In the Vulture article “How BoJack Horseman Got Made,” Raphael Bob-Waksberg reveals that he first pitched his new show by simply describing it as “BoJack the Depressed Talking Horse.” And while the show went through rounds of pitching, notes, and revisions before it became the hit Netflix show we know today, this stripped back pitch helped attract industry interest and focus the selling process. Unsurprisingly, creating a pitch, or a way to describe and sell your script or idea to an agent, buyer, or fellow writer, is one of the most important parts of writing a television show or feature. Your pitch is the first impression someone will have of your project, and it’s your first and often only chance to get potential readers excited. They can range from the simple one-line description of a Depressed Talking Horse to an elevator pitch to a full multipage document. Maybe most importantly for the writing process, crafting a pitch can also help you gain some much needed clarity and focus on your project. So whether you’ve already written your script or not, consider these guidelines and examples from the oral history of BoJack Horseman on how to make a successful pitch.
Imagine you find yourself in an elevator with an important Hollywood producer. The producer says you have until the elevator opens to sell them on your project. What do you say? This is your elevator pitch.
An elevator pitch is a quick one-minute description of your project. The idea is that if you can distill your script into a sixty second sell, then you will have a grasp on the strengths and selling points of your script. You need it for those moments in a meeting when someone asks you about your ideas, or when your agent shops your project around town, or even when you casually networking and need to tell someone what you’re working on. As far as length goes, an elevator pitch should be slightly more involved than a logline, probably around three sentences. It should explain your premise, briefly describe the plot, hint at where your story might go, and perhaps set up your connection to the project to show interest. What you don’t want to do in an elevator pitch is spend too long talking about a specific thing or tell the whole story. For example, as owner of the Tornante Company, Michael Eisner, recounts to Vulture, he saw his employee Steven Cohen in the hallway after he met with Raphael Bob-Waksberg. He asked him about the meeting, and, “In a one-minute hallway conversation, I was told three ideas. One of which being: ‘This one is about an animated show about a living ‘person’ who has a body of a man and a head of a horse.’ … I simply said, ‘Yes, let’s do that one.’” This elevator, or hallway pitch, described the premise and was able to pique Eisner’s interest in under a minute.
Will Arnett Voicing Bojack Horseman in Bojack Horseman
When crafting your pitch, there are certain phrases that will help producers or agents understand your project immediately. For example, movies are often either big-budget studio projects like Black Panther, or smaller indie projects like this year’s Eighth Grade. Framing your pitch based on what size you see your project will help someone understand what you’re trying to do—and help you find focus in your writing. Similarly, other commonly used phrases like “broad” (a big and often physical comedy) or “high concept,” (a project with a strong, bold premise) will help frame your story. A good trick is to think about what you’d like your movie or TV poster to look like, and then ask yourself what kind of project that would be. This will help you accurately describe your project, as well as better communicate where you see your script going development-wise. Then, once you get to the production stage, you’ll already have a strong vision for your story.
The next step to creating your pitch is to make a pitch document. This can vary from a couple pages to a 15-page series bible, but in any form it will help you craft a longer pitch. For a TV series, your longer pitch should focus more on your characters and their arcs than the plot of your pilot. In TV, audiences have to tune in for several seasons, so liking the characters and creating personalities that can sustain many years of plotlines is paramount. For a movie, you want to lead with the broad strokes of the plot and then pepper in character arcs and details. In a movie, the plot is likely what the audiences will remember and tune in for, even though characters are also important to making the movie great. In both versions you want to include a logline, premise, plot, character descriptions, and why you’re writing this script now. Often, producers would rather read a pitch for a feature than the full script. Whereas for TV shows, producers will sometimes ask to read a series outline along with a pilot. It’s important to have this in advance so that you’re prepared for any questions or requests that might come along the way.
What you don’t want to be is in Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s situation: “I literally did not know what an outline for an episode of television looked like. So I handed [Tornante], like, this two-page document. Now, a typical outline is ten to fifteen pages. And they looked at it and they were like, “Uh … okay. Um … [laughs]. Yeah, I don’t know … This doesn’t really look like an outline that we’re familiar with.” But I had no experience [laughs]. It was like an outline for an outline.” Luckily, Tornante, the production company, was willing to work with him to create an extensive pitch document that would form the backbone of the first series.
The most nerve wracking and vital part of the process would be the in-person pitch. After your elevator pitch has wooed a producer, they may bring you back to give the full pitch. This is basically an oral version of your pitch document. In roughly 15 minutes, you would be expected to cover the basics – the logline, premise, characters, and broad strokes of the plot. But there are a few key difference. First, try not to tell the full plot of the series or movie, and again, try not to get caught in the minutiae. Second, you’ll want to prepare for questions, and be rehearsed enough in your pitch that you can be interrupted without getting thrown off. You’ll also want to tailor each pitch to whoever you’re pitching to. For example, with BoJack, Raphael Bob-Waksberg says, “With Netflix, I pitched it as a Netflix show. I talked about how serialized it was going to be and how it was gradually going to change over the course of the first season, which is not something I was vocal about on pitches to other networks. Different places got different versions of the pitch.” By that point, Bob-Waksberg had developed the pitch so thoroughly that he had mapped out the entire first season. According to Executive Producer Steven A. Cohen, “Raphael sat at a table with no notes and walked the executives at Netflix through all 12 episodes, for over an hour, in incredible detail.” This was instrumental in the sale and production of the series.
Whether it’s developing an elevator pitch, a pitch document, or a verbal pitch, it’s important to define your hook, world, characters, and arcs thoroughly. Pitching may seem like a distant pipe dream when you’re starting a project, but it can also help you in the writing process. A well-defined pitch can make you see the parts of your story or project with clarity, and can define how you’re going to write. And you never know, you could end up creating the next BoJack Horseman.