5 Tips to Remember When Pitching

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

When your story is finally written and the final FADE TO BLACK has been executed, you need to be ready to pitch your story to someone that is not legally obligated to tell you they like it. It can be a shock to the system when the script that your mother claimed is the greatest story ever told doesn’t hold the attention of the listener you had hoped you would be so captivated.

Pitching a story is its own art form. Even the most finely crafted story can be poorly pitched and fail to gain any interest. So how do you communicate the essence of your story without misleading the listener or painting a picture of every scene you’ve written?

Here are five tips to remember when pitching your story.

1. Don’t keep writing your story while pitching.

It’s not uncommon for brilliance to strike while pitching your story. More than one storyteller has had a great idea in the middle of describing their story to someone else. It can be tempting to incorporate the idea on the fly, veering off track from the script you have available to send someone who might be interested. Without fail, you will immediately be asked for the script and have to fess up or make drastic surgery to your script in a panicked rush. Save yourself the trouble and DO NOT pitch something you have not already executed on the page.

2. Practice, practice, practice.

Looking like you are effortlessly pitching a story without any forethought and actually being able to do it are two WILDLY different skillsets. Most casual pitches that seem off the cuff are actually rehearsed to no end to appear that way. Don’t rely on your improv skills if you know you are going to have the opportunity to present your story to someone who may be interested. Practice until you know your pitch backwards and forwards. That will let you answer unexpected questions and feel improvisational when the opportunity arises.

3. Keep it short and aimed at provoking questions.

One of the most common mistakes newbies make when pitching their material is telling their listener FAR too much about their story. Skilled writers share just enough to arouse curiosity but not so much that the listener becomes bored. This can be a tough balance to strike when you are starting out. Your goal should be to get the listener to engage in your story so deeply they begin imagining it and asking questions that will help them paint the image they are imagining. Craft a five-minute version of your pitch, a two-minute version, a sixty second version, and even a one sentence pitch. The key is to hone these versions of your short pitch in a way that gains you the opportunity to later offer a longer version of the story.

4. Know the genre and/or family of films yours belongs in.

It’s jaw dropping how many writers complete an entire feature-length script without ever thinking about where their story fits in the larger family of films that a listener is already familiar with. Telling someone right away what genre or family of stories yours belongs in gives the listener handles that they will need in order to engage with you and your story. Remember, while you have spent hours and hours in the world of your story and thoroughly understand its nuances, the person you are pitching is coming to your pitch with a blank slate. They literally know NOTHING. Anything you can offer to orient them in your story will help them begin to engage in your pitch and avoid confusion.

5. Relax.

Nerves have robbed more writers of a successful pitch than any other single factor. Letting nerves cause you to speak too quickly, become flustered, or cause you to forget your own material are all experiences that other writers have fallen victim to. Relax. Take three deep breaths before you pitch. Make eye contact. Speak slowly but not unnaturally. Smile and enjoy the reward of getting to share the fruits of your labor with someone else. And remember that the worst possible thing that can happen is that they say no, so you don’t have anything to lose.

~

John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

4 Different Approaches to Pitching

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

Most writers don’t enjoy the luxury of having top talent attached to their project when pitching. We have to rely on other strengths. While there is certain content that every pitch should have, discussed in other articles on this site, writers still must choose where to lean in when pitching. Where you choose to focus your attention can make the difference between a listener who stays engaged and one who immediately checks out. Here are four different approaches to pitching your story, each highlighting a different strategy to consider focusing on.

THE PERSONAL TOUCH

Having a personal connection to the material you are pitching is one of the strongest ways to hold the listener’s interest. This doesn’t mean that the story you are pitching needs to be based on your life. Any sort of connection that explains why you have passion for your project is helpful. If your protagonist is struggling with romance, giving a bit of insight into your own struggles can strike a connection. If your main character is fighting against the system, a connection about your own battles might prove worthy of a mention. And of course, if your character struggles with an illness that you have suffered with as well, be sure to mention that.

