So, I just sent out my latest pitch document.
There’s a lot to say about pitching to begin with, but for now I’d thought I’d write a brief post about some of the process I undertook to write this latest pitch doc. Or pitch doc one.
First off, this TV pitch document had to be condensed down to four pages—so no lengthy bible-length talk about a ten-season-deep mythology.
Instead, I narrowed it down to what a TV pilot pitch document is in its purest form:
A sales letter.
Sales letter? Heresy!
Think about it.
A compelling and successful pitch document — or at the very least its first introductory page — will mimic the structure of a compelling and successful sales page.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, you can boil down any classic sales-page structure in three parts:
1 – POSE THE QUESTION (“Do you need directions?”)
2 – EXPOSE THE PROBLEM (“Usually you get lost around town…”)
3 – OFFER THE SOLUTION (“Here’s a shiny map and its features.”)
Or in pitch doc terms:
1 – POSE THE STORY’S QUESTION(S)
2 – EXPOSE THE STORY’S PROBLEM(S) (PROBLEMATICS/THEMATICS)
3 – OFFER THE STORY
Again, this may sound like oversimplification at its finest—and it is—but at the end of the day, you’re still trying to sell your story (or show).
What I’m talking about here is only the basic start of how you should think about selling a story.
Then, there’s some—a lot of work on how to frame your document.
Initially, I loosely based the format of my first pages off an actual “in-person” 20-minute pitch format, in the vein of what Wonderfall‘s Bryan Fuller exemplified in one of his interviews:
THE TEASER – Pitch out a tease that grabs your audience, that is visual, gives a sense of the world, tone and set up of our show.
THE WORLD – After you have grabbed our listener, tell us what the world is and why you want to do a show about it.
THE CHARACTERS – Outline our characters in order of importance, allowing what makes each one distinct to shine through (quirks, traits, backstory). Also discuss character dynamics, how each character relates to each other and what their point of views are about each other. Tell us about triangles, rivals, love interests, etc.
THE PILOT – Broad stroke the rest of the pilot. Do not go beat by beat or act by act. This should really just be broad strokes and any key plot points which helps establish character and set up. Also your pilot needs to serve as an example of what a typical episode would look like (i.e. an example of a closed ended story and examples of character conflicts.)
THE SERIES – Discuss what an episode of your show looks like, where you want to go in series, potential storylines and character arcs and entanglements.
THE TONE – You want to make sure you have clearly established the tone of your show and may want to hit it again in the wrap up at the end. It is often helpful to use shows that people are familiar with.
You’ll note that, overall, we’re still sticking with the three-part structure.
The tease grabs the audience by asking a compelling question; either directly or through a unique opener.
The world portion exposes on a macro-level the questions and themes you’ll be exploring.
Everything else is an extension of offering your story, both on a micro and macro level.
Reminding myself of a classic “in-person” pitch structure allowed me to bridge the gap between theory (i.e. themes or what I want to achieve with the show) and concrete examples of said show (i.e. pilot elements, characters). Merging within paragraphs and specific sections clear illustrations of both what I wanted the show to achieve, and how I was achieving it.
I also rerereread The Wire pitch document, which was much more about the concept of the show condensed in literally a couple pages. Perfect example since I only had two pages to work with (plus a couple more for characters).
For a more recent show, I took lessons from Manhattan‘s pitch doc, which happens to be much closer in period to the series I’ve been working on.
Both were very useful when it came to wording, and overall pacing of the document. In other words, finessing the piece.
Writing a TV pitch document is a very interesting exercise. It’s a great way to clarify—even just for yourself—everything from your show, your characters, your pilot, and your story.
In fact, I’d even recommend STARTING OUT by writing a page or two to see what might be missing.
Once the dust settles, I’ll probably talk more in depth about this whole pitch doc process. In the meantime, I hope this post was useful enough to get you working on your own TV writing.