Manny Fonseca examines his biggest pitchfest pet peeves when it comes to attending pitchfests as an executive. Do you fall into any of the following categories? Read to find out.
Manny Fonseca is a former Hollywood creative executive that gave up a life in perpetual development for a life in perpetual development as a Hollywood screenwriter and author. His first book, BURST!, Is currently looking for a publisher and his first script, Whittier, is in pre-production. Twitter: @mannyfonseca
A while ago, a reader of the column, wrote me and asked me what my major pet peeves were when it came to getting pitched at a pitchfest. He specifically asked me for my “Top 3” and I had to be honest, I couldn’t do it.
Just three? That was practically impossible! I mean, no joke, I really had to sit there and think about it. First and foremost, as the great George Carlin once said, “I don’t have pet peeves, I have major psychotic f—ing hatreds!”
Yeah, I know, I’m wound pretty tight but I take writing, pitching and everything related to “the biz” pretty seriously. Nothing upsets me more, than being in a networking situation like a pitchfest and seeing people a) not take it seriously and b) not know what they’re doing.
Both scenarios leads to a lot of time being wasted for you and for me where the “me” is clearly more important in my world than the time YOU wasted. Sorry, but that’s just honesty.
So, to help you out a little bit, I’ll give you a list of my “psychotic hatreds” in hopes that these will help you step up your game and not be viewed as a “total waste of time.” Some of these, might seem super obvious, but you’d be surprised at some of the sh… I mean stuff, I’ve seen.
(NOTE: These are, as close as possible, in chronological order from walking up to the table all the way to leaving it.)
PLEASE DRESS NICE
First impressions are everything and if you don’t land a good one walking up, there’s not much at that table that you’re going to say that I’m going to hear. At the end of the day, this is a business. Not only do I have to sell your script, but I have to sell YOU too.
Spoiler alert: If I don’t take you seriously in your acid washed jeans and your Wolverine T-shirt (actual outfit worn) then any respectable agency to studio is definitely NOT going to take you seriously.
You don’t have to dress in a suit and tie, but at least put some effort into your appearance. Khaki’s and a tucked-in, button-up shirt. Maybe some simple brown or black shoes.
Ladies, don’t wear anything that’s distracting. No loud jewelry, nothing low cut and, at the same time, nothing that looks like it was made from old curtains… unless you’re a problem like Maria, then props for your dressmaking abilities.
Everyone should smell clean and understand that too much Drakkar Noir does NOT qualify as “clean.” Keep it nice, classy and simple.
Let me put this another way: A pitchfest is nothing more than a job fair and your script (or scripts) are your resumes. In the span of a day, you’re going to have X number of job interviews. You DO want to get hired, right?
Then dress and act appropriately.
DON’T BE WEIRD
This one is tough because, if you’re weird, you probably don’t know you’re weird, so it’s a little unfair to put this on the list, but it’s a problem. More so than you think it would be. Here are some examples. If you do any of these, stop immediately.
- One guy pitched at every table with his eyes closed. He couldn’t help it. I watched him deliver close to 10 pitches, never once opening his eyes except to say, “Hello, nice to meet you” and “thank you for listening.”
- Spandex doesn’t belong at a pitchfest. Ever. I don’t care how many YouTube viewers you have. Don’t come in character. Just don’t.
- On that note, leave the costumes at home. Some writers think it’s cool to dress in the subject matter of their script. It’s not. No EMT’s, no Rent-A-Cops, no scrubs or dentist smocks and for the love of God, don’t cosplay your main character (see Spandex). This is a job fair, not comic-con.
- Don’t hire “booty hoes” to escort you on your pitches. Yes, this really happened. He was pitching a reality show based on his life and hired two ladies who wore short shorts with their asses hanging out. He referred to them as his “booty hoes” and promised that if his show was picked up, we could expect “more of this” pointing to his ladies. Don’t do that. It’s gross.
