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Pitching your movie to people can be hard. A studio, a friend, your mom... each of these entities will have different stresses and give you different results. But, what's important in a pitch? And what happens after the pitch? How do you get your movie ready to film? In this episode of Crash Course Film Production, Lily Gladstone gives us some advice on both.

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 Intro (0:00)

So you want to make a movie? Let's say you've already written a screenplay you want to shoot, or found a story you'd like to adapt. Or maybe you just have an idea that you think would make a good film. 

What's next?

There are a few steps you should take to sharpen your idea and get all the pieces into place to make production go as smoothly as possible. Most filmmakers go through this process one way or another, whether you're making a big-time studio blockbuster or a no-budget indie with your friends. 

It all begins with an awesome pitch.

[Opening music]

  What is a Pitch? (0:38)

A pitch is a brief, verbal description of a project you'd like to make. It's supposed to be persuasive: you're trying to get people excited about your idea, usually because you need their help. 

We pitch things all the time. Kids try to persuade their parents to buy them a dog or a car. Employees make a case to get a promotion or a raise. And people try to convince their friends to see the new Superman movie. 

But in addition to getting people on board with your project, a pitch can be a great way to help you figure out if your story works in the first place. 

Is this concept compelling? Is the climax satisfying? Do the characters feel real and three-dimensional? By gauging someone's response, you might decide to alter the plot, or re-think the entire film. 

And you can pitch an idea to just about anyone! The late screenwriter, author, and educator Blake Snyder suggested telling your film idea to as many strangers as possible - bank tellers, Uber drivers, the person waiting in line behind you at the grocery store. He believed that you'd get a more honest reaction by pitching your story to someone you don't know.

Your mom might love whatever you tell her. The woman sitting next to you on the plane? No so much.

On the other hand, sometimes you might need a little encouragement. And even if your parents and friends don't give you honest and critical feedback, the act of telling your story out loud can help you understand it better. A lot of filmmakers even pitch their movie ideas to themselves: in the shower, in the car, or pacing around a room while talking to their cat.

Bottom line is, stories get better the more you tell them. You can identify the pieces that work and figure out weaknesses before you start producing anything.

On the practical side, a pitch can get you thinking about the resources you'll need to bring your story to the screen, and to help get your film made. Screenwriters might pitch an idea to a producer or a studio executive, in hopes that person will pay them to write the script. Directors might pitch a project to a studio or an investor to raise money to shoot it. And filmmakers often pitch their movies to well-known actors, hoping to persuade them to star in the film.

Developing a pitch can also help you ballpark your film's budget. Not just in terms of money, but also how much time it will take, how big a crew you'll 
need and what sort of special effects or extra equipment you'll require. 

 Creating a Pitch (2:25)

So how do you craft a movie pitch? Well, there's not a single formula, but there are a few ingredients that most good pitches have. 

First of all, you should deliver your pitch with excitement and confidence. You want your passion for your movie to be infectious, and you want whoever's listening to it to believe you can pull it off. 

Second, you might compare your film to other successful movies that explore similar worlds or have similar tones. We call these comparisons, or comps for short. Like, you might pitch The Martian as Cast Away on Mars. Or maybe The Edge of Tomorrow as Groundhog Day by way of Independence Day.  

Comps aren't meant to limit your story or make it seem like a copy of something else. The goal is to convey the scope, genre, and tone of your film. 

Another thing most pitches include is a logline. This is a one-sentence summary of your movie that includes the genre, a description of the protagonist, and a concise outline of the plot. The logline for Jaws, for instance, might go something like this: When a killer shark starts eating members of a tourist beach town, the new chief of police must overcome his fear of the water to save his community. 

Next, your pitch should include some information about the characters and story. This isn't a painstaking scene-by-scene description - just the main plot points, key character moments, and enough of the emotional arc to communicate why the story matters. 

Some pitches can include visual aids: posters, photographs, or even pre-designed trailers. These work best when the film is set in another time or place, like fantasy or science-fiction movies that need a lot of world-building. 

Your pitch could also suggest some casting ideas. Would Reese Witherspoon be great for your satirical comedy? Is your gritty noir perfect for a brooding Idris Elba type? Even if you don't expect to have A-list actors in your film, it can give your listener a clearer idea of what the movie will look and feel like. Plus, you never know. Lucy Liu might be their second cousin! 

