This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

Yesterday, I did one of the things that you just get used to after years in Hollywood; I went and broke a story with an executive.

Breaking a story with an executive, especially from the perspective of a screenwriter in Hollywood, involves a nuanced blend of creativity, strategy, collaboration, and communication.

Those are all things I had to learn in real time when I did this for the first time over a decade ago. Now, I think I’ve gotten better at all of them. Hopefully.

The process isn’t just about presenting an idea, but transforming it into a compelling narrative that aligns with the vision, interests, and marketability considerations of both the screenwriter and the executive.

Today, I want to go over this with you and give you some advice for the process.

Let’s get started.


Understanding the Exec’s Perspective

How to Break a Story With an Executive

It all starts with a call.

A studio exec will call you and say they have some ideas for a movie or TV show. You pick a time that works, and you carve out an hour or two.

I always come prepared with my notepad and a list of movies that may be similar to what they had in mind, along with some beats I would want to include in my version of the idea.

But that’s not all I bring. No way.

Before stepping into the room, it’s crucial to research the executive’s background, their company’s portfolio, and recent market trends.

Executives are looking for stories that not only resonate with audiences, but also fit within their company’s brand and have commercial potential. Tailoring your pitch to align with these elements can significantly increase your chances of success.

What Happens In These Kinds of Meetings?

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Before I spent countless hours in meetings like this, I was really nervous. but these kinds of meeting and general meetings are very specific.

The first few minutes of the meeting are usually just establishing a connection. Screenwriters should aim to build rapport with the executive by expressing their enthusiasm for the project and finding common ground.

This can help create a collaborative atmosphere and increase the executive’s receptiveness to the pitch.

It’s also a good time to get to know them as people. What else are they working on? What have they seen recently that they love?

The Art of Storytelling

When breaking the story, it’s essential to do so in a way that captures the executive’s imagination. You also want to listen to their ideas and riff on them together. What do they want? Ask what they want the movie to feel like.

I like to begin with extrapolating who they think the audience for the movie is—which one of the the four quadrants are they targeting? All of them?

Here, you want to use visual language, evoke emotions, and highlight the visual aspects of the narrative. It’s not just about what’s being said, but how it’s being conveyed. The goal is to make the executive see the world you’ve created and become invested in it.

And then for you to hear their notes and ideas and then incorporate them into your vision.

Feedback is an integral part of the pitch meeting.

Screenwriters should be open to questions and suggestions, demonstrating flexibility without losing sight of their vision. The ability to adapt and incorporate feedback on the spot can be a testament to your collaboration skills and commitment to the project.

What Happens After the Initial Meeting?

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After the breaking of the story together, take time to reflect on the executive’s feedback and the overall reception. This is the time to consider any revisions that could make your story more appealing or address any concerns raised during the meeting.

You go home with all the details you discussed and digest.

Keeping the Dialogue Open

Following up with a thank you email not only shows professionalism, but also keeps the lines of communication open. It’s an opportunity to reiterate your excitement about the project and your willingness to work on any suggested changes.

How Does this End?

What happens after that is that you will build this idea out into a pitch to bring back into the exec or to their boss.

The WGA wants to make sure you get paid, so you don’t want to a free treatment or just spec it. And if the exec is good, they’ll want you to be paid too.

Ideally, either the company pays you to write a treatment or they buy the pitch and commission you to write a draft.

Building a Partnership

The most important thing here is that breaking a story with an executive is just the beginning. Whether your pitch is accepted or not, building a lasting relationship with the executive can open doors to future opportunities. Stay engaged by updating them on your progress and showing interest in their company’s growth.

If they’re a fan of yours, you can send them your latest specs as well.

By preparing thoroughly, engaging genuinely, and following up diligently, screenwriters can navigate the complexities of Hollywood storytelling, turning their visions into cinematic realities.

Let me know if you have thoughts or questions in the comments.