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3 Amazing Pitching Tips from Sci-Fi & Fantasy Directors, Writers, and Producers

by Ken Miyamoto on March 2, 2022

What pitching advice can major Sci-Fi and Fantasy directors, writers, and producers offer screenwriters?

Science Fiction and Fantasy are two genres that can be difficult to pitch for some screenwriters. Both have a niche audience, as well as a more specific type of collection of buyers. But when the pitch is right, and the stories and characters offer a unique and genre-bending take, that niche audience and those types of buyers will come to the table hungry.

SyFy Wire sat down with some of the biggest names in Hollywood's Sci-Fi and Fantasy realm, including Guillermo del Toro, Travis Beacham, and Jeremy Slater, to chat about how they successfully pitched their films and TV series.

Let's go over their advice to see if there are any pitching lessons you can use in your own screenwriting journey.

Get Caught Up in the Tale of Your Pitch

Del Toro knows a thing or two about both science fiction and fantasy genres. Del Toro is one of the greatest genre auteurs of all time. He's dabbled in science fiction and fantasy with the original two Hellboy movies, the mind-bending fantasy Pan’s Labyrinth, and the science fiction classic Pacific Rim. In 2017, he won four Oscars for The Shape of Water, including Best Picture and Best Director (with a record-breaking thirteen nominations).

Here's an amazing pitching tip that he shared:

"I find that there is one secret and one secret only to pitching, and it's exactly the same advice you get when you fail rather than when you succeed at pitching. I find that I never, ever, ever think of the people listening. I pitch to get excited myself. I find that if in the pitch, I get excited and enthusiastic, I start adding details, and I get really caught on the tale."

This advice is one of the best we've come across on the subject of pitching.

Normally screenwriters overthink their pitch.

  • They over-prepare.
  • They over-rehearse.
  • They think about how their pitch will sound to those they are pitching to.

Del Toro's tip is outstanding. If you focus less on the people you are pitching listening to you and get more caught up in the tale you are trying to tell, the excitement and enthusiasm generated from that will push your nerves aside.

He adds:

"I have now for 20-something years pitched successfully and unsuccessfully, and what I've learned is that the only time it comes alive is if I am completely caught up."

Focus less on the people you are pitching to and more on telling a tale that is so good, you get yourself excited and lost in it. That will transfer to those in the same room or on the same Zoom call.

Focus on How the Concept Affects Your Characters

Travis Beacham is the writer of Del Toro's Pacific Rim and the Amazon series Carnival Row creator.

He points out an amazing aspect of pitching that seems counter-intuitive.

Normally you'll hear that concept is everything in Hollywood for features. But when it comes to science fiction and fantasy, you need a little extra because the genres often dabble in the same concept sandbox.

  • Time travel, space travel, and tech for Science Fiction.
  • Otherworldy creatures and realms for Fantasy.

So you have to shift the focus from the familiar genre concepts and tropes to focusing on the characters and their journeys within those genre concepts.

"Pacific Rim's a good example of this because, for a long time, I wanted to make some sort of giant robot, giant monster thing. But you can't go in and be like, 'Hey, I want to do something with [a] giant monster,' because [they'll say], 'You and everybody else, what are you bringing to it?'"

Beacham went back to the drawing board and tried to find a unique angle to the characters within that concept. His solution was game-changing for the screenplay. Most mecha battle robots have single pilots. When Beacham decided that his script's warrior robots required two pilots to control the mecha robots — both of which must be "drift compatible" — the story went from a standard sci-fi pitch to a script about two characters dealing with their differences to save the human race.

"Whether you're a fan of monsters or robots or this or that or whatever, everyone's a human being," he says. "As long as you're talking about character, you have the universal skeleton key."

In Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres especially, you need to make sure that you connect with the audience through the characters. Otherwise, it's just another tail of time travel, space travel, tech, otherworldly creatures, or fantasy realms.

Alleviate Executive Boredom by Being Loose and Flexible

Jeremy Slater is an executive producer and writer on Netflix's The Umbrella Academy.

He shares some key insights on what goes through the minds of the executives that take pitches.

"My attitude changed when I realized that most executives hate hearing pitches just as much as we hate giving them. It's stressful to sit there and politely feign enthusiasm as some flustered writer stammers his way through a boring, unfocused speech. It sucks hearing from ten hopeful candidates and knowing you're going to have to crush nine of their dreams."

Most screenwriters don't think about the mindset of development executives that take pitches. It helps to put yourself in their shoes and understand that they take multiple pitches every single workday. If you can alleviate them from the boredom they likely experience in most of the pitches they take, you'll stand out.

"Anything you can do as a writer to alleviate that boredom and awkwardness goes a long way toward earning friends in this town," Slater says. "The looser and more relaxed your pitch, the better. I start most of my pitches by telling them I want the next 30 minutes to be as informal as possible and encouraging them to interrupt me with ideas or questions at any time. My goal is to turn the meeting from a presentation into a conversation. I want to show them that I'm flexible and I can think on my feet and that I'm happy to incorporate a (good) note into my pitch without getting precious or defensive."

There is no single answer as to how you can accomplish this. The key is to find your comfort zone and do everything you can to make them comfortable but invested, engaged, and compelled.

  • Be loose and flexible in your pitch.
  • Make it more of a discussion than a presentation.
  • Know your story and characters inside and out
  • Encourage notes and a two-way conversation.

When you accomplish that in your pitch, you're also selling yourself and what it's like to work with you.

Remember that pitching isn't just about the screenplay. It's also about you and whether or not you're going to be a collaborator that they are ready, willing, and able to work with.

Conclusion

These three pitching tips can work for any genre that you're pitching.

  • Get caught up in your own tale to increase excitement and enthusiasm that will calm your nerves and better your pitch.
  • Focus less on the concept, and more about how that concept affects your protagonists.
  • Instead of an overplanned and overprepared presentation, make the pitch a collaborative conversation.

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, and the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed starring Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Wesley Truman Daniel, Mickey O’Sullivan, John Victor Allen, and James Errico. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies


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