Pitching What’s Really Important

By Steve Jarczak

Picture this…

You’re at a party in an overcrowded Hollywood apartment, minding your own business (and

trying to deduce the supermarket origins of the hummus platter) when a friend-of-a-friend starts

talking excitedly at you about the “game-changing” screenplay he just finished. “What’s it

about?” you ask, naively overlooking the manic glimmer in his eye…

“Okay, so in the distant realm of Kalveron, there are five alien races engaged in a relentless

battle to obtain the Seeing Stone of Oblimium, but you see it was secretly stolen years ago during

the reign of Zalgor The Subjugator, after which he made a pact with the underground people of

Trovan that when the seven moons are in alignment during the Nomulin epoch…”

Where’s the fire escape?!

Now to be fair, there might be a fantastic story somewhere within that verbal barrage, but who

would know? And who would care?

That’s the mistake so many writers make when pitching their movies and TV shows. They’re so

excited about their idea (a good thing!) that they overwhelm the listener with details (a bad

thing!). Like a dump truck, they unload their concept in an indiscernible narrative pile,

forgetting that the main goal of a pitch isn’t information – it’s engagement.

Engagement is key to getting someone interested (and excited!) about a potential project, even if

they don’t yet know the whole story. And what’s the best way to do that? Streamline the

specifics, and get people to care about your main characters.

If you’re pitching a film, who are we following (i.e. the central protagonist)? What obstacles are

they facing (villains, disasters, relationship problems, etc.)? What will happen if they don’t

overcome those obstacles (the stakes)? And why do we want to go on this journey with them

(emotional investment)?

Sounds pretty straightforward, right? But so often, these crucial elements are overlooked in

favor of overcomplicated world-building, cinematic set-pieces, and intricate details of specific

scenes. And to make matters worse, it’s all crammed together into a story blob!

The key is to pare your concept down to its bare essentials, stripping away all the fancy

trimmings, and build it out from there.

Just imagine trying to pitch Harry Potter back in the days before the Wizarding World was

common knowledge (and an overpriced theme park). There are so many concepts to introduce,

how would you possibly explain it all in a short pitch? That’s just it – you wouldn’t.

Sure, you might enjoy divulging the details of Quidditch and Diagon Alley, but are they essential

to the story? What the listener really needs to know is…

Who is this Harry Potter kid? What kind of adventure is he going on? Who is he up against, and

who helps him along the way? And ultimately, why do we care? How do we see ourselves and

our lives represented in this fantastical story? That’s what matters.

But what about all the cool details and characters that make the world unique? Don’t worry, you

can introduce many of those elements in the pitch while taking the listener through the story, just

as Harry encounters them along the way. (Because don’t forget, he didn’t know about any of

that stuff either!) But keep your focus on the heart of the hero’s journey, and let the details be…

well, details.

Now what if you’re pitching a sitcom? The same distillation rules apply – boil your show down

to its core components. Who are we following (the central characters)? How do their

personalities relate to each other (dynamics)? What about their situation will drive stories

episode after episode (the series engine)? And why will we find these stories unique, hilarious,

and enticing for seasons to come (series longevity)?

Focus on those things first and foremost, then decorate your presentational cake with the

uproarious set pieces and kooky side characters in the time left over. Because it’s better to hone

in on the core relationships and mechanics of the series than bombarding the listener with funny

but ultimately less useful details. (Gee, that sounds like something your “wacky neighbor”

would do!)

Pitching isn’t rocket science, but it does take understanding and reflection – and restraint. After

all, you love your idea, and you want to tell us all about it. But you might be more successful if

you tell us some about it.

Steve Jarczak is not just a pretty face (for Burbank) – he’s a writer and producer with over 20
years of experience in the entertainment industry.
Alongside writing partner Shawn Thomas, Steve has sold and developed 10 original TV pilot
projects at companies such as Netflix, Amazon, AppleTV, HBOMax, Mattel, DreamWorks
Animation, Disney Channel, and Nickelodeon. The duo has also written on several Disney
series, including the 3-time Emmy nominated sitcom “Dog With A Blog.” And they also
partnered with Feld Entertainment and Universal Pictures to write the original feature-length
script for “Jurassic World Live Tour,” which is currently touring arenas across America:
In addition, Steve has written scripts and produced stories for multiple award shows, live events,
and television specials. He’s also been a freelance comedy writer for radio and print
publications, beginning his career as an intern at MAD Magazine (which only encouraged his
Beyond his own work, Steve is passionate about helping other aspiring writers to bring their
ideas to life, teaching at Azusa Pacific University and mentoring undergraduate/graduate
screenwriting students at Syracuse University and Biola University. But don’t worry, he
promises not to grade you…

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