- Leave the gifts at home. I’ve been given random things by screenwriters trying to “leave an impression” throughout the years, everything from sweat pants, hats, candy, hand sanitizer and random other little knick knacks. Don’t do that. It’s weird. Would you give your potential employer hand sanitizer at a job interview? (Pssst… the answer is no.)
While the above is only a small sample, it’s a solid start and should give you a pretty good idea how to behave and not behave.
Come in, politely introduce yourself, sit down, have a chat and tell me why I should read your script and hire you for the job. That’s it. Super simple. Don’t over complicate it.
DON’T BE A NEGATIVE NANCY
To be fair, this has been a rare occurrence, but it’s happened enough times that I feel the need to mention it.
So what do I mean? Well let me tell you the story of “Jim,” the worst “Negative Nancy” offender. Jim sat down and immediately put his elbows on the table and rested his head in his hands. It was clear he had been having a pretty bad day, and it wasn’t even noon yet.
After he begrudgingly introduced himself, I asked him what he had for us (I was at a table with three other executives). He sighed and then told us that it didn’t matter because “we probably wouldn’t be interested anyway.”
To say I snapped, might be an understatement. I ripped ‘ole Jim a new one for bringing his crappy attitude to our table. Told him that there was no room in this business for quitters and if he was going to continue to waste people’s time because he had “given up so quickly,” then he should do everyone at the fest a favor and just go home.
I MIGHT have used slightly more colorful language than that, but you get the picture.
Look, I get it. As the song says, “It’s hard out there for a pimp,” but at least give me a chance to hear your pitch before you crap all over it. All it takes is ONE yes and you’re gonna hear a whole bunch of no’s before you get to that yes. So suck it up, brush off those no’s, put a smile on your face and do your job.
If you need a minute to regroup, take it. But don’t go to ANY table with the baggage of the previous ones.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Know who you’re pitching to and pitch accordingly. If I’ve listed “action/thrillers” on my company sheet, don’t sit down and launch into your family cancer drama script or worse, you’re crappy Christmas movie.
I should take a minute to admit that I have a bias against Christmas movies. It seems that I’m literally the only writer on the planet that doesn’t have a Christmas movie and, for some reason, I would get pitched at least 10 Christmas movies a pitchfest. What the hell? Especially when I had ACTION/THRILLERS listed as what I was looking for!
Unless it’s Die Hard, don’t come around with that junk. Not to my table. Know who you’re pitching to. Keeping with our motif, you wouldn’t apply for a job at a law office when all you have is fast food jobs on your resume, right?
DON’T TRY TO SELL ME A USED CAR
Remember Bill Paxton’s character in True Lies? Yeah, don’t be that guy. Don’t feed me B.S., don’t give me some spiel and don’t give stuff that you think I want to hear. Just sit down and have a normal conversation like a normal human being.
Ultimately, I think every executive wants to have a connection with the person they’re getting into business with. Agents and managers want to like you. Producers want to have a beer with you. People in Hollywood want to work with people that aren’t going to make them miserable. So, just take a seat and have a great conversation.
Imagine you’re at the bar, having drinks with a friend and through casual conversation, they ask you, “What are you working on?” How would you answer them? How would you behave? What tone of voice would you use? Be enthusiastic. Be excited.
This is your moment to shine because someone asked you about YOU and there’s no one better on the subject of you than… I think you get it.
LEAVE THE ABBOTT AND COSTELLO ROUTINE AT HOME
This bit is for writing partners who pitch together: DON’T bounce back and forth. All it does is give me a headache. This is how this goes:
WRITER 1: We start our story in a small town in Indiana…
WRITER 2: …Our lead is a 12-year-old boy, coming into his teenage years…
WRITER 1: …With a dad who drinks…
WRITER 2: …and a mom who’s never at home…
WRITER 1: …because she works 3 jobs…
Back and forth, back and forth… meanwhile, I’m sitting there looking like:
Don’t do it. I’ve had this happen a lot with duos and I eventually have to cut them off, tell them to knock off the routine and just talk to me. Funny thing is, every time I’ve interjected, they’ve let out a sigh of relief, thanked me and told me they wished they had gotten that note sooner. I get it, that’s an exhausting thing to have to do OVER AND OVER again all day long.