Listeners are trying to identify why you are the perfect person to tell this story and understand your insights into its nuances. When Diablo Cody pitched Juno, she used her own life experiences of being a quirky outcast as a connection to the material. What qualities and experiences in your life might make your pitch more personal?

THE PRE-EXISTING INTEREST

Some stories have a bit of built-in interest. Scripts that take place in a particular historical period or around a historical character (that no longer requires life rights) can produce immediate interest in a listener, if that period or character is one he or she is interested in. The same holds true for popular genres and material that bares resemblance to a property that has already proved successful but may be just out of the public’s collective memory.

Few of us will ever have the opportunity to pitch the next Spiderman story, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find material connected to interests that already exist. King Arthur: Legend of the Sword didn’t fare so well at the box office, but it got made because there was a pre-existing interest in the material. Does your story connect to an interest that already has some sort of fan base? If so, it might mean greater chances for your project.

THE HIGH CONCEPT HOOK

Some pitches gain interest for no other reason than that they are simply a good idea that no one has made a film about before. These pitches often begin by asking “what if…?” What if there was a theme park filled with real dinosaurs? What if the man of your dreams became your roommate? What if a farm boy had an opportunity to save the galaxy? All these are examples of how asking “what if…?” can lead to a strong story and a strong pitch.

Fist Fight asked, what if a teacher at your high school challenged another teacher to a brawl? That simple one-sentence pitch brings a chuckle just to read. Our mind races with the possibilities for comedic humor. A great pitch gives the listeners just enough information that they begin writing moments for the story in their own head.

THE UNIVERSAL STORY

Some pitches connect because we can all relate to the underlying story or theme. Universal stories provide a short cut to needing to explain plot intricacies. When a boy struggles to win the approval of his father – we understand. When a woman seeks to find her place in the world without relying on others – we understand. When characters take out on the open road, looking for adventure and meaning – we understand. Connecting your material to a universal desire or need that we all share is one sure way to make sure that a listener has some resonance with your story.

What theme is reinforced in your script? Is that theme as universal to Kabul as it is to Kansas? A pitch for Boss Baby might go something like this: Have you ever felt like someone has come along and undeservedly taken what you had worked so hard for? Have you ever felt like you’re not seen? Tim sure does. His new baby brother is getting all the family’s attention and he needs to find a solution. While we only get a wink at the larger story in this pitch, we can all relate to Tim’s plight. We’ve all been there. That’s the exact feeling we want to create in the listener when they hear our pitch.

~

John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

All the Pitching Materials You’ll Ever Need

pile-of-scripts-for-smc-web-use2-p1030032

by Fin Wheeler

In order to get our scripts placed in the coveted “to read” pile, we need to successfully pitch our script, and to do that we need short documents for each project.

Film

Logline

Must be less than 50 words. Premise. Protagonist. Point of difference. The genre also has to be clear.

Many producers are too busy to judge unsolicited specs by more than a logline, so it’s vital you get it right. There are many services available, such as the LA Screenwriter Logline Competition, to help you nail it.

One Paragraph Synopsis

The three acts of your screenplay’s story, premise, tone, genre and the main characters.

Producers often have an idea of what talent (actors) they’ll be pitching to, so make sure you’re clear about the major roles. This information is important to a producer. Make sure you tailor your pitch to their needs, and that the information you’re providing is an accurate reflection of your script’s content.

If you know you could rewrite a spec of yours to meet the requirements a producer is asking for, rewrite your script and, only after you’ve done the rewrite, submit.

syn

One Page Synopsis

Less than 450 words. If you can set up the premise, the story and the journey of the main characters in even fewer words, all the better. The synopses with the most white space are read first.

Make sure you include how your story ends. Leaving out the ending in an attempt to create intrigue is a rookie mistake. Every producer knows that Act 3 should be seeded in Act 1. They need to know the ending so they can judge your knowledge of story structure.

