Selling a Film Pitch

A movie tagline is a one-sentence screenplay summary, which is often requested within the agent’s film submission package. The film agent can decide at a glance whether to read the screenplay in its entirety and if they are able to sell the screenplay to film producers.

Pitching a Movie in a One Sentence Summary

Completing a screenplay is one thing, but summing it up in one sentence is a mean feat. When one considers that an average ninety-minute film contains lots of action, dialogue, several characters, climaxes and plot twists, this challenge can seem impossible. However, this is what many writers have had to do to promote their project. It also comes in useful for when someone asks what the screenplay is about.

What is a Tagline?

Summing up a screenplay in 25 words or less provides a stepping-stone for producers in conceiving a tagline when they promote the film. A tagline is a little different to the one liner, as it provides a catchy phrase and a teaser for a potential audience. Taglines are often seen on movie posters. A famous example is from the 1979 film Alien directed by Ridley Scott, where the tagline goes: "In space, no one can hear you scream."

How to Sum Up a Screenplay in One Line

However, when looking for a way to sum up a screenplay for agents and producers, the following items and pieces of information might make it easier on the writer:

  • A synopsis of the screenplay
  • The genre of the story
  • The period it was set
  • The moral of the story
  • The protagonist’s quest
  • A thesaurus
  • Notepad and pen

Selling a Movie to Film Agents and Producers

The following pointers might provide a starting point for the writer.

  • Note down relevant nouns that could be used in the summary. For instance, if it is about a bank robbery, nouns such as thief, perpetrator, heist or hostage could be used. The thesaurus is invaluable for finding accurate, colourful and evocative alternatives.
  • Use active verbs to make the pitch stand out. Raid, foil, ransack and abduct provide strong imagery.
  • Eliminate words that stand by and do nothing such as lazy adjectives and bland adverbs.
  • Reorganise the wording and the phrases to see whether it sharpens up the meaning.

The final one liner might read like this:

"A bank heist is hampered when the ringleader learns that one of the hostages is his long-lost son."

A Film Summary to Promote the Screenplay

Using a punchy one liner to summarise a screenplay is a useful device for pitching a screenplay to film agents. It also provides a stepping-stone to conceiving a tagline if it ever becomes a move. The thesaurus is an invaluable tool for seeking out relevant nouns and active verbs to make the one liner memorable. 

Everything the screenwriter needs can be found on my online stores.


UK bookshop on how to write screenplays

US bookshop on how to write screenplays

UK software for screenwriters

US software for screenwriters


© Rachel Shirley