How To Pitch A Movie – A Movie Pitch Example

You know (or you’re learning) how to write a screenplay – but do you know how to pitch a movie?

What you’re about to see is the first phase of researching and developing a movie pitch.

How To Pitch A Movie In 9 Steps

In the following movie pitch example, you’ll see how to write a movie pitch – and that a great deal of work goes into choosing just a few words.

Step 1: Draft The Initial Short Pitch

The first step to learning how to pitch a movie is to draft a movie pitch (it can be rough).

Try the following formula with five elements:

“My story is a (genre) called (title) about (hero) who wants (goal) despite (obstacle).”

I like starting with this formula because it forces the clarification of the dramatic conflict.

Typically, a story that is clear can be framed in terms of an entity (the hero) that is seeking something (the goal) despite some significant problem (the obstacle).

Using the formula, here’s my client’s initial pitch:

It’s a comedy called Nerd Ops about the National Security Administration’s nerdiest technical people who must become field operatives to save the world from a terrorist hacker organization.

Step 2: Identify Possible Genres

Genre gives context to the project, suggests a structure for the story, and has implications for budget, scope, and potential revenue. The 1-2 words you use to categorize your project, therefore, should be chosen with care.

You may already know how your project should be categorized.

If not, here’s a way to generate ideas for genre descriptions:

  • Go to boxofficemojo.com;
  • Look for produced projects that are the most like your idea;
  • See how they are classified.

For Nerd Ops, is “comedy” the best description of genre? Could we find something more specific?

Here are some other possible genres:

  • Dark comedy
  • Buddy comedy
  • Action comedy
  • Spy comedy

Step 3: Identify Themes

While I do believe that it’s important for a finished project to have one core thematic premise, at this stage of our movie pitch example we’re interested in looking at themes more broadly.

Here are some themes that I could see being relevant:

  • Weaknesses can be strengths (and strengths weaknesses)
  • Warriors for the 21st century
  • The brotherhood (and sisterhood) of geekdom
  • Humans vs. machines

Step 4: Identify Structural Elements

Structural elements are obvious, relevant aspects of the project but not themes.

Some structural elements of this story could be:

  • The culture of elite hackers
  • The NSA recruiting process
  • “Hell Week” SEAL training
  • Powerful supercomputers

Step 5: Brainstorm Comparisons

Let’s generate more projects to which Nerd Ops could be compared:

How to pitch a movie comparison projects 3 films

  • Spies Like Us (Dan Ackroyd’s character is a technical genius)
  • Hackers (elite hackers work together)
  • The Other Guys (desk jockey cops become field agents)
  • Stripes (oddballs in the military)
  • Mission Impossible 3&4 (technical geek played by Simon Pegg)
  • The Recruit (Colin Farrell’s character is a math genius)
  • GI Jane (the structure of “Hell Week”)

Step 6: Build A Table To Hold Comparison Data

What we’re going to do now is build a spreadsheet. Along the way, we’re going to get ideas for more comparison projects and we’ll add those to our spreadsheet.

Set up a table with twenty rows and nine columns. Those nine columns should read: Title, Genre, Rating, Release Date, Buyer/Distributor, Domestic Box Office (DBO), International Box Office (IBO), Total Box Office (TBO), Pitch.

Step 7: Fill In The Table

First, I’ll search boxofficemojo.com for Spies Like Us.

I’ll enter the data in my table, then click on the tab for “Similar Movies.” This shows me that there’s a project called This Means War that I hadn’t considered. So I’ll click on that and enter the data. Then, I’ll click on the tab for “Similar Movies,” and repeat the process.

Then, I’ll look for summaries of the projects on imdb.com. I highlight them, edit if needed, paste into a text file to remove formatting, then cut and paste into my table.

The important thing is to collect the data in one place so you can look for patterns.

My table looks like this: Good in a Room Nerd Ops Spreadsheet Example

Step 8: Sort The Table And Look For Patterns

Now, sort the table with the highest grossing projects at the top.

The point is not to be a slave to the box office and to copy exactly movies that have been successful.

Rather, it’s to have the same information that the decision-maker has, and to be able to customize your movie pitch using that information to showcase what’s original about your project in a way that is compelling to the listener.

Looking at our table, we can start to see patterns:

  • Nerd Ops would be more clearly described as an action comedy rather than a spy comedy (e.g. Austin Powers, Bean).
  • The top grossing action comedies are either romantic comedies or buddy pics (e.g., Knight and Day, Rush Hour, The Other Guys)
  • Characters who are “desk-jockeys” or “prodigies.”
  • Two male heroes.
  • A PG-13 rating.
  • Titles with 2-3 words.

Step 9: Improve Your Movie Pitch

Here’s the old short pitch, then the new one:

Old Movie Pitch:

It’s a comedy called Nerd Ops about the National Security Administration’s nerdiest technical people who must become field operatives to save the world from a terrorist hacker organization.

New Movie Pitch (changes in bold):

It’s an action comedy called Nerd Ops about two competing National Security Administration computer prodigies who must become field operatives and work together to save the world from a terrorist hacker organization.

Commentary On This Movie Pitch Example

To a new writer, these changes may not seem like such a big deal.