Funding Application

If you’re submitting to a state or federal film commission or a screenwriting fellowship, you’ll often be asked about target audiences, demographics (the four quadrants – under 25 male, under 25 female, over 25 male, over 25 female), why you’re the best/only person who can write this project and what your personal connection to the material is. Make sure you answer all questions. Remain on topic. Respect the word limit.

Treatment

Treatments aren’t used much anymore, but if the production company you’re pitching to has a fax number on their website, it’s a good indicator that they probably still use treatments, so it’s best to have one prepared.

A treatment is essentially a short story version of your tale relating not just the plot points, but also the tone and style of the work. Some producers like 5 page treatments, others prefer 10-15 pages.

Outline

Your outline is a writer’s document, not a selling document. A reputable producer will never ask to see an outline at the pitching stage.

Pitch Meeting Docs

Pitch meetings aren’t creative meetings. At creative meetings you are expected to take notes and have the relevant hardcopies with you. Pitch meetings are paper-free affairs.

You’re offered a bottle of water, you’re ushered into the room, there’s small talk, you make your pitch. If that goes well, they ask a few questions before you’re graciously ushered out again.

pit

Some screenwriters like to pitch off the cuff. I don’t. We’re screenwriters. Our primary skill is our ability to craft scripts. It makes sense to write yourself a monologue. If you’re told it will be a 15 minute meeting, that means you need to prepare a 3-5 minute pitch. I also prepare clear, concise answers to key questions they’ll ask after the pitch.

[Read 10 Tips for Taking a Hollywood Meeting]

There are two benefits to doing all this written prep. (1) Even if you’re nervous and your mind goes blank, you’ll reel off  the perfect response automatically. (2) You can’t copyright an idea, only the written expression of an idea. If you have a script of your pitch, and later on someone mis-remembers who came up with what ideas and when, you are able to offer written clarification.

It’s a good idea to practice your pitch over and over in front of a full-length mirror. You want them to focus on your content, not to be distracted by random gestures and facial expressions.

Pitching for Adaptations/Rewrites

As above, if you’re short-listed you’re expected to verbally pitch your take on the material in person, or via phone/skype.

Writing yourself a script helps keep track of which ideas you brought to the table. It’s important to keep track of this because it impacts who gets the “written by” credit. Also, writing and rewriting your pitch script can help clarify why it is you really want this job and what your personal connection to the material is.

TV (US)

American TV works on the pilot model. Only a few very successful show runners are able to pitch entire shows (a complete series). Most producers pitch pilot episodes to production companies who in turn pitch them to the potential broadcaster.

So in your pitch documents, the producer is looking for a lot of detail about that all-important pilot episode, but also some more general information that illustrates that your concept will keep working week after week, episode after episode.

If the producer likes your logline, paragraph synopsis and one page synopsis they’ll ask to read the script. Some may also ask to see the series bible.

[Check out the series bible and multiple scripts, including the pilot, of The Wire]

TV (Rest of the World)

Outside America there’s less of a focus on pilots. Only the American television industry has the money to film potential projects and judge them based on the feedback from the screenings of the pilots. In other countries it’s more usual for television projects to be judged on the popularity of the head writer’s previous projects, and the quality of the series bible being pitched.

Because conventional, traditional TV scripted shows aren’t getting the viewers they used to, and because of run-away successes such as Girls, producers are more open to considering pitches from new writers with only a few minor credits. Normally, you’ll be asked to submit a 1-3 page mini bible. They sometimes also ask for a 10-page script sample. If you’re shortlisted from that, you’re expected to immediately provide the series bible and the full pilot script.

Never submit more docs, scripts, or information than the producer is asking for. And don’t bug them with endless calls and emails. The way you behave while you wait to hear back from a producer is taken into consideration. And when they do ask for further documents or clarification, make sure you’re prompt (and concise) in supplying it.

Be prepared, and best of luck in your pitching.

~

Fin Wheeler is a member of the Australian Writers’ Guild and has a feature in development.

