I’ve been writing paid pitches for agents and production company execs for both feature film screenplays and TV drama shows through the auspices of a terrific site — Stage32.com — for entertainment industry creatives. I choose to whom of the possible entertainment people hosting a pitch session I submit my written paid pitch and within a short time after the actual pitch date I get written feedback.
And herein lies my frustration:
The pitch can only be two pages long, which seems a reasonable length. But the critiques I have been getting continually say that the pitch does not sufficiently develop the dystopian world of 2049 (for feature film screenplay THE MOTHER SIEGE) or 2029 (for TV drama script UPHEAVAL when everything changes in a moment).
And after getting this feedback regularly, I realized sci fi pitches that need to set up a unique world are at a great disadvantage in a two-page pitch limit.
Think about this: If you’re pitching a modern-day story, the world is known. You can get to the protagonist, his/her want, and the obstacles very quickly in a pitch.
Or, if you’re pitching an historical story, that world is known too, although there may be a few specific historical points that need clarifying in a pitch.
Yet in a sci fi story the whole world has to be explained before the protagonist, his/her want, and the obstacles of that want can be made clear. Oops — you’re out of your two-page limit.
Here is one partial feedback comment from an agent that I got on THE MOTHER SIEGE pitch:
When creating a story like THE MOTHER SIEGE, it is extremely important to make sure the world and the rules of that world are completely fleshed out in the pitch.
And another partial comment from a production company exec on THE MOTHER SIEGE pitch:
You should never start a pitch with “this is trilogy” because you know the protagonist will thus survive so there isn’t any risk. Give a little more info about the world’s style too to set it apart from every other dystopia.
A partial UPHEAVAL pitch comment from an agent:
I would recommend creating a section (before the pilot synopsis) talking about this world and what it was like before Global Corp makes its takeover. How does a corporation have so much power to achieve takeover?
Another UPHEAVAL pitch comment from an agent:
I do not understand the logistics of taking all of the land mass west of the Mississippi. Does that mean there is barrier around the entire perimeter? That seems impossible from a technological perspective. It is a major plot point from which all the rules of the universe are set, so it is critical that is fully fleshed out to ensure consistency going forward.
As a writer this feedback is so frustrating because a) this is sci fi with all the tropes that this implies; b) I have discovered a real-world source for my imagined technological takeover; 3) global corporations do have tremendous power.
And if these four critiquers had read even the beginning of each script rather than the pitch, all these questions would have been answered. Which is why two-page pitches rather than the first five pages of a screenplay are so unrepresentative of sci fi stories!
In conclusion, I received the four emails with these passes all on the same day. Yet on that day I also received a lovely comment from someone who read THE MOTHER SIEGE story (from which the screenplay is adapted) on Wattpad:
I really enjoyed The Mother Siege and hope the sequels you have in mind come to fruition. I love dystopian/apocalyptic novels, and as a mom of 3 myself often consider what I would have to do to ensure my girls safety in a world of new rules. This is the first dystopian novel I’ve read that the leading character has the same mindset that I’d have in the given situation and I hope to be able to follow Natalie and the crew’s story later on.
Bottom line: The story of THE MOTHER SIEGE in 2049 came to me in a dream and I’m going to keep on trucking to get this story out. Then THE UPHEAVAL in 2029 naturally followed in order to answer more of the questions about how this world of THE MOTHER SIEGE came about.
And meanwhile, while I love Stage 32 making opportunities available for screenwriters to pitch their projects to entertainment industry professionals, I would like to see a three-page limit for sci fi stories. That extra page could go a long way to effectively setting up an alien/dystopian world and its rules.
© 2016 Miller Mosaic LLC
Phyllis Zimbler Miller (@ZimblerMiller) has an M.B.A. from The Wharton School and is the author of fiction and nonfiction books/ebooks. Phyllis is available by skype for book group discussions and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Her Kindle fiction ebooks may be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszimblermiller — and her Kindle nonfiction ebooks may also be read for free with a Kindle Unlimited monthly subscription — see www.amazon.com/author/phylliszmiller