Monday, May 2, 2016

How to Succeed at a Pitch Fest

Before I dive into this week’s topic, I wanted to highlight a couple of places I will be appearing in the near future:

This Saturday, May 7th, I will be conducting a workshop on pitching at The Writers Store in Burbank

On June 3rd I will be appearing on a panel at the Phoenix Comic-Con called “How Do I Pitch my Property?


Pitch fests like the upcoming Great American Pitchfest can offer an opportunity to crack open the door to Hollywood for those who find themselves stuck on the fringes. They give you an opportunity to have brief meetings with producers, executives, agents, and managers to pitch your project. Sometimes you will be pitching to an assistant or even an intern – that’s okay, those people are often the best connections for unknown writers as they are looking to move up by discovering new talent. But there will also be legitimate high-level buyers at many pitch fests. I spoke at the Great American Pitchfest last year and discovered that a producer who had recently hired me to rewrite a script was there personally hearing pitches from total newbies.

However, it is not as simple as paying your admission and showing up. You will be competing against hundreds of other writers just at the pitch fest. And most of the buyers will not end up buying anything pitched to them that day – remember, they hear pitches every day at their jobs and probably only buy a handful a year at most. If you come into a pitch fest unprepared, it can be a big waste of time and money. So here are some tips for increasing your odds of success.

Know your goal. Who are you trying to meet and what do you want them to do? If you are an unknown writer, the chance of selling an original idea on the spot is about the same as the chance you’ll stumble across a ten-pound diamond in the parking lot. But it is entirely possible that you can convince people to read a spec script. So you should be pitching something that is already written and that you are ready to send off as soon as the pitch fest is over.

Are you looking for representation? If you are pitching to agents or managers, you will still be pitching your idea, but agents and managers represent writers, not projects. They will want to know you have other scripts in the same genre, so have a couple of extra log lines prepared, and be prepared to spend a little more time talking about yourself and your qualifications than your script.

At least in the beginning of your career, you will probably be working mostly in one genre and one medium (TV, features, etc.). So you should pick people who work in that genre/medium and pitch them an appropriate project. However, you may find that you still have time after you’ve pitched to all the TV comedy people (for example), so you should also prepare a related back-up pitch, such as a comedy feature. You’re already there – don’t waste the opportunity.

Do your homework. Once you know whom you will pitch to, do some quick homework on them. Find out what they’ve produced, or in the case of agents and managers, who they represent. This will help you seem informed when you meet them. You might not know exactly who you will be talking to until you actually arrive on site, so be ready to check IMDBPro or similar databases.

Construct a great two-minute pitch. You generally get about five minutes with each table of buyers at most pitch fests. Prepare a tight two-minute pitch to give yourself plenty of time for introductions and questions. Two minutes is plenty to get someone interested in reading a spec if you do it properly. A good two-minute pitch should contain:

1. A brief personal connection explaining why you are interested in writing this story – implying why you are the best writer for the story and why others will be interested in seeing it.

2. The title, genre, and rating (for features) or format (for television). Don’t make them guess whether it’s comedy or drama, science fiction or horror, animated or live action. Tell them up front.

3. A great log line that contains the hook of your idea.

4. A sentence or two about the main character(s) implying why we will care about them.

5. The set up for the plot. You do not need to tell the ending (unless they ask). That’s what the script is for. Instead, give them the set up and end with a statement of where the story is going that can sustain a movie or TV show. For example: “So the soldier will have to make his way through enemy territory to find his true love and get her to safety.”

(For more information on constructing a two-minute pitch, see my book The Hollywood Pitching Bible – or attend one of the events above.)

Present yourself like a pro. Don’t over or under dress. The entertainment business is casual, so wearing an expensive suit to a meeting feels awkward. However, it never hurts to look sharp. You don’t want to look like you came from your job at the car wash... or from the nightclub. Dress nice-casual and business appropriate.

Also remember that you are selling yourself as well as your idea, particularly if you are looking for representation or to work in television. Be friendly and polite. Prep your introductory comments - do you have some experience relevant to your story? Did you go to a film school or win an award? Try to bring that kind of thing up (in a modest way) when you introduce yourself.

Avoid gimmicks. Your job as a writer is to just tell a good story. Artwork, mock trailers, costumes, Power Point presentations, or "clever" gifts will not impress anyone and may make you look amateurish. If bringing a photo or map or something like that helps you more easily explain your idea, that’s fine – but otherwise just focus on telling a story. You should bring business cards, possibly printed with your log line, but it’s usually better to get the business cards from the buyers and be the one in charge of making contact afterwards.

Network with other attendees. The obvious purpose of a pitch fest is to make contact with potential buyers or reps, but you may actually get more value out of meeting your fellow attendees. People tend to break into the business by making a network of friends at the lower levels of the industry who work their way up together, helping each other out. So don’t ignore opportunities to socialize with other attendees.

Following up. If you do the above things well, you will hopefully get several people to request your spec script. Follow up promptly, reminding them of your log line and your interesting background and qualifications in your cover letter or email. Then don’t bug them. A polite inquiry four weeks or so after sending material is fine, but it can take a while for people to read material. It has also, unfortunately, become commonplace for people to reject material by simply not replying at all. So following up once or twice after sending your spec is fine, but after that, take the hint.

It is very likely that everyone will pass on your script, but if anyone responds with encouraging words or compliments when they pass, be sure to follow up with a query when you have your next spec script done (hopefully not more than six months later). If they genuinely like your last script, they’ll remember you. Hollywood success is a marathon, not a sprint. Building fans is the path to a career. Overnight success is a myth.

Most of all, stay calm and try to have fun.

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