The 5 Most Common Pitching Mistakes

tumblr_lqbhjnDTS81qf7r5lo1_500

by Douglas Eboch (@dougeboch) & Ken Aguado (@kaguado)

For people who work in the Hollywood creative community, pitching projects is an unavoidable part of the job. Whether you’re a writer, director, producer, studio executive, agent or manager, you will be called upon to describe and sell various projects on a regular basis. We’ve spent a lot of time describing ways to build various types of pitches for various situations, but in this article we will describe the five most common pitching mistakes we hear from students and entertainment professionals.

1. Not understanding the purpose of your pitch.

Admittedly, this is a more common mistake for beginners or aspiring entertainment professionals, but choosing the wrong kind of pitch for a given situation is at the top of the list. Launching into a rambling 15-minute description of a project at a cocktail party is just as misguided as only having a spare one-liner at a formal pitch meeting. You need to craft one kind of pitch to convince someone to read an existing screenplay or see your film, and a completely different type to sell an idea. Pitches to get assignments require still another approach. You can’t craft an effective pitch until you know what your goal is.

[More advice on pitching, loglines, and finding representation.]

2. Pitching plot instead of story.

Whether you’re pitching a narrative story or a reality series (which is often a narrative with “real” people), pitching plot instead of story is always a mistake. Plot is just dry recitation of events: “this happens, then that happens, then…” Story, on the other hand, is a journey that a character takes. Because we only care about plot to the extent it happens to someone we find interesting, pitching plot without a character’s point of view is sure to bore your listener.

3. Not having a good logline.

There are many situations where you will only pitch a logline, so not having a great one for ready use is a rookie mistake. But with longer pitches, you should also employ a good logline before launching into the story. A short logline is the road map for the longer pitch that follows. Once the listener understands the idea you are proposing, they have a context for the more complex details of character, plot, and setting as you present them. Crafting a good logline is tough and many pros struggle with the skill. Learn how to do it, and always include one.

[Get feedback on your logline with the LA Screenwriter Logline Competition.]

4. Making your character sound unlikeable.

It pains us to include this common mistake, but we see it over and over again. In a longer narrative (such as a movie or television series) there will be plenty of time to develop complex characters with a dark side. But in a short pitch (and really all pitches are short) always try to describe your lead in a way that makes them sound appealing. This doesn’t mean every character must be a “heroic fireman who saves puppies in his spare time,” but there is a world of difference between describing someone as a “loser” versus “down on his luck.” When you develop your pitch, consider how you describe the main character and ask yourself, “Why would anyone care about this character?” Remember, they will only know what you tell them.

5. Improper use of movie comparisons.

This is not only an annoying mistake, but it’s also a raging Hollywood cliché that we’d like to eradicate! The “It’s The Avengers meets Jurassic World” type-comparison is as meaningless as it is pervasive. What does that even mean? Is it about a theme park for superheroes? Are the superheroes fighting dinosaurs? We have no idea. Here’s the solution: always briefly qualify what you mean when you use any comparison. “It’s about a diverse team of heroes – like The Avengers – who travel back in time to battle mighty dinosaurs – like Jurassic World.” Also avoid using old, obscure, or financially unsuccessful movies. (Saying “it’s Ishtar meets Fassbender’s Katzelmacher” does not help your pitch.) In fact, you’re really probably better off not making comparisons at all in most pitches unless specifically asked to do so.

~

Screenwriter Douglas Eboch and producer Ken Aguado are the co-authors of The Hollywood Pitching Bible. Follow Doug @dougeboch and Ken @kaguado.

GAPF Co-Founder Bob Schultz Shares His Pitching Tips

by Ashley Scott Meyers

In this episode of the podcast I talk with Bob Schultz who co-founded ScriptFest And The Great American Pitchfest. We talk about how and why he started the festivals, how these festivals work for screenwriters, and then he gives some specific tips for pitching when going to these types of events.

You can listen to the audio portion of the podcast by clicking here or through iTunes by clicking here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7YxqyLWwKCw&w=640&h=360]

You can also read a transcript of this episode.