However, to an agent or a decision-maker who could buy the project, they are a MAJOR deal.

Two significant things to notice about the new movie pitch:

  1. Action comedies have a different market than comedies – both inside the US and especially outside the US. This change of genre has huge implications for audience, budget, marketing, and distribution.
  2. Centering the story on two heroes establishes that there will be two roles for stars rather than having it be an ensemble cast that may not interest the biggest stars.

This is how you sell a screenplay – by learning how to pitch a movie, choosing your words with extreme care, and speaking in the language of the decision-maker.

What If Your Pitch Doesn’t Sell?

Pitching, like writing, directing, or producing, is a big, complex topic.

It takes time to learn how to pitch a movie and more time to get good.

So if your pitch doesn’t help you make a sale or get hired, it could be that:

  • Your pitch isn’t compelling enough.
  • Your story is flawed.
  • You’re not handling the meeting dynamics well.
  • You’re not meeting with the right people.

Don’t Keep Pitching If It’s Not Working

When you are at the point where you are pitching your project to decision-makers, your success or failure in those meetings makes a big difference to your career.

If you’re not making sales or getting hired, it may be time to take a step back.

Take the time to learn how to pitch a movie. Make sure you’re getting in the right rooms with the right people. And be ready for the pitch meeting dynamics so you know exactly what to say when you get there.

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Discussion About How To Pitch A Movie – A Movie Pitch Example

  1. George

    Well, I feel the newer one is way busier and less coherent–the “two competing National Security Advirors, and “computer prodigies” is very DISTANCING and makes the characters less relatable—

    feel the older one is cleaner, more simple, more FUN sounding–and I get the same feeling (note: from technical people to field operatives implies the change, the action, the fish out of water, etc…)

  2. Ferdinand

    I think the old pitch doesn´t have main character, only the context. Is redundant, “Nerds Ops”… later “nerdiest technical people”… are character´s features. Therefore, no conflict, no goal at this level, main character. I think it doesn’t introduce us to the story, lack “who”. Thanks Stephanie and your client for sharing.

  3. Signe Olynyk

    Well done, Stephanie! A great example of how to make an okay pitch even better.

    Something that I think readers might want to consider is that written pitches/queries are often different than verbal/in person pitches.

    In my opinion, the first one is decent as an email or letter query, partly because of its simplicity. The second one is stronger as a verbally delivered pitch because it is more specific and paints a better pitcher visually.

    What are your thoughts on that, Stephanie? Do you think written logline queries should be different from verbally delivered pitches?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Great point, Signe. Yes, often what works on the page sounds awkward when spoken out loud. I do think written queries should be different from verbal pitches.

  4. Manina

    I like your benchmarking approach to find out, where my script fits into what’s already out there. Would you suggest to do this table exercise before or after your first draft? It could probably add a lot of clarity as to how I want to position myself, but could also cut off the creative process too early. How do you see this?

    • Stephanie Palmer

      I suggest doing it before if you can, because it can save you time (if you spend a lot of time on a draft with a flaw that you catch in the research phase).

  5. steve obrien

    Many thanks for the article, really.

    -peace

  6. Reed

    I could kiss you, for this. All I can say is thank youuuuuu, so much. You haven’t the slightest idea how much this information means…at least to me. Again thanks so much for this information.

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  10. Claire

    I hope this gets made, sounds like my kind of comedy!

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  12. Jenny

    I wrote out a pitch but I’m still curious to see if i did it right… would u mind reading it? And I also wanted to submit my idea to a website I found, and when it says “send a pitch, and if he likes it, then you will be further notified” what format does it want the pitch to be in? I’m guessing this form but I haven’t found other sites with answers. Thanks!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Hi Jenny. Unfortunately, I only give specific project feedback to my clients and I am not accepting new clients at this time as I am booked. You are probably referring to Bob Kosberg. I don’t know his requirements, but generally a synopsis that is shorter than one paragraph and covers the beginning, middle and end is what producers want in a short pitch.

  13. Mark Schaffer

    Very valuable roadmap. Using it to shape my pitch. Like the table idea.

  14. ellen

    Hi, i am working on a pitch for an awesome movie idea. It will be a written pitch that i want to email out. I am worried that i might email my idea to someone who will steal it. Is there anyway i can protect myself against this? Thank you.

  15. John Geraci

    Hello Stephanie,
    Interesting – I just finished listening to “Good In A Room” and was detailing my pitch based on your great ideas; then I got this, so I am revising the pitch and it can only get better. Many thanks.

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  19. Gunel

    Dear Stephanie,

    This is very useful information, thank you! But there is one thing, the website netflix.com says that it is not available at my country, are there other similar websites, where I can get summaries of the movies in fantasy genre?
    And one more question. I am almost finishing my script, should I complete the script and then start writing my pitch, or should I write my pitch now but after I do research?
    Best regards,

    • Gunel

      And one more thing, you mentioned that we need to add pitches of those movies into the table. Where should I find them?
      I type in for example Harry Potter pitch, but I can not find anything.

      Thank you!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Instead of netflix, try imdb.com. And as for your creative process, I recommend research, pitch, then draft the script.

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  22. Mike Rogers

    Thank you for providing this information. Any information regarding the process is invaluable.

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