Ever wonder what happens after a screenwriting contest win? Sebastian Magiera takes you on the water-bottle tour of meetings after winning the Grand Prize for Finish Line Script Competition, sharing networking and pitching tips.
After becoming the Grand Prize winner for the Finish Line Script Competition last year, I had the surreal experience of meeting over 30 mentors which included agents, managers, writers, producers, directors and production company executives who were kind enough to meet with me and discuss my winning pilot—Folklore.
Folklore is set in eighteen century America, which follows a devout Catholic Spanish priest who partners up with a cursed huntress in order to prevent malevolent mythological forces from terrorising the lives of helpless villagers.
For any writer having their first meetings with professionals to discuss their work is an exciting and nerve-wracking experience. It’s extremely flattering to believe that someone wants to discuss your script, your talent, your story—and you. And if you’re lucky they’ll want to represent you, or option/purchase your material, or even hire you. The thought that a professional filmmaker values my creativity is strangely overwhelming—bearing in mind I’ve still never been paid a cent for writing!
It’s difficult to feel fully prepared for two weeks of thirty back-to-back meetings where your biggest hope is to impress everyone. From what I understand, even the most successful writers typically don’t have so many meetings with an assortment of individuals within such a short period of time. The experience turned out to be a phenomenal one filled with constructive, helpful and potentially career-changing meetings from extraordinarily kind and generous people. In light of how pleased I was with the outcome of my trip I’ll expound some advice for any aspirant writer who has either one general meeting or fifty with the likes of agents, managers, producers or company executives.
Firstly, remember you are there to sell yourself. Almost nobody is going to take a punt on someone based on one script, especially a TV pilot. I was advised by the Finish Line’s previous Grand Prize winner, R.B. Ripley, to prepare your story—who you are, what makes you interesting, why are you a writer, what compelled you to write this script. In my experience, this is what interests people most at first, so prepare your personal highlights accordingly. Some writers I met in L.A. likened this process to dating, which I found startlingly comparable. In a short space of time you’re essentially trying to impress a person enough for them to want to see you again. With that in mind, it’s also worth remembering that not every meeting, or date, goes as well as you hope. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there, and that’s fine. You must have faith that other opportunities will arise.
As the writer, you need to reassure potential employers or partners that you’re not only affable/likeable etc. but that you have plenty more to offer. This is why I made sure to have at least one good completed script (a feature) that I could follow up with should anyone ask to read more—and they usually do. They’re buying into you as a package, not just your script. And unless you have a killer feature idea that everyone is chomping at the bit for, remember that meeting is about getting to know you and not just your material.
Pitching is a crucial skill for a writer, as I’ve been learning. It’s essential to not only pitch your script or idea succinctly, but to keep practising so you hit all the beats which make the story distinctive. One of the superb mentors I met with in L.A., Joey Chavez, (Sr. VP, Original Programming at TNT), advised me to remember Pitch, Plot, Personal (PPP). Pitch the story, outline the Plot and make it Personal i.e. why is the script important to you. Given the many thousands of ideas these people hear, the personal touch will help make it unique, as will your personal story. For instance, after describing the tone of Folklore (grim, magical-realism) and how I foresaw the rest of the series, people were intrigued that I’d grown up reading countless mythological stories and was similarly fascinated with history—and making a show like Folklore was the perfect setting for me to tell stories I adore.
Another enormous tip—preparation is crucial. The entire process of meeting these people would have been entirely wasted if I hadn’t prepared myself by perfecting my film and television pitches (all seven of them); practising on friends and family; refining my other scripts; doing my research on who I was meeting; making sure I knew where the meetings were etc. And thanks to the advice of the Finish Line competition’s supportive founder and ex-literary manager, Jenny Frankfurt, I also prepared a TV bible for the show and an illustrative pitch pack—both of which I thoroughly recommend every writer create if they can. There’s little point having meetings if you don’t feel extremely confident and know, not think, that you’re going to impress them. And for almost every single meeting I had, I didn’t feel I could have done much better. Whether they’ll contact me again, who knows. But at least I knew I had prepared myself.
As a screenwriter I quickly learned that, to paraphrase Hemingway, writing is the art of rewriting what you’ve already written into something better. For me, a script is never complete—it’s an organic piece of literature that should mutate and improve over time. This can only be achieved if the writer is responsive to feedback, otherwise the material won’t evolve. For instance, on my trip one of the mentors shared some strong criticisms of the script—but instead of being defensive or dismissing their opinion, I attempted to understand why they felt that way. After discussing and dissecting the comments, I recognized that there were some justifiable issues worth addressing—which was followed by a flurry of solutions and ideas in the course of our meeting.
I personally don’t think anybody can be wrong in how they react to a script, but it’s always worth investigating why they feel that way—and only then should one decide whether to disregard the advice or not.
My final piece of advice is to exercise patience. Business works slowly, and writers rarely get what they want with any immediacy. For me, this is the most frustrating part of the process, but there is an easy way to alleviate it—continue to write! The more material you can offer, the more likely you’ll get something picked up; it’s that simple. And once you finish a script, get feedback, and rewrite it. This is the advice I always tell myself when I’m struggling to see the light.
Above all, keep writing.
Finish Line Script Competition is open for entries.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sebastian Magiera attended film school in both Warsaw and London. After an internship at Universal Studios, Los Angeles, he began PA’ing on films and eventually worked as a Producer’s Assistant on Murder on the Orient Express (2017) and a Writer’s Assistant on Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019). He is Finish Line Script Competition’s Grand Prize Winner for 2018 and currently resides in London.