A Netflix exec explains how to make an ideal pitch document for a show, including the length, sections, and images

  • A Netflix exec shared best practices for crafting a TV pitch document during a workshop hosted by Stage 32.
  • Insider outlined the key takeaways for creators.
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A Netflix executive shared his best advice for crafting an easily digestible TV pitch document, during a February workshop hosted by entertainment-industry networking and education platform Stage 32

Christopher Mack, director of talent investment and development at Netflix, said during the presentation that a pithy document that breaks down the story, characters, world, and tone of a show can make a TV pitch more digestible for buyers, and help to outline a verbal pitch.

Mack shared a sample structure for a pitch document, but said creators should make it their own.

“What I like to say is, each section is a tasty portion of information that’s going to entice me to want to see more of your pitch,” Mack said, “versus what we usually get a lot of times is we get an information dump.”

Generally, the pitch document should be five to 10 pages of text, and include strong visuals that help convey the tone of the story.

  • Overview: A short synopsis that explains who the hero is and what they want, why they want it now and what happens if they don’t get it, and the central conflict. Try to keep it to one paragraph. Include a line on why the series is unique — such as a hot-button issue it hits on, a personal connection to the creator, or valuable IP. 
  • Story questions: These questions provide the answers that help Netflix understand if a show is right for the service, Mack said. Explain: Who are these characters? What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about it getting it? What are the central conflicts? What are the stakes? What are the themes? That last question hits on the central idea that the story is trying to get across. Mack recommends challenging yourself to describe the story without telling the plot.
  • World: Describe the world the show takes place in, including where it is, when it is, or what it is, as with the chess world in “The Queen’s Gambit.” Mack said to set the show in a world that helps tell the story, be it a key moment in history that ties back to the central idea, or a town that becomes a character. “The past, the fantasy, and the future are very expensive to make, to produce, so make the ‘when’ necessary to the story,” Mack said.
  • Tone: Describe the feeling and atmosphere that you want the audience to feel, such as a revenge story that’s darkly comedic. Mack highly recommended using movie, TV, and other visual references to sell it. The creators of “Stranger Things” channeled ’80s paperbacks and images of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Poltergeist” to help sell Netflix on it. Mack said tone is crucial in a pitch because Netflix strives to have a mix on the service. “It helps us kind of figure out how many of a type of show to buy” and be “more informed buyers,” Mack said.
  • Character descriptions: Describe each of the main characters, including their backstories, traits, and arcs. Again, character is key in Netflix shows, so be concise but convey the character’s depth. Think about where the character will be in their life at the moment the audience meets them, their internal and external story arcs, and the relationships between characters.
  • Season summaries: Summarize the overarching emotional journeys of the main characters during the season, and the emotional plot points that will drive the story arc. Mack suggested including a season summary for each main character. He cited a story-circle infographic by “Community” creator and “Rick and Morty” executive producer Dan Harmon to help guide creators. This section is typically one to one and a half pages long.
  • Potential episodes: Share eight to 10 ideas for potential episodes, with brief, one-to-two-sentence descriptions. This helps convey how the action will play out. To brainstorm, Mack suggested focusing on the main goal for the protagonist during the season, and thinking about the “mini goals” that could help them get there and the barriers that could get in the way of their success.

A recording of Mack’s full three-hour presentation, which has in-depth examples of each section, is available on Stage 32.

Disclosure: Mathias Döpfner, CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, is a Netflix board member.

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