*This blog was originally published in Script Magazine
Stand-up comedy is a skill I do not possess. You may wonder why, as a screenwriter, I worry about stand-up comedy skills. I am perfectly happy plotting, scheming, outlining, writing one-pagers etc. in the comfort of my home in the hope that the material I write will eventually find its rightful (and fully paid) place (commissioned by some famous producer, obviously).
Pitching, however, was always more of an afterthought. After weeks (months!) of plotting, scheming, writing, I – quite obviously – should be able to tell my story in the most entertaining way. Only, this could not be further from the truth as I soon found out.
Script EXTRA: Tips for Writing the First Draft
To pitch my completed screenplay, I needed to summarize my story in one concise sentence. Now, I had done that before writing the screenplay but truth is, it wasn’t nearly as convincing as I had hoped it to be. Nevertheless, I went along with it. After two days of bedroom rehearsals and live pitches to devoted friends and family members, I began to pitch my screenplay to professionals. As it turns out, far from rehearsed and polished, my pitch was long-winded and complicated. The Executives really had to strain to keep track of my convoluted pitch. Needless to say, I didn’t win them over, but they were kind enough to give me tips.
To summarize their notes, all the Executives wanted was a simple story they could relate to. What are the characters going through and why should they care? Start with a hook, get to the crux of the story and finish with a bang. All the skills a stand-up comic possesses.
And so, I started over. People got interested in the story. However, something became very clear; my pitch no longer fit my story. Worse, my pitch had become better than my screenplay! And so, I rewrote my screenplay in line with my new pitch. And guess what? Professionals who read the script liked it even more than before!
It was a complicated feat, however, as it is much easier to build a house on strong foundations than try to sort out the foundations once the house is fully built. As many of you know, the butterfly effect is real, a single change can shake the whole foundation. Or, in this case, a single sentence can collapse it.
Script EXTRA: Debate and Tips for Outlining a Screenplay
And so, with my next screenplay, I started by writing a pitch. More accurately, I banged my head against the wall until I wrote a zinger of a pitch. It was painstaking, I am not going to lie. I then wrote the outline. Something that I checked against my pitch. I have now completed the first draft, the pitch was in my head throughout, constantly steering me in the direction that I had set for my story. It became my trusted compass as I traversed the billowy seas of creative writing.
Working on the pitch prior to writing the screenplay had given me a sense of purpose I had never experienced before.
As a result, I have a more professional and focused story that I am ready to pitch!