Solving the Puzzle
This year’s Great American Pitchfest was terrific. The gathering out at the Marriott Burbank sponsored by Signe Olynyk and her fabulous team was even better than last year, and despite the heat — or maybe because of it — it was a sizzling success.
And I loved, loved, loved the time I had meeting with all the writers in attendance.
I had a packed house for my speech on Saturday morning and I want to thank all of you who were so kind in your enthusiasm. We had a lot of fun! And we got down to business too! What a fantastic time!
I got to test out some new theories on how to “turn out” your movie idea, how to find the “grabber” of it — and by doing so not just have a better pitch but a better story! And the enthusiastic response from all the writers I met with afterward only reinforced my confidence that I am on the right track.
Storytelling gets simpler the more you exercise your skills, that’s the good news. When I hear a pitch — and hear a problem in it — the fix is usually easy. There are basic things that misfire, and those are usually just a matter of adjustment. But the hurdle is what it’s always been for creative people. Can you let go of your preconceived notion of what it is, and hear what listeners are telling you? And if you keep getting the same rejection over and over, can you huddle in your creative place and come back out with the solution?
This, to me, is what it’s all about. Story is a puzzle. And getting all the pieces to fit just right is not just a good sales tool, it’s the point of the job. The challenge also has to be fun!
Here are some things found in the pitches that don’t work:
– An idea that’s a gimmick, not a story
– A hero with no goal and no obstacle in the way
– Concepts that are too simple, or flat when you hear them and…
– Confusion of ideas. Like I said in my talk, a confusing idea is like a Chicken Omlette; you can’t quite put your finger on exactly what’s wrong — but there’s something about the concept that just isn’t right!
Mostly, I thank one and all for your love and support. I genuinely felt welcomed by every person in the room Saturday, and whatever your reason for being there, God bless you! I wish you all real success in the world and think about you every day hoping today will be the breakthrough that changes your lives!
Yes, even you.
Have a great writing week everyone, and thanks again to all my new friends I met this year at Pitchfest. Hope to see you all again soon!
- Dean Hyers & Bill True
Blake: missed meeting you at the pitchfest (we were speaking in the other room during your talk). Wanted to introduce ourselves as a director and a screenwriter, but heck, now I gotta introduce myself as your new Marketing Department! We steered at least 30 people to buy your book when we were taking pitches and in our coaching sessions (I coach people using the director’s skill set to develop “stage presence” when they pitch and Bill helps them get the kinks out of their story).
SO WHY ARE WE PUSHING YOUR BOOK SO HARD? Because it’s the BEST BOOK to prepare for a pitch. WE USED YOUR BOOK TO DESIGN A PITCH to a film company the day before the pitch fest, and IT WORKED BRILLIANTLY. We walked in, aced the log-line, and got asked back to pitch the higher tier. People ask how we pitched so well, and our answer is “WE BLAKE SNYDERED OUR PITCH and SAVED OUR OWN CAT!”
Thanks, Dean and Bill of SagePresence.com
Yeah, sometimes the thing that I find the most challenging, is I come up with a “gimmick” that I think is really cool and fresh, but there’s really no story behind it. Or I try and force a story to fit with the gimmick. It’s hard, because sometimes it sounds so great, you really want to do something with it
I’d love to see some examples from the community here of movies that were produced because of the gimmick, but had no story to give it legs. I’m wondering if the new Eddie Murphy vehicle (wink wink) “Meet Dave” will be like that. The trailer seemed funny, but there didn’t seem to be anything else to it…
Now, back to my Chicken Omelet.
I always feel so inspired when I read you blogs, Blake!
Here’s a problem I have most of the time. If anyone can help I’d really appreciate it!
I start out great when writing a script/story. I have confidence in the idea, I trust that my characters are solid (I usually think as I write so that the characters create themselves without being monotone or too eccentric), but at a certain point (about halfway through a story/script) I lose all faith in it. I lose faith in the whole story and I am stricken with the painful writers block…sometimes for weeks on end.
