View Full Version : How much story to outline for a pitch

09-19-2012, 11:38 PM
How much of the story do you need to outline before going into a pitch for a production company that say wants to take your idea to Disney?

I recently have been getting general meetings from a spec I wrote, but haven't sold yet. In one of those meetings I brought up an idea, the exec flipped for it, wants more, said they would like to see it beated out because their approach to pitching is very "logical" and they would like to work things out before going to the studio.

I'm fine with doing some heavy lifting in order to prepare for a pitch, but my problem is that my script often ends up looking different from the outline. In the outline, the characters are developed (or so I think they are), I know where I'm headed (the big turns usually stay the same-- the catalyst, act breaks, midpoint, finale) but I'm not always sure how I get there until I sit down with the all mighty final draft and write the damn thing. Sometimes the outline feels forced after my characters start their journey, develop more, and I have to adjust. Point is, I'm afraid my beat sheet won't be complete enough and even if it is, it'll change. How do production companies and studios look upon this? How much do I really have to beat out for a pitch?


09-21-2012, 09:13 AM
My experience is that I need to be able to talk continuously for 20-30 minutes, walking somebody through the story. When I've had pitches picked up, it's been in that range.

I think more established pros can go on the short end of that, but maybe I'm wrong and they'll chime in. I felt like I had to give more detail to get them to trust me more, but on the other hand you don't want to drown them in data.

You want to be able to communicate a sense of who the lead is. First act break, midpoint, third act break, resolution. Sketch of a setpiece or two if its an action piece. Enough jokes that they understand what the humor is if its a comedy. And all this needs to come across in a coherent and well-rehearsed story.

The way the business is going, it seems like you may often have to pitch multiple times. They may ask you for more details - but I'd rather give a 20-25 minute pitch where they're asking for more details than a 35-minute pitch where their eyes are starting to glaze over.

One thing though: the way you want to write is not really going to be a option, much of the time, when you're a professional. Particularly on your early gigs, you'll be asked for treatments, and may have extensive story discussions based on those treatments. You'll certainly get notes. "I don't know, I'll figure it out when I write the draft" is the sort of thing you might be able to say when you're working with a producer/development exec who trusts you and you have a long track record, but when you're a baby writer, it's not going to cut it more often than not.

09-22-2012, 12:10 PM
Yes, that is the same for me, although I'm not yet in a situation where it might pose a problem.

I think I'm cut out for writing on spec only, because my finished scripts are always so much better than outlines.

The road itself shows me where to go.

I don't think it's very unique, though. Stephen King supposedly never outlines.

09-22-2012, 08:45 PM
The road itself shows me where to go.

I don't think it's very unique, though. Stephen King supposedly never outlines.

Well, you know when John August and Craig Maizin talk on their podcast about the difference between being a writer and a screenwriter? How one can be about the love of writing but the other is a job ...

This is one of those situations which begs some real consideration of those differences.

Because I think, in practical terms (and understanding the occasional exception), I don't think how Steven King works is particularly relevant for a screenwriter.

Even if you sell a spec, ultimately, a big part of the money you make is on the rewrites that are a part of the sale. And if you develop a reputation as someone who can't deliver on those rewrites because you don't work that way, that's going to impact what you can make on a spec sale. And I don't think anyone primarily makes their living selling specs.

Also I want to point out that we're not talking about things that are really at odds with each other. You can outline AND discover in your first draft.

09-23-2012, 05:37 AM
I know, Ronaldinho. I don't claim that's the way to do it.

It's just that in the process of actual writing appear so many details, hooks, twists and turns that in comparison my outline seems really pale and poor.

09-28-2012, 05:01 PM
Thanks for the replies guys.

You both have valid points. It's a business, so you must get the studio to trust you and that will probably mean taking them through the baby steps of your process. But at the same time, you can't really know your characters until you get them on the page and see how they work with each other, if some traits appear that are completely new, but at the same time would take the story to greater heights. It's a balancing act.

I just wanted to get an idea of how other writers approach this. Thanks again!