Often on this website we recommend advice from the absolute upper echelon of great filmmakers, the gods on mount Cinema. But, whilst this is often a great well to draw on, sometimes smaller budget, practical filmmakers have the advice you’re looking for. Quentin Tarantino, who hasn’t had a problem getting a script picked up since 1992, does not have helpful advice on this front.
However, if there is one thing Jim Agnew knows how to do, it is get a film made. He’s a screenwriter, producer, showrunner, etc., managing to get attached to about 2 projects a year. He’s got an eye for horror, and has had the privilege of writing for Dario Argento and John Carpenter, most recently contributing to a Blumhouse-produced
TV show coming to Hulu. He’s not what you might call a prestige writer, but there’s no denying that when he wants a script to make it to the screen, nothing stands in his way. Why is that?
Well, just this May, Agnew did a series of Film Courage interviews with a heavy focus on how to be not only a screenwriter, not only a screenwriter who sells scripts, but a screenwriter who sells scripts that get made. He touches on a few important points: Be involved in the production or your story won’t be yours long, stay positive or people won’t work with you, and lastly, if you’re overflowing with ideas, how do you parse what is worth your time, what has the best chance of making it to the screen?
Jim emails himself every idea he has that he likes and focuses on the ideas that keep returning to his attention. Then, he figures out the entire first act (20 pages, or 6/7 scenes). He then asks himself; do you have the second act turn, and how it ends? You don’t need every beat thought out before you settle in to write, that stifles creativity, killing the sorts of ideas and turns that keep audiences engaged, and that only come along as you’re discovering a story while writing.
But probably the tidbit that rings most true is how to tell whether or not someone who’s just heard your pitch actually likes it, or is just going along. Say you’ve given your friend the premise in two or three sentences. If they immediately respond with “That’s great/you should get started on that/sounds cool/etc.”, you’re in trouble. But, if you finish, and they pause, they think for about three seconds, letting the idea develop in their minds, seeing the potential it has, and only then go: “Ooh, that’s good.”, then
you’re on to something.
If they ask you about it again later, you’re really on to something. A gripping, digestible pitch is paramount, because as the pitch makes its way up the ladder of executives, reporting in turn to their superiors, handling and mishandling multiple projects a day, if it’s too complicated, the story will be lost in translation.