Notes from a Screenreader: Pitch Me

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Photo via Go Into the Story.

Ninety seconds is more than enough time to pitch a well-defined story. The elements that make a story interesting and easy to envision, when stripped of less important trappings, can fit on an index card.

Nowhere was this more apparent than at the Austin Film Festival Pitch Finale Party last week. Nineteen pitches out of a field of 160 made it to the stage, to be judged by Ashley Miller (Thor, X-Men: First Class), Scott Z. Burns (Side Effects, Contagion) and Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Con Air).

Though the winners ran the gamut in format, they all stood out because they nailed the elements that drew the judges in.

  • Character. None of the winning pitches featured an average joe to whom something happens at the inciting incident. The winning characters were unique, active, and steeped in their environments. They were sympathetic people with a plan and an array of forces arranged in very natural opposition to them.
  • Conflict. The winning pitches focused on a strong, unusual dramatic conflict for the characters. The hook.
  • Clarity. The winning writers were able to convey complex systems in their stories with few words because the characters and their conflicts were developed so carefully that the plots elaborated upon themselves.

Before you write your script, give yourself the 90-second pitch test.

— ANNIE LABARBA

Annie is a screenwriter, story consultant, and reader for major screenplay competitions.

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