war by an assassin and fighting an evil Queen match the genre. This pitch has genre-story congruency.

Mirror Mirror

Genre: Magical Adventure Comedy

Story Elements: An evil, ruthless Queen; Snow White fighting to reclaim her birthright; jealousy and betrayal.

There’s nothing funny about the story elements. This conflicts with the description of the movie as a comedy.

Consider the Queen

Both movie pitches highlight the “evil Queen.”

Here’s how A.O. Scott describes the Queen in Snow White and the Huntsman: “furious,” “terrorizes her subjects,” “a woman with a legitimate grudge against a male-dominated world of sexual violence….”

Manohla Dargis describes the Queen in Mirror Mirror as “self-amused; a pathological narcissist suffering from possible delusions.”

The Queen of Snow White and The Huntsman is truly an evil Queen. The Queen of Mirror Mirror is not. She’s a narcissistic Queen, a delusional Queen—but hardly evil.  In other words, “evil Queen” works better as the description of the antagonist for an epic action-adventure as opposed to a magical adventure comedy.

What can we learn?

A good pitch has genre-story congruency.

Snow White and the Huntsman mined the source material and created story elements that matched the original tale’s ominous tone.  Mirror Mirror, in contrast, feels like a dark story that is fighting against the comedic elements that are superimposed on the project.

When there isn’t genre-story congruency, potential audience members get the sense that “something feels off.” When there is congruency, a film is more likely to succeed.

. . . . . . . .

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14 Comments

  1. The first pitch also has that juicy irony that Blake endorses.

    My recent bedtime reading has been Halliwell’s film guide. It’s amazing at which loglines really just POP and others are simply humdrum.

    The pitch for Snow White and the Huntsmen just jumps off the page and I think the movie reflects that initial clarity.

  2. I’m currently writing a spec screenplay for a horror film. Your article on Genre-Story Congruency, and the comments, strengthened my faith in my script considerably. I will be much more confident, come pitch time. You clearly know yer beans. Thanks, Stephanie. :-)

  3. Genre-story congruency – Thank you for the term! I keep trying to explain to people that a story idea, and its genre, implies certain things to the audience, and that in order to keep the audience both satisfied and surprised, the writer must be aware of those expectations and how they’ve been used before. Now I have a term for that. Thank you.

  4. Perhaps. But what about 101 Dalmatians?
    Genre: Magical (talking animals) Adventure Comedy
    Story Elements: An evil, ruthless fashionista; 2 dogs fight to reclaim their puppies and discover a massive, murderous conspiracy.

    • A good question, Michael.

      I think the issue you’re pointing to is to what extent the word “evil” can be used to describe the antagonist in a comedy.

      Keeping in mind that we’re talking about the pitches, not the movies themselves….

      First, I suspect that the “comedy” aspect in the pitch as you present it is being communicated by the unusual nature of a character being an evil “fashionista” (a funny word).

      That said, if we look at a comparison between the 101 Dalmations from 1961 and 1996 (via IMDB):

      1961 version (rated 7.2): Animation Adventure Comedy

      “When a litter of dalmatian puppies are abducted by the minions of Cruella De Vil, the parents must find them before she uses them for a diabolical fashion statement.”

      1996 version (rated 5.6): Adventure Comedy Family

      “A woman kidnaps puppies to kill them for their fur, but various animals then gang up against her and get their revenge in slapstick fashion.”

      In my opinion, these pitches as written have a key difference in how they talk about the death of the animals.

      To me, “kill them for their fur” is quite a bit harsh, and yet “diabolical fashion statement” has some humor in it for the same reason “evil fashionista” does, and because we’re given the context of the antagonist’s name, Cruella De Ville, which is a funny name.

      Additionally, in the 1961 version, the parents are the heroes (as per the pitch), whereas in the 1996 version, various animals are the heroes (as per the pitch). To me, the 1996 pitch conflicts somewhat with this being a live action genre (i.e., it’s easier to suspend disbelief when animated animals talk or behave like people than real animals).

      Finally, the 1961 pitch makes it clear that the puppies have been kidnapped – but not killed – which means they can be saved. The 1996 pitch is more ambiguous (e.g. the use of the word “revenge” could mean that prior to these particular puppies being kidnapped, other puppies have been killed) and this gives the pitch a much darker flavor which conflicts with the comedic aspect of the genre.

  5. This post helped me tighten up the pitch for a film we are developing and plan to shoot this summer. By applying the lesson you shared here, I was able to (finally) rework the top three loglines into much stronger hooks and can now hone the pitch. These processes were as difficult if not more so than writing the script, rewriting, and rewriting ad infinitim. Thanks!

  6. Stephanie! I know this is an older post … but dang is it good. I was helping a client out last night with a marketing plan, but the effort was meaningless if we couldn’t properly identify the theme and hook of the story.

    Funny how the pitch and clarity starts with the things that don’t cost money. Just time and creative problem solving. Once that is in place, everything can be built on top of that foundation to enhance it even more.

    Like always, great stuff here.

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