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The Very Best Way To Pitch: Bait The Hook To Suit The Fish

By Marilyn Horowitz

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For the last twelve years, I have taught a class called, The Creative Business of Screenwriting, which teaches students how to "pitch" in person, on the phone and on paper. The class has helped many people get their work read by agents, managers and producers. My students have had screenplays produced and novels published.

I recently presented at the LA Screenwriting Expo in Los Angeles, and three of my students came with me to "pitch" current scripts and new concepts that we had developed. They were all successful in creating interest and will be submitting screenplays to reputable producers and agents.

Because my students have uniformly had such success, I thought that for this month's script tip, I would share the advice I include in my current brochure:

The key to pitching is: You must bait the hook to suit the fish.

This means you must know three things before you make a pitch:

1.  A strong title

This may be the hardest part of the whole process, but you must fight for it. It's the first contact any potential reader, producer, agent or actor will have with your material. The title should suggest what type of story and tease the audience's imagination. They want to know what they will be seeing before they buy it. For example, a title such as Date Night, suggests a romantic comedy, Nightmare on Elm Street sounds like a horror film, and Insomnia sounds like a thriller. Bait the hook to suit the fish. The right title for a screenplay can be the perfect bait.

2.  Identify the genre

Finding the right title will also help you identify what style of screenplay you have written. Few films are purely one genre or another, but identifying the main genre is the key. Little Miss Sunshine is clearly not just a comedy, but since it is more comedy than drama, you would pitch it as a comedy. What is the main kind of story you are telling? Screenplays are products like anything else and by knowing what you're selling it will be easier to identify who will read your script and who will buy it. Basic genres include but are not limited to: Comedies, Dramas, Horror, Thriller and Action. There are other genres and sub-genres. Looking at the IMBD or browsing NetFlix will give you some guidelines to categorize your own story.

3.  Create a logline to find your "hook."

A logline is a one-to-three sentence summary of what the screenplay is about. This also is a way of testing if your script has all of the elements needed to get a "yes." Does it have: a strong main character with a clear objective that either is achieved or not? Does your logline describe the plot in as few words as possible? Does it suggest your script's "hook," that is, the plot element, which makes your story unique? For example, in The Usual Suspects, the "hook" is the twist that the narrator turns out to be the villain. My technique is to ask: What is the hero or heroine's dream? For example, In Iron man 2, his dream is to create a peaceful world with no war. In Erin Brockovitch, her dream is to get a job and make a stable life for her family, but she is an unwilling heroine -- a good example of a "hook."

In my book, The Four Magic Questions of Screenwriting, writers answer the key question, What Is The Main Character's Dream, before they begin to write, but answering the question at this late stage will still help you focus your pitch because most successful movies are character driven. Great characters are the way to attract successful actors to play the parts. Attaching Actors to your script is an excellent way to break into the industry. For example, in Then Came Love, my student Caytha Jentis was able to attract Vanessa Williams, Ben Vereen and Eartha Kitt because the character parts were so well written.

Putting it all together:

  • Use a title that describes what kind of film you have written and stimulates the imagination
  • Identify the genre
  • Create a logline that showcases the "hook," the unexpected plot twist that makes your screenplay unique.

Bonus Tip

Once you have this organized, the last part of baiting the hook is to see if your "fish" (whoever you are pitching to) is "hungry" for your story. Do this by going slow and taking the time to make the connection by saying hello with a smile, introducing yourself and taking a moment to let your "fish" tune into you. Then ask if he or she is ready, and then go for it. What you're hoping for is that the producer or agent wants to hear more and after hearing more, wants to read your screenplay.

About Marilyn Horowitz

Marilyn Horowitz is an award-winning New York University professor, author, producer, and Manhattan-based writing consultant, who works with successful novelists, produced screenwriters, and award-winning filmmakers. She has a passion for helping novices get started. Since 1998 she has taught thousands of aspiring screenwriters to complete a feature length screenplay using her method. She is also a judge for the Fulbright Scholarship Program for film and media students. In 2004 she received the coveted New York University Award for Teaching Excellence.

Professor Horowitz has created a revolutionary system that yields a new, more effective way of writing. She is the author of six books that help the writer learn her trademarked writing system, including editions for college, high school, and middle school. The college version is a required text at New York University and the University of California, Long Beach.

Professor Horowitz has written several feature-length screenplays. Her production credits include the feature films And Then Came Love (2007). Her new novel, The Book of Zev is available on Amazon.

Screenwriting Article by Marilyn Horowitz

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