Finally, the pitch should tell us who you think will watch the film. How big is the potential audience? What kind of resources will you need to market and distribute it? Is it a short film that you hope to screen at film festivals, or a blockbuster that will open in two thousand theaters? 

Preparing a pitch that covers all these points can improve your chances of getting your movie made, while also making the story clearer and stronger. 

  Pre-Production (4:16)

Now, let's say you've honed your pitch, written your script, and collected all the resources you need to make the film. Next, you have to get ready to shoot it. We call this part of the process pre-production. It's the unglamorous work of making all the creative decisions and logistical plans you can before the cameras start to roll. 

Depending on the size and scale of your film, there are hundreds or even thousands of choices to make.

During pre-production, you'll cast your film. Whether you're convincing family and friends to act for you, or working with a casting director and watching audition tapes, you'll need a person to play every character. That includes lead actors, supporting actors, and background actors to be extras - pedestrians on the street, diners at a restaurant, or fans at a baseball game. 

You'll also need to assemble your crew. These are the artists, technicians, and craftspeople who will physically make the movie, from a cinematographer to oversee the camera department to an assistant director to make sure you're staying on schedule and on budget. 

There are a ton of people that can be a part of a the crew, and we'll talk about those roles in more detail in later episodes. And besides assembling a dream team of people, you'll also need to establish the look of the film. You have to figure out things like the color scheme, the lighting plan, and when it takes place.

To tell your story, will you need unique props or costumes? Are there special effects involved, and how do you need to plan for those during the actual shoot? You'll also need to find and secure all of your locations during pre-production - whether you need to build futuristic spaceship sets, or if you can just shoot in your mom's basement. 

And that's only a fraction of the questions you should be considering: Does your lead actor need a dialect coach to learn a Dutch accent? Do you need a stunt coordinator to plan your big action sequence? How many sandwiches will you need to order on day three to feed your cast and crew? 

Pre-production can be an exhausting process, but also an exhilarating one. Even though you haven't shot a single frame yet, you're already making your movie! And one of your biggest assets while making all these decisions is that screenplay you've polished to perfection.

Either you or your line producer will do a breakdown of the script. This is essentially a big list of every character, location, prop, costume, vehicle, and any special needs of your film. If you're doing this on your own, a handy trick is to take a highlighter and mark every single noun in your script. That way, you can make sure you've accounted for all the things you need to gather to make your film, no matter how incidental they may be.

Once you have this breakdown, you can figure out the film's shooting schedule, which details what scenes you're going to film and when. Like, let's say you're making a movie based on the board game Clue. Armed with the breakdown and shooting schedule, you'll known things like: on day five, you're going to be shooting Scene 14. 

You should plan out when and where the cast and crew are expected to arrive on set, down to details like meal breaks and transportation times. You'll need most of your leading actors: Colonel Mustard, Mrs. Peacock, Mrs. White, and Mr. Boddy. 

You'll need your actors to be fully costumed, and you'll also need some props: a candlestick, a lead pipe, and a knife. You'll need some fake blood too, because this is the scene where Mr. Boddy's been stabbed. And it all takes place in the "study" location, so that needs to be ready to go too. 

Now, all this information will be compiled into a call sheet. This is a document given to every member of the cast and crew before the next shooting day, so they have everything they need to get prepared to work. Call sheets also include a weather forecast for each location, times for sunrise and sunset, the addresses of nearby emergency services, and maps from the set to things like the hair and makeup trailer or the restrooms. 

Finally, call sheets have contact information for nearly everybody in the crew. This comprehensive document is a culmination of all the work of pre-production. Armed with it, you're finally ready to get down to business and make your movie! 

  Review and Credits (7:33)

Today, we talked about what goes into a movie pitch and who you might share want to it with. We learned the basic steps of pre-production from assembling your crew to building your schedule, to the best set you up to start making your film. And next time, we'll visit the set and explore what the crew actually does once the cameras start rolling. 

Crash Course Film Production is produced in association with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel to check out a playlist of their latest amazing shows, like PBS Idea Channel, Indy America, and Gross Science. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in the Doctor Cheryl C. Kinney Crash Course Studio with the help of these nice people and our amazing graphics team is Thought Cafe. 

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