Writers on the Verge: Maximizing Screenwriting Pitch Festivals

Yesterday, I had coffee with a manager friend. Having just participated in the Great American PitchFest myself, my friend told me that she had taken pitches at a number of pitch events. Quickly, we came back to the point that many on the executives discuss among themselves: Most writers fail to maximize on the potential of what really can be gotten out of a pitch event.

photo courtesy of cinesourcemagazine.com

photo courtesy of cinesourcemagazine.com

In the masterclass that I taught at GAPF the day prior to the big pitch event, one of the writers asked: Let’s say things go well and I get representation tomorrow, do I need a lawyer right then? My job being to deliver bad news, I quickly had to say: That is not going to happen. But the writer insisted But what if things go really well? My response: Things going well at a pitch event doesn’t mean you sell your script or get representation on the spot. That is just not going to happen.

In order to secure representation, sell or secure an option for your screenplay, your screenplay is going to have to get read. Most ideas (and by most I mean 99%) out there are execution dependent. And if they are not, a seasoned industry exec is not going to assume that a writer unknown to them masterfully executed a high-concept idea before they’ve had a chance to read the work. For this simple fact, the pitch room at a pitching event is NOT where deals get made. But that doesn’t mean that great things can’t happen there.

Back at coffee with my manager friend, she went on to say: Most people don’t understand that, at pitch events, I see crazy writers come across my desk all day. If they are nice, if they talk to me about their work and are courteous, I will likely tell them to send me what they have. My job is to read scripts. As long as the source seems like someone I could work with and the ideas are solid, I am probably going to tell them to reach out to me after the event.

This speaks to the misconception that has hounded many a writer out there: That the purpose of a pitch event, whether it’s Great American Pitch Fest, Screenwriter’s World or Fade In’s Pitch Festival, is to get signed or your script picked up in the room. To eliminate these misconceptions, let me be clear about it: The purpose of a pitch event is to introduce yourself and your work to industry executives, in the hopes of stimulating interest and growing your network.

Heading into such events, many writers remind me that they have 5 minutes to pitch their material. This, too, is not correct. There is no such thing as the 5-minute pitch in Hollywood. You have your elevator pitch, which should span, at most, 1-2 minutes, the 20-minute pitch, and the 45 minute pitch. Utilizing the elevator pitch, your 5-minute pitch meeting taking place at a pitch event should look something like this:

  • Minute 1: Introductions. Introduce yourself, shake hands with the executives and exchange niceties. Tell them a little bit about yourself – a couple of things you want them to remember about you once you’ve walked away. Remember, half the reason executives ask to see material after the event has to do with personality, so make sure to be nice, personable and courteous.
  • Minute 2: Your pitch. Keep it straight, clear and to the point. Stick to broad strokes plot, themes, and central characters. Make sure the executive can deduce: Who is your protagonist? What’s at stake for them? What is the core conflict, and who is standing in their way? How is this idea different but same?
  • Minute 3-4: The executive may ask you for more information about the material you pitched, or else ask what other projects you might have. If they do not, feel free to engage them in questions. Remember, you paid for this time, so even if they’re not interested in your work, it’s important that you get the most out of it. Ask them what sort of material they are currently looking for, or what trends they are seeing in the industry. Learn as much as you can.
  • The session is over: Whether or not he’s asked to see your material or invited you to send whatever you’ve got, thank the executive of the his time, and thank him for taking part in the event. Keep it professionals. You never know when you might come across them again.

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