10 Steps To Writing A Movie Pitch: A Case Study


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Ten Steps To A Great Movie Pitch

Step 1: Draft The Initial Short Pitch

If you already have a short pitch, great. If not, try the following formula with five elements:

“My story is a (genre) called (title) about (hero) who wants (goal) despite (obstacle).”

I like starting with this formula because it forces the clarification of the dramatic conflict. Typically, a story that is clear can be framed in terms of an entity (the hero) that is seeking something (the goal) despite some significant problem (the obstacle).

Our goal is to clarify the five elements and make them more compelling. This means that the changes we make may seem small (e.g., exchanging one word for another), but they will have large implications because we’re working at the DNA-level of the story.

Using the formula, here’s my client’s initial pitch:

It’s a comedy called Nerd Ops about the National Security Administration’s nerdiest technical people who must become field operatives to save the world from a terrorist hacker organization.

Step 2: Identify Possible Genres

Genre gives context to the project, suggests a structure for the story, and has implications for budget, scope, and potential revenue. The 1-2 words you use to categorize your project, therefore, should be chosen with care.

For Nerd Ops, is “comedy” the best description of genre? Could we find something more specific?

You may already know how your project should be categorized. If not, here’s a way to generate ideas for genre descriptions:

  • Go to boxofficemojo.com;
  • Look for produced projects that are the most like your idea;
  • See how they are classified.

Using this strategy, and given the core concept of nerdy technicians becoming field operatives, here are some possible genres:

  • Dark comedy
  • Buddy comedy
  • Action comedy
  • Spy comedy

Step 3: Identify Themes

While I do believe that it’s important for a finished project to have one core thematic premise, at this stage we’re interested in looking at themes more broadly.

Here are some themes that I could see being relevant:

  • Weaknesses can be strengths (and strengths weaknesses)
  • Warriors for the 21st century
  • The brotherhood (and sisterhood) of geekdom
  • Humans vs. machines

Step 4: Identify Structural Elements

Structural elements are aspects of the project which are obvious and relevant but which you don’t want to classify as themes.

Some structural elements of this story could be:

  • The culture of elite hackers
  • The NSA recruiting process
  • “Hell Week” training
  • Powerful supercomputers

Step 5: Brainstorm Comparisons

Now, using the genres, themes, and structural elements as a starting point, let’s generate more projects to which Nerd Ops could be compared:

  • Spies Like Us (Dan Ackroyd’s character is a technical genius)
  • Hackers (elite hackers work together)
  • Stripes (oddballs in the military)
  • Mission Impossible 3&4 (technical geek played by Simon Pegg)
  • The Recruit (Colin Farrell’s character is a math genius)
  • GI Jane (the structure of “Hell Week”)
  • The Other Guys (desk jockey cops become field agents)

Step 6: Build A Table To Hold Comparison Data

What we’re going to do now is build a chart full of data. Along the way, we’re going to get ideas for more comparison projects and we’ll add those to the chart.

First, set up a table with twenty rows and nine columns. Those nine columns should read: Title, Genre, Rating, Release Date, Buyer/Distributor, Domestic Box Office (DBO), International Box Office (IBO), Total Box Office (TBO), Pitch.

Second, open two websites: boxofficemojo.com and netflix.com. If you’re not already a Netflix member, you can get a trial membership.

Step 7: Fill In The Table

First, I’ll search boxofficemojo.com for Spies Like Us. I’ll enter the data in my table, then click on the tab for “Similar Movies.” This shows me that there’s a project calledThis Means War that I hadn’t considered. So I’ll click on that and enter the data. Then, I’ll click on the tab for “Similar Movies,” and repeat the process.

Second, I’ll go to netflix.com and look for the summaries. I highlight them, edit if needed, paste into a text file, then cut and paste into my table.

Third, I’ll click on the genres in boxofficemojo.com that I’m interested in and see what other comparable projects I can find.

Sometimes boxofficemojo.com, netflix.com (or IMDB or Wikipedia) don’t agree on the genre. For example, a comparison project in my table is Knight and Day. Boxofficemojo calls it a comedy; netflix calls it an action comedy. I think it’s an action comedy, but like This Means War, could also be classified as a romantic comedy.

Use the genre and pitch that you think best. The important thing is to collect the data in one place so you can look for patterns.

After poking around in the boxofficemojo and netflix databases, my table looks like this: Good in a Room Nerd Ops Research Example

Step 8: Sort The Table And Look For Patterns

Now, sort the table by clicking on the column for Total Box Office and sort the table with the highest grossing projects at the top.

The point is not to be a slave to the box office and to copy exactly movies that have been successful. Rather, it’s to have the same information that the decision-maker has, and to be able to customize your pitch using that information to showcase what’s original about your project in a way that is compelling to the listener.

Looking at our table, we can start to see patterns:

  • It seems that Nerd Ops would be more clearly described as an action comedy rather than a spy comedy (e.g. Austin Powers, Bean).
  • The top grossing action comedies are either romantic comedies or buddy pics (e.g., Knight and Day, Rush Hour, The Other Guys)
  • Characters who are “desk-jockeys” or “prodigies.”
  • Two male heroes.
  • A PG-13 rating.
  • Titles with 2-3 words.

Step 9: Improve Your Movie Pitch

Now that I’ve done some research and identified patterns, I can change the short pitch and come up with new pitch material.

Here’s the old short pitch, then the new one:


It’s a comedy called Nerd Ops about the National Security Administration’s nerdiest technical people who must become field operatives to save the world from a terrorist hacker organization.

New (changes in bold):

It’s an action comedy called Nerd Ops about two competing National Security Administration computer prodigies who must become field operatives and work together to save the world from a terrorist hacker organization.

Step 10: Test Your New Movie Pitch

At this point, I would begin testing this short pitch to see how I can sharpen and improve the core concept.

Feedback about Nerd Ops
If you have thoughts on the project, I’d love to hear them.  Let me know in the comments.

  • Other comparison movies we should add to the list?
  • Thoughts on the title? Other titles?
  • Any other suggestions?
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Wednesday, 22 May 2019