It’s okay to just chat. No performance needed.
DON’T USE BUZZ WORDS
Nothing is more infuriating than someone who throws out key, industry, buzz words because they think that’s what we want to hear. Especially when they have absolutely no clue what they mean. Words like “four-quadrant,” or “elevated.”
I once had someone pitch me a script that he INSISTED was “four-quadrant.” Only problem was, it was a script about a race of people who had butts for heads! Oh wait, sorry, not all of them, the females had butts for cleavage.
Yup, nothing seals the deal with that female demographic like putting butts on their chest. Oh yeah, bonus points for this one… he had character sketches with him.
Sigh, what’s wrong with people?
WHEN THE BELL RINGS, LEAVE WITH GRACE
Look, I get it, if you’ve read this far you obviously know I’m long-winded and I’ve been guilty of over staying my welcome, but sometimes you just have to know when it’s time to leave the table. Read the room, so to speak. I’ve had people over stay their welcome to the point where the next pitcher is literally looking over them, YET THEY STILL DON’T GET UP!
To be honest, it’s not like the bell rings and you can just shut up, stand up and leave. And it’s not like I’M the one that can tell you the best way to be graceful. You should see me at times. What I can say, is simply wrap up, shake hands, say “thank you for your time” and excuse yourself.
IF THEY ASK YOU TO SEND YOUR SCRIPT… SEND IT!!
You would think this would be a no brainer, after all that IS why you’re there, right? To get someone to read all of your hard work, right?
You would be surprised how many people I’ve asked to read their scripts only to never having them sent. So what was the point of you being there? Let’s do the math together, shall we?
The biggest pitchfest out there is 6 hours long with pitches being heard every 5 minutes. Sooo…
60 minutes x 6 hours = 360 minutes
360 ÷ 5 = 72 possible pitches
Let’s assume that 80% of those pitches are a pass for various reasons.
72 x 0.8 = 58 (rounded up from 57.6) pitches passed on.
That leaves the average exec asking to read roughly 14 scripts.
Of these 14 scripts, I’ll receive maybe 4? Which means that I only receive about 30% of the final number of scripts I asked for.
Just to put that in a bigger perspective, 4 scripts means I leave the pitchfest with a whopping 5.6% of the total number of possible scripts pitched to me.
But here’s the bigger point I’d like to make: If every exec only gets like 4 scripts out of the small number of scripts they actually ask for, and you get asked to send your script? But don’t. Do you realize how big of an opportunity you’re missing out on??
You ain’t facing that much competition! So suck it up and send it!
NETWORKING 101: DON’T BE “THAT” GUY
Lastly, I’d like to add this little networking tip. Throughout the day you may have opportunities to interact with execs. Maybe at lunch or in the halls, but more importantly at the networking event after a pitchfest. If you do, whatever you do, don’t be the hanger on guy. The guy (and let’s face it, it’s ALWAYS a guy) that won’t shut the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up! He just wants to monopolize an exec’s time because he feels he has a “connection.”
Yes, you will be remembered, but not for any of the reasons you WANT to be remembered.
I’ve literally had to rescue fellow execs from those guys and it’s never fun. So, don’t do it.
Alright peeps, there you go. There’s my list of my biggest pet peeves of things that happen at a pitchfest. If you read any of these and thought, “well, he’s not talking about ME!”
Yeah. Yeah, I am. SO talking about you. Knock it off!
Get more tips on success in Manny’s Screenwriters University’s online course, So You’ve Written Your First Draft, Now What?: Getting The Hollywood Gatekeeper Past Page Thirty