Screenwriting Tip #132: Your Ideas are Precious Snowflakes



Photo by Julian Colton

Screenwriting Tip #132:

When pitching a bunch of ideas at once, don’t short-change any of them. Sell every single one with absolute conviction… even the ones you just made up on the spot.

While we’re talking about pitching, see if this sounds familiar:

Somebody asks you to pitch them a whole bunch of ideas. “Let’s hear it—everything you’ve got.” You’ve probably got, say, five ideas—one killer concept that you absolutely adore, three half-formed ideas and one barely-a-logline that you came up with in the bathroom five minutes ago. How do you pitch them?

That’s a rhetorical question; I know exactly how. It’s how every writer pitches a big pile of ideas.

First, you open with two of those half-formed ideas, just to warm up the room. Then—carefully at first, but getting more and more excited—you pitch the big one, your killer concept. Surprisingly, they fail to buy it on the spot.

When they indicate for you to keep going, you grudgingly finish up with one more half-baked pitch. Desperately, you try to wrap it up… but, oh dear, they’re still looking expectantly at you. “What else have you got?,” they ask. What else have you got?

Good question. And that’s when you remember the barely-a-logline you came up with in the bathroom stall. Grudgingly, you hurl it at them and pray they don’t ask any follow-up questions. Your big idea-dump ends with a whimper, not a bang.

Please, please don’t do this.

What you should do instead is treat all your ideas as equally good and give them all equal billing. I realize this is a lot harder than it sounds. It goes against our natural inclination, either consciously or subconsciously, to champion our favorite ideas and downplay the ones we don’t really understand, don’t like or haven’t fleshed out.

The problem is, our champion ideas may not be the kind of thing this particular pitchee is looking for. Maybe we’re pitching them strongly on romantic comedies, but they only want to hear about horror? If so then, unbeknownst to us, that back-pocket horror concept we just plucked out of thin air might be our only real ticket. No matter how good our other concepts are, the buyer just isn’t buying them.

Even if the pitched party is interested in all genres, there’s still no accounting for taste. In fact, you’ll be astonished at how different their taste is from yours. It happens all the time—you pitch six great ideas that play to your writing strengths and one iffy one that involves a genre you hate. Guess which one the pitchee always likes best?

Now you know that even your half-baked ideas are in with a shot, you see why it’s so dangerous to undersell any concept. If you sound incapable, tentative, or bored at any point in your idea-dump, you may have just undersold the perfect pitch for that particular audience. Their ears will prick up… only to prick down when they realize you’re not the writer for the job. You just shot yourself in the foot.

It’s easy to avoid this. Just pretend that every single one of your ideas is a precious, precious snowflake. Act so excited and enthusiastic about each and every idea that they’ll never be able to guess which one is your favorite and which one is the runt of the litter. Polish each pitch and delivery until it shines. No, you’re not an actor, but you do spend every day trying to convince others that your fictional realities are real. A little more fiction shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

In conclusion, ideas are like children. Whether you have a lot of them or only a few, you have to convince the world that you love them equally. After all, you made them, and that makes you responsible for their tiny lives. Even the ugly, weird ones that don’t resemble you, and the ones you created accidentally or on a whim.

No, I don’t have kids. Why do you ask?

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1 Comment
   Bcbg said on February 10, 2012 at 1:45 am

While we’re Bcbgtalking about pitching, see if this sounds familiar:

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