Links mentioned in the show:

Reps/Pitching/Loglines

Articles and advice on loglines, query letters, managers, and agents

Why You Should Read ‘The Hollywood Pitching Bible’

THPBimageby Angela Bourassa

[Note: Ken & Doug are coming out with a new, expanded version of the book. Check out their article about the additions here. They also have a new audio version.]

Every once in a while, someone with a new screenwriting book or seminar or product asks me to write a review. Unfortunately, I often have to decline after trying the product or reading the book.

This is not one of those cases.

When I was asked to read The Hollywood Pitching Bible by Douglas Eboch and Ken Aguado, I was intrigued — there are a plethora of books about screenwriting itself, but I haven’t seen many specifically about pitching. I was suspicious that Douglas and Ken might simply regurgitate run-of-the-mill advice, but after reading the first chapter, I was hooked.

The authors have put together a guide that is straightforward, insightful, and full of practical advice that both novice and professional screenwriters can benefit from. They cover everything from developing story ideas to how to behave in an actual meeting. Both feature and television pitches are covered, but an emphasis is placed on feature pitches. The Hollywood Pitching Bible is a book you can read in a few nights, and the knowledge you’ll gain will stay with you throughout your career.

[LA Screenwriter readers can get 30% off The Hollywood Pitching Bible by buying here with coupon code ATWAMKK4.]

Now, many budding screenwriters who have yet to make a sale might feel like studying up on how to pitch might be a bit premature. Why learn how to sell before you’ve mastered how to write? The simple answer (which Douglas and Ken cover in the book) is that understanding what will sell will make you a better writer. The book covers not only how to develop a pitch for an existing script, but also how to develop a pitch from an idea. If you can’t create a good pitch for your idea, it probably means your story isn’t well developed. In other words, you can use the pitching method described in this book to help you develop and outline your ideas, making sure that your story is high concept and saleable before you set pen to paper (or finger to keyboard).

Another key reason to learn the art of pitching before you’ve made your first sale is that pitching will more likely than not be precisely how you make your first sale or get your first manager or agent. Pitching is an important part of this business — you won’t be able to succeed without doing it. So start learning now!

Douglas wrote the original script for Sweet Home Alabama, and Ken is a studio exec and producer who has bought and sold numerous pitches. Together, Douglas and Ken provide insights on pitching from both the perspective of the pitcher and the person being pitched.

Check out the lengthy list of praise for their book, which includes endorsements from several successful screenwriters. Then, consider buying the book on Amazon or iTunes.

24 Tips for Pitching Your Script

AFF_Logoby Angela Guess

At the recent Austin Film Festival, Danny Manus and Pamela Ribon were on hand to teach all the shy, introverted, socially-awkward writers in the room (myself included) how to pitch. Danny’s experience with pitching comes from the executive end. He’s currently running No BullScript Consulting, but he admits that he is a “recovering development executive.” Pamela’s experience comes from actually doing pitches for both film and TV projects, and she has sold numerous ideas and scripts to the likes of ABC, Warner Bros., Disney Channel, and 20th Century Fox.

Pamela and Danny had a lot of wonderful advice to dispense. In no particular order, here are their top 24 tips:

  1. A logline is key. Hook them up front with your big idea, your main characters, and your conflict.
  2. Don’t get bogged down in the details. This leads to coming to the end of your time and only covering the first five pages.
  3. Think about how you would get your friend to see a movie you like. Build your pitch with that in mind. Continue reading “24 Tips for Pitching Your Script”

Ken’s Top 10: Tips for Writing a Short Script

by Ken Aguado (@kaguado)

While there are many good books on screenwriting out there and tons of great advice here at LA Screenwriter, one area that gets short shrift is the art and strategy for writing shorts. This is unfortunate, because while writing and selling a motion picture or television script can seem like winning the lottery, writing a short and getting it produced is very attainable for anyone with a little talent, a little money, and technology not much more complicated than your iPhone.

Here are my ten tips for writing a short script.

