Views From Your Muse

Pitching, Pen Names, Structure, and Sequels

-- Four questions and four answers --

1. Realistically, how many pitches can one do (or even begin) in five minutes?

In most pitching situations, you will know about what is expected in terms of your time limit for each pitch.

If you don't know ahead of time what is expected, then begin with your "elevator pitch": that is, your hook and story concept in about the same time that it takes an elevator to open and close. If your listener's eyes look happy or encouraging, then amplify. You should always be ready with a concise pitch and longer versions of the same pitch just in case.

In most pitching sessions where the producer or agent wants to hear several ideas in a short period of time, then spend about a minute or two on each pitch. Given that guideline, you should be able to fit in about three pitches in five minutes.

Keep in mind that the listener may interrupt and ask questions or want you to tell them more. You are in a selling situation, so be prepared.

Finally, it's usually best not to memorize a pitch. If you can deliver it "from your heart" but not "by heart," that is ideal. If you need note cards to guide you, that's okay, but never read a pitch. Let your passion come through when delivering the pitch. If you get a positive reaction, consider leaving the listener a one-sheet with your contact information on it.

2. I want to use a pen name. Do I register it or file some legal document? Will a pen name mess up a writing contract?

Once you sell your script, the attorneys will know who to write the check to. The contract will be made in your legal name, but request a paragraph in the contract that stipulates that the writing credit shall be in your pen name. There is nothing you need to do to register a pen name.

3. How do you find the fine line between creating a script which is "overdone" or "over-structured" versus one that is too "loose" or "under-structured"?

One film's over-structure is another film's under-structure. It depends on the nature of the project and what the film wants to be.

Action movies tend to have a lot of structure. I usually recommend to clients to do as much as they can to develop and deepen their characters, even though those characters will not be as well developed as those in a well-written character-driven story.

Likewise, I usually advise writers of character-driven stories to strengthen sub-plots, make sure all loose ends are tied up, and place more emphasis on the action/visual elements of the screenplay, even thought these stories will not be as structured as the action screenplays.

The key is to find the structure that works best for your particular story, and it's a different answer for different scripts.

4. Is it permissible to write a screenplay using a character from another screenplay if you intend on only using the screenplay as a "sample script" to the company that owns the rights?

As long as you understand that you can only use the script as a sample, then it's okay to write it. However, most companies will want to see that you can create characters from scratch.