Ever heard of an elevator pitch?
I will honestly admit this has never happened to me: I’m in Hollywood, in some fancy-schmancy place, and the elevator doors open. Inside: J.J. Abrams. My heart stops! I have a super sci-fi novel that will make a fantastic movie. Yes, I know this, but how can you convince a man who can create a blockbuster movie in the blink of an eye?
You step in the elevator; your mouth goes dry. What do you say? The doors shut, trapping you with the man. You watch as the floors click by. Precious time is ticking. It’s all or nothing. You have to say something!!
Hence the term “elevator pitch.” Given most elevator rides, you have maybe 30 seconds to get his attention, pique his interest, and make him want more. Okay, how do you do that? This is where all those years of writing will save the day. You must condense a 120 page screenplay, or a 400+ page novel into less than 30 seconds of talking. Oh, and don’t forget to always have business cards on you!
Loglines were developed for just this purpose. It’s Hollywood speak for a very brief (1-2 sentence) synopsis of your project. And it’s the hardest thing for most writers to master. So what’s the key to writing a successful logline? It must be catchy. You’ll have to extrapolate the most important bits of your work into no more than 2 sentences.
There is a Hollywood recognized stock formula for loglines. Here’s an example:
The Hall is a supernatural thriller/horror about Marcus Bishop, a wealthy Memphis book publisher, who wants to buy an old castle-like manor, amidst warnings that the building is haunted.
(Title) is a (genre) about (main character) who, what, where, when, why, (main plot point 1) and (plot point 2) or resolution.
Space Junk is a sci-fi/action adventure about Captain Dar Meltom, a freighter pilot who accidentally ignites an inter-galactic war that threatens his entire species, and changes the Ontarrin Galaxy forever.
Contrary to popular belief, it’s okay to tell the ending of your story if it will give your pitch punch. And be ready to answer questions—this is a GOOD thing! If J.J. likes what he hears, he will ask a question or two. Don’t freak out. Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts (quickly), and give him what he wants.
There are also non-standard loglines, and these can be fun to get an eyebrow raise from your prospective target.
This is my favorite:
If it weren’t for bad luck, space freighter captain, Dar Meltom, would have no luck at all. A load of contaminated fuel ignites a war that not only threatens his entire species, but will change the Ontarrin Galaxy forever.
As you can see, I don’t give the title, or genre, although “space freighter captain” does imply sci-fi. It’s a catchy logline that has served me well.
Most important, don’t fret over it. Take your time and find the points that highlight your story. Don’t get wordy, you don’t have time. K.I.S.S. applies: Keep It Short & Sweet (or Simple or Snappy).
Your goal is when the elevator doors open and J.J. steps onto his floor, you want him to turn and ask if you have a business card. If you’ve gained his interest, you’ve gone a long way in getting noticed in the important circles. Even if your story doesn’t sell, he may keep you in mind for some of your other stories.
30 seconds in an elevator can seem like an eternity if you’re not prepared. Most executives won’t give you much more than that. Make each second count; it could be your only shot. I’ve never been in an elevator with J.J. Abrams (although I wish I could!), but I’ve had to pitch via email and phone to some Hollywood execs. No matter what, it’s a nerve-racking experience, and the more you practice, the better you’ll get.