1. A short film is a short film.

For practical reasons (like cost), limit your script to ten pages or less. If you want to get into film festivals, limit to eight pages or less. (Documentaries can run slightly longer if it’s a particularly weighty topic.) Nothing wrong with longer shorts, if these previous two issues are not a concern for you. If you’re just going to drop your final short on YouTube or Vimeo, who cares how long it is. That said, I see many longer shorts that could easily be cut by 30-50%.

2. Consider underused genres.

Genres such as comedy, science fiction, suspense, and animation are often overlooked. For example, film festivals see very few comedy short submissions, so if you make a good one, it’s bound to stand out.

3. Find a clever gimmick or simple dramatic moment.

Many shorts revolve around a simple, clever concept (or gimmick) or simple dramatic moment/event/incident that is developed into a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Look at Lights Out for gimmick or On Time by Ted Chung for simple moment. But avoid shorts that rely solely on a twist ending. If the rest of your film is boring or lame, no one will care about your clever O-Henry-style surprise ending. Beware of trying to cram a feature film narrative into a short subject. Most shorts are brief confections.

4. Be provocative.

A provocative topic or challenging point of view can be a way to get some attention as a writer or filmmaker. For example, see the series of shorts called That’s Harassment or look at the PSA called F*ck the Poor.

5. Be compelling.

Conceive of your main character as someone we’d like, admire, or if flawed, someone we’d like to see saved. Now give them a real problem to surmount. Anti-heroes need a good reason to live and be worthy of attention in your story. Not doing so can be a rookie mistake.

6. Get your story going right away.

Too much “set up” can be a killer in a short film. Try to grab the viewers right from the start. Begin your story as late as possible into the drama of your narrative. For example, if you’re writing a six-minute horror story, don’t make the viewer/reader wait five minutes to get to the horror. You want to capture the audience’s attention right from the start and never let go. On a related note, filmmakers should avoid using opening credits in shorts. The title is enough. This problem was famously spoofed in the 1969 animated short Bambi Meets Godzilla.

7. Avoid clichés.

A lot of painful and overused tropes pop up in shorts films. My list includes: the magic of childhood, dysfunctional families, first dates, crimes gone wrong, obvious or overly familiar personal afflictions, it was all a dream, tortured artists, anything that confuses “edgy” with interesting. Avoid shorts that are personal “therapy” or a “soapbox.” This doesn’t mean politics is out of bounds, but rather, think of your short as entertainment for someone other than yourself. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with writing a personal short, but avoid being a “navel gazer.”

8. Beware of proof-of-concept shorts.

If you are writing your short as a proof-of-concept for a longer work (like a feature film or series idea), remember that it first must work as a short. Don’t let your short be held hostage to the longer work. The short version must be able to stand on its own as a complete thought. In most cases, you should avoid just shooting a scene from the longer work.

9. Don’t forget nonfiction.

Most nonfiction scripts are written after some or most of the film is shot. (Sometimes called a “paper edit.”) So before you shoot, make sure you have a solid outline and shot list that incorporates your understanding of the topic and the kind of narrative you’d like to see in the film. While “reality” doesn’t always cooperate, you have to start with a point of view if you want to shoot your subject matter economically.

10. Write for the reader.

Write your short so other people will understand it. Because short films are often personal projects where the filmmaker knows exactly what they intend, they will sometimes write their scripts in a “code” or shorthand form that only they can understand, omitting traditional screenwriting information and proper formatting. Don’t, just don’t!

~

Ken Aguado is a screenwriter, producer, and author.  His producer credits include The Salton Sea, (Warner Bros.), Sexual Life (Showtime).  His most recent films are the documentary Miracle on 42nd Street (2017) and An Interview with God (2018), which he also wrote. Ken is also the co-author of The Hollywood Pitching Bible and author of Based On

RIDE: Writer/Director Jeremy Ungar On Constructing a Contained Thriller

by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)

Many a prudent young screenwriter spends much of their time struggling to come up with contained stories that can be shot on tiny budgets without feeling either contained or tiny. It’s an incredibly difficult feat, and one that Jeremy Ungar has pulled off in his new film, Ride. In the rush of scripts about Uber drivers from a few years back, Ungar’s story seems to be the one that has come out on top. The story pits a struggling actor who makes ends meet by working as a driver against a charming sociopath who poses as his next fare. Set primarily in a car and shot all over Los Angeles, Ride has all of the structural elements of theater and the dark cinematic texture of film noir.

