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Questions Every Producer Has About Your Screenplay

Sep 7, 2007
You've finally gotten up the nerve to attend a "pitch-fest." Now, you're there, standing in line, waiting your turn to pitch your screenplay and in about 30 seconds, you'll be face-to-face with a representative from a major production company.

Your turn. You've got 5 minutes to pitch someone who can make the miracle happen.

You introduce yourself and find out that you're sitting across from the Director of Development. Excellent! Now, before you start pitching her, there's one thing you really need to know...

What questions are on her mind as she listens to your pitch?

What! But you're there to pitch. Why are her questions so important?

Here's why. Much of a production company's success depends upon their selection of projects. From day-one, a new employee is trained on the criteria for project selection. Every day, they pitch projects to their bosses and are constantly coached on whether or not they made the right choice.

That means your pitch will be viewed through that criteria. So, the more you understand about what matters to a production company exec, the better your chances of getting in the door.

So here's a few of the unspoken questions that will be running through their mind as you talk.

A. Is the concept marketable?

Any Hollywood production company is constantly concerned with how well their movies do at the box office. A big portion of whether a movie succeeds comes from the concept. Great concept = easier marketing.

Of course, other factors fit in. Some of those are addressed in the questions below. But if the concept isn't marketable, it is very hard to justify any further action. So this is usually the first question on their mind.

B. Does the story fit our market?

The majority of production companies have very specific markets they work in: feature, TV movie or mini-series, animated kids TV, straight-to-DVD, etc.

In their specific market, they may specialize in one or two sub- markets. In children's animated TV, one company may work exclusively with pre-school and another may work with the 5 - 10 year-old market. Inside that, one company may focus only on boys shows and another on girls.

Also, they may have budget restrictions. Anyway, the point is this, they're all listening to your story to see if it fits their market.

C. Does this story inspire me to spend two years making the movie?

This is a personal thing. Do they fall in love with the story? This has become more important as it has become so hard to make a movie. I've heard many producers say "If I'm going to die for a movie, it had better be one I love."

D. Can I justify why I believe this project will make money?

Yes, that's right. Money plays a big part in the decision to make a movie. When $5 million to $100 million go into making a movie, you can bet that there's going to be a lot of people justifying the decision. Here's a small list of who may have to justify your project...

- An assistant has to justify it to the producer.
- The producer justifies it to the Studio executive.
- The Studio executive justifies it to the Senior VP.
- The Senior VP justifies it to the CEO.
- The CEO may need to justify it to their Board.

That means anyone listening to your pitch is constantly trying to figure out how they'll justify this decision to the next level up. And if they can't, they pass.

E. Can I use the project to lure talent and financing?

This is another key question. Does this story have a part that will get Tom Cruise or Cameron Diaz or some other A-list actor to sign on? Many times, a bankable actor is the primary requirement to secure financing for a movie. So those lead parts need to be amazing.

F. Am I going to get fired over this project?

I'm not joking. The fear of being fired for making a bad decision is a big thing in this business. Especially at the Studios. Turnover is huge in this business. So a project may be more than a financial risk for your Director of Development, it may be a career risk.

Every producer knows that "You're only as good as your last project," which means that if you make a bad movie, you may not get back in that studio door for many years. So even producers worry about how a "bad project" will affect their future.

Now you know the most common questions they have. So the next time you pitch someone, you'll probably see the wheels turning in their head and suddenly realize exactly what they're thinking. And if that happens, you can provide an answer to their question.

Who knows, knowing their unspoken question may be the key to making the deal. At minimum, you'll feel more comfortable as you pitch and you'll come across as professional. So next time you're preparing to pitch someone, keep these questions in mind and you'll have a better chance at success.
About the Author
Hal Croasmun is a writer/producer and the author of "33 Ways to Break into Hollywood." He publishes the ScriptForSale newsletter with articles about screenwriting and interviews with A-List screenwriters at http://www.ScriptForSale.com
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