6 Pitching Tactics You Can Learn From Blake Snyder

Blake Snyder wrote three excellent books about screenwriting:

Blake (1957 – 2009) left us much too soon, but his words and work live on.

Much of Blake Snyder’s writing advice also applies to pitching. I’ve decided to focus on six ideas that I think are of special importance.

Tips On Pitching From Blake Snyder

1. Use Irony To Create Your “Hook”

A dictionary definition for the “hook” is: “A means of attracting interest or attention; an enticement.”

This is how it’s used in Hollywood. When someone says, “What’s the hook?” what they are asking is, “What is interesting about this project?”

In my opinion, this definition of the “hook” is too broad. There are lots of ideas that are interesting and could hold a person’s attention that (to me) don’t have a hook.

For example, Aaron Sorkin is writing a movie about the life of Steve Jobs and the entire movie will be shot in three “real-time” half-hour scenes. To me, Steve Jobs is interesting.  Aaron Sorkin is interesting.  The notion of three half-hour scenes is interesting.  But, in my opinion, that’s not a pitch with a hook.

Blake (crediting former writing partner Colby Carr) defines the hook in terms of irony:

The number one thing a good logline (pitch) must have, the single most important element, is: irony.  And that goes for whether it’s a comedy or a drama.

  • A cop comes to L.A. to visit his estranged wife and her office building is taken over by terrorists – Die Hard.
  • A businessman falls in love with a hooker he hires to be his date for the weekend – Pretty Woman.

I think both of these loglines reek of irony.  Irony gets my attention. It’s what we like to call the hook.

To paraphrase Blake, here’s a formal definition:

The hook is the ironic aspect of a short pitch.

I prefer this definition for two reasons.

  • What’s interesting to one person isn’t always interesting to another.  But whether a short pitch contains something ironic is less listener-dependent.
  • An ironic idea contains a reversal, and so does the shape of an actual hook.

Identify what’s ironic about your story and give your short pitch a compelling hook.

2. Test Your Pitch Early

One of Blake’s theories of story development involves testing your idea at an early phase on complete strangers. Here’s Blake explaining how he gets a stranger to listen to him:

Blake Snyder: Hi, could you help me?

Stranger (dubious): What is it? I have a Pilates class in ten minutes.

Blake Snyder: Perfect, this will only take a second. I’m working on a movie idea and I wanted to know what you think.

Stranger (smiling, looks at watch): Okay…”

This takes a lot of confidence to pull off the first time, but after a few times, it’s easier.

3.  Clarify Your Theme

“Why are you writing this project?” is a question you could expect to be asked in a pitch meeting.

There are a lot of possible answers to this question.  The best kind of answer involves talking about the theme at the core of the project.

Here’s how Blake explains the theme:

In many ways a good screenplay is an argument posed by the screenwriter, the pros and cons of living a particular kind of life, or pursuing a particular goal. Is a behavior, dream, or goal worth it? Or is it false? What is more important, wealth or happiness? Who was greater in the overall scheme of things – the individual or the group?

The screenplay is the argument laid out, either proving or disproving this statement, and looking at it, pro and con, from every angle.

Being able to discuss the theme of your project in a compelling way is part of a good pitch.  Make sure your answer is a part of your Answerbank.

4. Generate Comparisons Based On The Blake Snyder Genre

You may know the importance of having a good answer to the question, “What project is (your project) most like?”

The process of choosing the right comparisons typically focuses on the traditional genres, like comedy, drama, action, thriller, etc. That’s important because the language of “traditional genre” is one that everyone in Hollywood speaks.

However, it’s worth considering Blake’s genre categories. They are:

  • Monster in the House
  • Golden Fleece
  • Out of the Bottle
  • Dude with a Problem
  • Rites of Passage
  • Buddy Love
  • Whydunit
  • The Fool Triumphant
  • Institutionalized
  • Superhero

These categories connect movies with very similar stories that would otherwise be in separate genres. For example, Dude with a Problem fits Die Hard, Titanic, and Schindler’s List.

If that sounds a little strange to you, I understand. It did to me as well. But Blake’s insight is that movies which have different tones, subject material, and audiences, often have extremely similar structures.

By considering the traditional genre as well as the Blake Synder Genre, you can generate more ideas for comparisons that can help you pitch your project effectively.

5. Structure Your Complete Pitch Beat-by-Beat

Most complete pitches last about 5-15 minutes.  How do you structure a presentation of this length?

There are lots of ways, but especially for writers who are pitching their first project, The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet can be a great tool.