I recently spoke to Jeremy about the pressure of developing an idea that’s so prominent in the zeitgeist, the challenges and benefits of trapping characters in a car, and the timeless themes of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

Angela Bourassa: I wanted to start by talking a bit about the idea. I seem to remember a year or two ago there was a big rush of scripts about Uber drivers in a variety of genres. Am I remembering that correctly?

Jeremy Ungar: Absolutely. I wrote this script at the beginning of 2015, and I’ve sort of been living in a constant state of fear about doing an Uber movie from then until now.

Basically what I did was, I wrote this thriller set in an Uber, then I did a short to sort of prove that I could do the feature. Then by the time I was out and pitching it – probably early 2016 – I pitched to Unified Pictures, which is the company that ended up making the film, and right after that, two other Uber movies got announced on Deadline. They were both bigger action comedies, and I don’t think either one’s been made yet, but I remember after the pitch being like, “Oh my god, I’m dead in the water.”

But we talked about it, and Unified was super passionate about my idea and felt like it was unique enough to stand on its own two legs, and we moved forward.

Angela Bourassa: Did you feel extra pressure because of all that?

Jeremy Ungar: Oh, absolutely. It was such an interesting thing, because I really feel proud of the dialogue that I wrote in this script and a lot of elements of it, but the idea is such a soundbite-able idea that it almost could seem generic or like, if there’s another Uber movie, what’s the need for mine? I had a lot of sleepless nights like, “I hope they don’t make any other Uber movies…”

Angela Bourassa: (Laughs) Ok, so then it started as a concept, I’m guessing, not with the characters necessarily?

Jeremy Ungar: Well, I’m kind of fascinated by these new interactions that technology has created – things like an Uber ride or a Tinder date – things that, if you pitched someone on this idea before it existed, chances are good they’d say, “You’re insane, I would never do that.” But then it comes out, and because we trust our phones and they tell us that it’s ok, we put a lot of faith in people. And sometimes it makes for amazing interactions and other times it makes us vulnerable in ways that I think we don’t realize.

So that was the genesis of the idea. But – at least for me – when I have an idea like this, I’ll start and determine whether it has legs, and the thing that I came to that made me feel like this was a movie that I really wanted to pursue – you know, put the three and a half years of work into getting made – was that I fell in love with this character of Bruno, who’s the charming sociopath passenger. As I was writing the early stages of the dialogue, it felt like, “Wow, this is a voice that I didn’t know I had in me that I really want to explore.” That was the thing that made me write the movie.

Angela Bourassa: That sort of answers my next question. I was going to ask – you mentioned that this could’ve potentially been seen as a generic idea or sort of a gimmicky idea – and I was wondering how you approached trying to be cognizant of that and avoiding those pitfalls.

Jeremy Ungar: Yeah, the real thing that I wanted to count on to make Ride unique was the dialogue. My background as a director and a writer is in theater, so I wanted to do something that was uniquely cinematic but also could almost feel like a play. I wanted it to be very dialogue driven and be about the anatomy of a moment and how people manipulate each other, so that really relied on the dialogue. The thing that I think – or hope – makes the movie unique is the verbal interactions that I came up with.

Angela Bourassa: Right. Building off of that, a lot of aspiring screenwriters are encouraged to write scripts with minimal casts, minimal locations – they could be plays, potentially – and obviously this fits that mold. But, I’m curious, setting the story primarily in a car… that lets you have a lot of movement in the story while still having a contained location, but I imagine it also creates a production headache. Could you talk a bit about the challenges of setting a story primarily in a car?

