Recently I’ve been pitching a romantic comedy, but I’ve been pitching it wrong. I’ve kept the ‘Big Event’ secret and made it a twist for those I’m pitching to. It’s good to surprise people, put there’s a flaw in that plan.
The Big Event is the development that takes the protagonist out of the world they’ve settled for. It gets the protagonist into the situation that is the premise of the film. The problem about making this a big secret in your pitch is that producers cannot market the film without selling the premise. You can’t sell The Truman Show without stating that the odd things hero is noticing are due to the fact he is the star of a real-time soap opera that he knows nothing about. You can’t sell Alien without saying that a group of people find themselves trapped in a spaceship with a creature they don’t dare kill.
So, you start your pitch with the situation at the start of act 2. Those are the scenes that will be in the trailer, summarised by reviewers, the premise that will get people into the cinema.
Why do we need to learn how to pitch? Producers can only get behind ideas they can pitch. Even if they care about the characters and the story, if they think the film has a message that many people should hear, they cannot produce films that don’t have audiences. Audiences go to films in response to marketing. When you are discussing which films to see with your friends, you pitch the premise – the Act 2 situation. Producers and distributors need to make sure that people have the information they need to pitch films to their friends.
Once you start with your premise, you can tell the story of who the protagonist is, the world that they start off in, the antagonist they face: the first act. Then you explain how all these elements are resolved: the third act. Then you ask if there are any questions. They’ll ask for more set pieces that the premise promises. I think that’s how it works.
The thing about shorts is that you can have more mystery about the big event. The surprise of the big event will be one of the more memorable moments of your short. This is partially due to lack of any marketing you are able to do for shorts. As there are so few elements you can fit into a short, you can only give away the character and setting. These should be interesting enough for people to choose your short over another at a film festival. Alien: ‘The story of a woman crewmember whose deep space ship crew is woken by a mysterious signal from a seemingly dead planet.’ The Truman Show: ‘A conventional man starts to suspect that there is something very strange about everyone in his ‘ideal’ community.’
That’s why it is a popular idea to make a short film that acts as the first act in a proposed feature.