I’m starting college in August. I’m going to Columbia College in Chicago for Screenwriting! But I’m afraid this problem will carry me to college and I won’t do well when I am given an assignement with a dealine.
SOMEONE PLEASE HELP ME! =/
Shannon, in my personal experience this is a very common phenomenon. One of the most common reasons is that the more time you spend on a project, the more it loses its initial appeal. It’s not fresh and exciting anymore. I’ve put scripts aside, thinking they were no good, and then re-discovering them months (sometimes years!) after, and discovering that it’s actually pretty good! Sometimes you just have to have faith in your abilities. Keep going and just get it finished. Put it aside. Come back maybe a few weeks later and look at it with fresh eyes.
Also, if you don’t outline before you begin (Blake’s Beats are great for this), many times you’ll run out of steam half-way through because you just run out of ideas. Or the characters are not going anywhere, because you haven’t really been clear in your mind where they’re going to go.
I know for me, the only way to keep it exciting, is it get yourself excited about it. Keep focused on what made you want to write the project in the first place. Put yourself in the audience, watching your movie. If you get stuck, ask yourself: “wouldn’t it be really cool if all of a sudden THIS happened?” Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. There’s always that backspace button. Like a kid in a sandbox, don’t be afraid to experiment. That ugly castle make look imposing at times, but it’s just sand. Knock it down and start again.
If you’re having fun with it, it will come across on the page. And the more fun you have, the more you’ll want to continue writing.
Ditto to the outline comment. Every time I’ve started a script without a fleshed out outline, I’ve done exactly what you describe. It’s because I don’t know where I’m going and end up losing enthusiasm for the reason I began the journey in the first place. Try Blake’s 15 beats, and then try giving it the full Snyder treatment of filling out the entire 40 scene cards. For me, it’s a map that prevents me from getting lost and, more importantly, from getting frustrated. Almost everyone in Los Angeles has one or more partially finished scripts. It’s finishing that can separate you from the rest, and it’s a whole lot easier when you have a guideline.
- Jeff Paterson
Love the chicken omelet line line, lol
Question for the vets and/or Blake: How do you know when a story is too puffy?
- Scott W
Blake’s: It’s like I came to you with a dream of a chair, and after I described it to you, you pointed out that my “dream chair” only had two legs; even better, you helped me see what the other two legs could look like and how to install them. You said I could stay with my initial vision and make the two-legged chair and struggle to find a cult following of people who liked sitting in two-legged chairs… or I could expand my vision and create a chair that most people could sit in comfortably. After all, that’s what I would expect from a chair. Thanks again.
Shanelaporte and Robert — THANK YOU SO MUCH!!!! I really needed that! I have a great idea and the first thing I will do is make an outline
….Here’s a tiny set back…I don’t know what ‘The 15 Beats’ are because I have yet to get any of Blake’s books.
PLEASE DO NOT STONE ME LIKE IN THE OLDEN DAYS!!
I have WILL buy the books I’ve just been writing a lot. I WILL PICK UP THE BOOKS BEFORE I GO TO COLLEGE!! But i have great confidence in writing my story which in turn, i will make into a script while at college. THANK YOU AGAIN!! YOU COULDN’T HAVE BEEN MORE HELPFUL!!
I’m going to Columbia College in Chicago and apparently it’s one of the best 10 film schools in the U.S. and I couldn’t be more excited!! Hope it helps me!
Congratulations, Shannon!! I hope everyone in school speaks Cat! I put the offer out there to you and to any college film student or professor that if you’d like me to make an in-class appearance via speaker phone, I would be happy to spend time talking about my method, a movie you’re studying in class, or any story topic you wish. To set up a time with us, simply email Rich Kaplan at [email protected] and we will happily arrange this. Go get ’em Shannon!
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I had a great time at the pitchfest. I must say that your class was the most fun and informative.
You signed my Save The Cat book right before class which was the highlight of my day. You wished
me luck and it must of worked. Two producers and a agency requested copies of my script. Blake
you are a true gem in this business. I hope you’re at the next pitchfest I go to.