Jeremy Ungar: It’s funny, I watched a lot of interviews with other filmmakers who’ve done car stuff as I was preparing for this, and I think everyone said the same thing of, “Well, I set the movie in a car because I though it would be cheap, and then it made it way more difficult and way more expensive.”

I think that’s true of my experience, but also I think it resulted in something that really played to what I perceive my strengths are. When we shot the car footage, we shot eighteen nights and seven of them were on a process trailer – which is the flatbed truck that you strap your car to and you mount your cameras in two positions – and we would run the scenes of driving almost like theater. We’d go for five, ten minutes – whatever the length of the scene was – and then I’d come on the walkie in between, give notes, and then we’d go back and do it again and eventually change the camera positions. That let us work in a way that felt really free to me and felt like I could get a sense of the entire scene, and the actors could vibe with each other and really feel like an ensemble.

Then it also resulted in this whole series of editing challenges, because you can cut really freely between the two cameras that are rolling at the same time, but once it comes time to go to a different performance, you have to make sure that the car is moving at the same speed. So it created a really interesting sort of kill-your-darlings dance that we had to do with the footage where, if I want this, then I can’t have this, which I actually really enjoyed.

Angela Bourassa: Interesting. What about from the writing side of things? The challenge of two characters stuck in a room, basically – how did you cope with that?

Jeremy Ungar: I really love moments in scripts where people want to leave and can’t. And I heard this great quote – I think it was by a playwright – that a good scene could end at any moment, and I wanted that to be true in Ride. At any moment, James (the driver) could pull over the car and be like, “Alright, dude, get out of the car. You’re too weird.” Or Bruno could say, “This is my stop, I’m not interested in you anymore.” And I think, hopefully, I tried to find little reasons to keep them engaged and keep them in the car. Reasons to either keep Bruno interested enough in this guy to want to keep spending time with him or keep James engaged enough to let his guard down and trust this person and be manipulated into doing some of the less wise things that he does over the course of the movie.

Angela Bourassa: So, I studied Shakespeare’s comedies and dramas in college, but not the histories. Are there any themes from Richard II or Richard III that more learned viewers will pick up on in this story?

Jeremy Ungar: Well, Richard III is the master manipulator, so it made sense to me that Bruno would love Richard III. And, you know, it’s a favorite play of mine, hugely influential.

Richard II is a deposed monarch. He was a good king and a kind king but a weak king, and it leads to his downfall. It’s something that… I see a lot of nobility in the struggling artist. I really wanted there to be this sense with James that – I think Bruno means it when he says the line, “You are a king.” There’s this kind of greatness within this guy, and he’s stuck driving a car, which is frustrating but also the reality of the world that we live in right now. That kind of played on why I wanted Richard II, who is this noble tragic figure, to connect with James, the driver.

Angela Bourassa: Right. And he does such a beautiful monologue. I was really blown away by that scene.

Jeremy Ungar: Thank you very much.

Angela Bourassa: Just one final question – what other films did you study or draw inspiration from for this?

Jeremy Ungar: The biggest point of reference was Strangers on a Train. That was one of the early thoughts – “Oh, I could write Strangers on a Train in an Uber.” Even the name Bruno is a reference to Strangers on a Train.

The other big one when I started to really look at contained thrillers is this Spielberg movie Duel, which is also all set in a car. It’s different because it’s almost completely non-verbal, but it’s a beautiful exercise in tension building and a really incredible movie. I was so into it that I actually drop a visual reference to Duel on the back of Bruno’s leather jacket – it says “flammable” in the same lettering from the back of the truck in Duel.

Ride will be in theaters and available on VOD and Digital HD on October 5, 2018.

~

Angela Bourassa is the founder of LA Screenwriter and the co-founder of Write/LA, a screenwriting competition created by writers, for writers. A mom, UCLA grad, and alternating repeat binger of The Office and Parks and Recreation, Angela posts articles through @LA_Screenwriter and unique daily writing prompts through @Write_LA.

Proudly powered by WordPress | Theme: Baskerville 2 by Anders Noren.

Up ↑