Here are Blake’s fifteen story beats:

  • Opening Image
  • Theme Stated
  • Set-up
  • Catalyst
  • Debate
  • Break Into Two
  • B-story
  • Fun and Games
  • Midpoint
  • Bad Guys Close In
  • All Is Lost
  • Dark Night of the Soul
  • Break Into Three
  • Finale
  • Final Image

Once you’ve written a first draft of your complete pitch using these beats, you can test your pitch and decide which moments you may want to expand on.

6. Be Courageous And Don’t Give Up

One of the things that is hardest about pitching is that it’s done in public.  That makes it easy to get nervous, look foolish, or be disappointed.

Giving voice to your ideas can be scary—especially if you find out that they’re not as good as you hoped (yet).

Here’s what Blake says about that:

I’ve had the privilege of traveling the globe teaching my method, and I’ve seen firsthand the looks on writers’ faces when I am the bearer of bad news—or at least the bearer of news that feels bad. There is nothing worse than when ideas won’t work, when structure fails, when your career looks like a wasteland….

The real truth, and what’s given me the most hope: Trouble is good. The fact is that it’s only when we hit bottom, in a script or in life, that we really prove who we are. When we decide not to give up but to strike back, and do so smartly, there is a clear-headed resolve that gives us a new outlook and new determination that not only solves the problem, but also makes us the steely pros we need to be. And it gives us the experience that we can one day pass on to others who find themselves in similar circumstances.”

If you’re already a fan of Blake’s work, great.  If you aren’t familiar, I highly recommend getting acquainted by reading his first book: Save the Cat.

Learn Blake’s method and terminology.  That way when a decision-maker says, “I wish the introduction of your hero had more of a Save The Cat,” you’ll know just what they are talking about.

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Discussion About 6 Pitching Tactics You Can Learn From Blake Snyder

  1. Steve Mielczarek

    Stephanie as always, you are good in a room; you have a sense of Hollywood beyond movie making, beyond good and evil.

  2. Jim Sullivan

    Good stuff as always, Stephanie. One addition thing I’ll note here; Blake suggested that based on his beats, your pitch might best contain only the Opening Image, Catalyst, Break Into Two, Midpoint, All is Lost, Break Into Three and Final Image beats.

  3. Joey May

    Save the Cat was a breakthrough of sorts for me; making sense of all the other information a screenwriter wades through while developing a craft. Then to read how you plucked the essence of his message and applied it to pitching is brilliant.

    Thanks Stephanie, great article.

  4. Bonnie Russell

    Trying to think of a time Stephanie hasn’t been helpful.

    (Sound of crickets chirping.)

    Nope. I got nothing.

  5. Brian MacEvilly

    Unlike many, I haven’t really been taken by ‘Cat’ fever, but this is very helpful. I’ll definitely be punching up the irony in all my loglines. And this beat list is useful, though I think the inclusion of ‘The Ghost’ at the opening stages would be a powerful addition. Thank you, Stephanie.

  6. Raj

    In great room to be placed, its “good in a room”, this room leaves a space to help Screenwriters, with its valuable posts and articles, and source of helping hand.

    Thanks You, Stephanie.

  7. Lisa Potocar

    Even though I’m not a screenwriter, I found these tips equally as compelling for me in writing my historical novels. When I experimented with past and current pitches by injecting “irony” into them, they sprang to life! Also, I was taught at various writing conferences to break my stories up into “Acts,” but I never really understood the substance of an “Act” as it relates to my writing. Now I know! Thanks, Stephanie, for highlighting Blake’s ideas and making them logical. I’ll pin them to my cork board to keep in mind every day as I write.

  8. Joe Whyte

    Blake was a good friend and mentor, and the above quotes are an excellent distillation of his insights into screenwriting. He was the first guy to say that his way was just one of many ways to approach story creation, but based on my personal experience using Blake’s “formula” (I hate that word) it really works well for me, and just plain old seem like a simple, logical, creative approach to writing. It ain’t brain surgery, folks, although it feels like it sometimes, but at the end of the day, no one is going to die if you screw up a scene. We get infinite do-overs. Blake was there to point us towards the least amount of do-overs necessary. Thanks, Stephanie, for putting this up!!!

    – Joe

  9. Mike Rinaldi

    I miss Blake every day. On the one hand, I’m sad that I can’t celebrate my new successes with him (or call him when I come to a crossroads). But I’m also thankful for the 2 1/2 years he invested in me because it’s a reflection of his success which continues to flourish in the rest of us.

  10. Melanie McDonald

    Stephanie, thank you so much, once again, for sharing your know-how – much appreciated!
    All the best, Melanie