Have you ever wondered if, after stumbling upon a really unique and dynamite idea for a screenplay, you could actually pitch it to Hollywood? If so, join the 50 million other writers who were wondering the very same thing. Here's the simple answer: Yes, you can. That is, you can pitch it, but you can't sell it.
Huh? you say. Why is that?
Here's the distinction. You can pitch an unfinished screenplay but can't expect to sell it because you're an unknown talent with an unseen commodity from a writer with a nebulous history. Can you guarantee a producer or director that you can meet deadlines? Deliver on your promises? Sustain a script from opening setting to final scene? Work with other writers to refine your script as called for? Of course not—not by a long shot. Not if you worked from now until doomsday to do so. And I know that to be true because you never would have considered the possibility if it weren't.
In addition to that, you don't know anyone in Hollywood, meaning no one has had any experience working with you; so, no one can attest to your talent, character, morals, and work ethics. Nor can they know how pliable (translation: cooperative) you are to work with.
In effect, your hope to pitch an unfinished screenplay for money is asking a lot of a producer/director from someone with nothing to guarantee in return. That means you're pitching a concept, which is virtually as worthless to Hollywood as pitching a three-page novel synopsis would be to Publisher's Row. Concepts, unfortunately, have no value; they're a dime a dozen. Besides, there are no new ideas under the sun: Everything you can possibly think of has already been thought of by somebody else—and most likely written up and produced as a film. It's not a concept or plot or idea or pitch or whatever you want to call it that makes a story unique and, thus, marketable. It's the completed manuscript, the stylistic way in which you put it all together with all its twists and turns, ins and outs, and ups and downs.
Now, with that said, if what you're wondering is can you pitch a film concept before a screenplay is finished without getting any money up front, the answer gets a little more convoluted. Theoretically, since no-name writers haven't proven their reliability yet, you can pitch a concept without pay before the play is written, although, if you do that, you're expecting (i.e., hoping for) a lot from a producer/director just to keep his interest in your project alive for months if not longer while you finish your "baby." All the while, of course, he has moved on to look over dozens of other writers' projects by then—all completed screenplays.
So, is it doable? Can you pitch a screenplay before it's finished? Absolutely. Is it advisable? Absolutely not. If you're lucky enough to get those twenty seconds of face-to-face time with a Hollywood exec, you'd better be able to follow up quickly and effectively with a completed script if you don't want to become just another screenwriter hopeful who falls by the wayside. If you are fortunate enough to score an audience, you just might stand a remote chance of landing a three-to-six-month option on the production of your script and make a few bucks in the process. But even that puts you a long way from actually selling the completed script and raking in the "big bucks." That eventuality could take a year or longer. Still, you never know unless you try. Until then ...
Smoke if you've got 'em.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new e-Book series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. His blogs appear on his Website at www.djherda.org. You can also check out his columns, "The Author-Ethicist" and "Fury and the Beast," at Substack. They're free; they're entertaining; they're informative, and they run weekly. Well, almost weekly. Occasionally weekly. Sometimes weekly. (Hey, he does his best!)