As you know, I have been taking Brent Forrester’s TV Comedy Course. It’s now week two and we are talking about pitching. Brent reminds us that we need to be analytical and take comedy seriously. He tries to give us the most concrete process possible. Writing a script is really hard, but each step in the process is not as difficult.
Pitching is about telling the story, out loud to others as many times as you can. The act of saying the story out loud as a pitch will help you understand what is working, what doesn’t work, and what gets a reaction. The story does not have to include comedy at this phase. There are plenty of opportunities to punch up the story. A “Goldilocks” is a written down form of the story. If you are writing a new comedy pilot, first pitch the show’s story by setting up the world and the main characters, then pitch the pilot episode’s story. A new comedy pilot pitch to a network should also include a deck of photos, characters, and visual elements to help establish this world that you are creating and inspire how you are going to make this a series. Spec writers can focus on the episode’s story since it is set in a known world. Be animated during your pitch. You are telling a story, act it out a bit.
Elements of a Story
Story is generally about two people: one with a goal and the other with opposition to the other. There are five keywords to help develop a story.
- Goals – Something that a character wants to do. Need goals to create a story. Clear goals work the best.
- Stakes – To build empathy with the characters, you need to have stakes. Think about how high the stakes can go. Raise the stakes.
- Conflict – Establish conflict between your characters. A story is a conflict between the two main characters and the B story is just another conflict between two secondary characters.
- Escalation – Layer onto the premise multiple times.
- Ending – Twist the audience’s expectations and resolve the conflict.
A half-hour comedy episode has multiple escalations played out as act breaks whereas a comedy sketch is compressed starting with a premise, at least two escalations, and a twist.
- Name your main character and use that name in your pitch. Have a few things to say about the character.
- Tell us about the world they are in.
- Find something you like about someone else’s pitch and reflect it back. This makes you a great pitch partner.
- You are writing for performers. Write what they love to perform. Make the contractions “performable”.