This Meets That: The Most Popular Pitching Formula (And Why You Shouldn’t Use It)

The most popular pitching formula in Hollywood takes successful movies and smashes them together in form of:This Meets That,” e.g.: “It’s Spiderman meets Tomb Raider!”

“This Meets That” Often Works Against You

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.

Movie Poster Mashup Pitching Formula2.  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….”

This Meets That3.  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.

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 HollywoodThe 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.

Images from Empire Magazine: Movie Poster Mash Up series, ThisBlogRules, Worth1000

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Discussion About This Meets That: The Most Popular Pitching Formula (And Why You Shouldn’t Use It)

  1. Darran Scott

    Totally agree Stephanie. As a Producer I get so many pitches of “Its something meets something else” and straight away I am put off, as I immediately deduce that they don’t actually know truly what their story is about and can not articulate that in a few minutes. If they can’t tell me what is ‘unique’ about their story, then more often than not I find they are not very good writers and have just copied other formats and concepts. Incidently, the best writers that pitch to me NEVER use the “this meets this” pitch. The know their product inside and out!

    • Stephanie Palmer

      Appreciate your perspective, Darran!

      • Herman P. Price

        Dear Stephanie,

        Thanks to your website! I have wanted to share my story. With the 40th anniversary of Bruce Lee’s death, I’m inspired more to pitch the sequel to a master peace called, “Enter the Dragon”! As an afro-American, trained in martial arts for over 35 years, the movies of the 70’s can portray Afro-Americans in leading and positive role in a movie. “Enter the Dragon” I felt did not potray the character “Mr. Williams” well. He was killed off. If you look the DVD Cover, it shows a hanging of this character. I do not want you to view my leter as militant, I have a positive pitch that gives a before story about the characters of “Enter the Dragon. The title is as follow: “Enter the Pagoda” named after the national landmarke in my home town of Reading, Pa. I’m also wanting to bri.g some fame to my home town, we are listed as one of the most poverty cities in the U.S.. The pagoda’s landmark had a part in the, “Last Airbender”!
        Please respond with an open mind. I will pitch with more info. As soon as possible.

        Sincerely in the arts,
        Herman Price

  2. Jason

    Hmm… So I’ve gotta change my original pitch then:

    “My movie is Die Hard meets Legally Blonde, meets SAW, falls in love with Painkiller Jane, assaulted by The Expendables, rescued by The Three Stooges (the remake), and happily retire to Shutter Island.”

  3. Top Picks Thursday 08-16-2012 « The Author Chronicles

    […] Marketing can be tricky. Tonya Kappes details the difference between shameless vs. shameful self-promotion; Jon Gibbs lists 10 marketing/self-promotion techniques which annoy potential readers; and Stephanie Palmer brings us the most popular pitching formula in Hollywood—and 3 reasons why you shouldn’t use it. […]

  4. Travis

    Invasion Earth.2055
    110 pages
    logline: An intergalactic game of war, deception, and invasion played out on the battlefields of earth, in the year 2055 between the lords of war their beings.
    Pitch: This GI-WARS with the men in black, is a full on sci-fi/Fantasy/ Action / adventure for the ages, it’s a Full on futuristic blow out, full of aliens, martian ,dark landscapes, hidden worlds, and conflicts, with it’s blend of dialog and moods it falls into the category between teens and adults.

  5. Eric Lahti

    I’m mostly a novelist but I’ve been seeing this happen more and more in the book promotion world. It always kind of struck me as lazy. People spend weeks, months, or years writing the book and then describe it as movie x meets movie y or, in rarer cases, book x meets book y.
    I’ve been toying with the idea of converting one of my novels to a screenplay so it’s good to know to avoid using this kind of pitch in movies, too. Thanks for the information!

  6. X Meets Y | Eric Lahti

    […] This way you can still say “my story is something meets something else” but it won’t look lazy and you won’t have to deal with someone else’s preconceived notions. For a more in-depth – and movie focused – take on x meets y, check out this blog post on why you shouldn’t do this. […]