by Rona Edwards and Monica Skerbelis|
We've covered many areas of the industry in the world of feature film development. We've talked about Agents and Managers, what happens to your screenplay when it's submitted to a studio, the Producer, the Writer. Now that you have an understanding of the system itself, how do you get your work out there in front of producers and companies that can actually move it to the next level? In addition to screenwriting competitions, query letters, e-mails and phone calls, another great way for unrepresented and unproduced writers to get their material read is to attend Pitchfests. Each year they grow in popularity and in numbers.
What is a Pitchfest? Writers pay the organizers of the festival to have an opportunity to pitch their ideas, screenplays and novels to agents, managers, producers, executives and/or junior executives at production companies, studios, networks and literary agencies. These invited industry professionals (Pitchees) come together for a few hours in a large room at a convention center or hotel ballroom, where they sit at a table with a posted sign displaying usually the company name and a number. These industry professionals wait every five minutes for an announcement or a bell to ring whereby a writer visits their table and pitches their ideas one on one - all in the hope of finding that "gem" of a screenplay or talented writer with a fresh new voice. Sound simple? For some writers, it is agonizing extending their sweaty palm, hoping their next Pitchee will respond to their material. However, this exercise gives the writer an opportunity to hone their pitching skills. It's good practice and sometimes, a company will request to read the material. This is the ultimate goal at Pitchfests!
There are Pitchfests popping up all around. So how do you know which ones you should spend your money at? We can't endorse any particular one over the other, but we have been known to appear at some of them. The most popular ones seem to be the Screenwriting Expo PitchXchange (sponsored by Creative Screenwriting magazine and coincides with panels, workshops and other valuable networking opportunities for writers), The Great American Pitchfest (held in Los Angeles) and The Great Canadian Pitchfest (held in Canada) both produced by the same organization, Fade In magazine Pitchfest (Fade In created the pitch fest phenomenon back in 1996), and the American Screenwriting Association's Pitchfest held in association with the San Diego Film Festival. There are many others as well. Many of the Pitchfests are associated with screenwriting conferences and some with film festival. The cost is usually absorbed in an unlimited pass. However, the Screenwriting Expo's PitchXchange charges attendees $25 to pitch their idea to one company or writers can purchase 5 pitches (tickets) for $100. Writers sign up for the production companies and agencies they want to pitch their ideas to based on a list that is given to them in advance with the companies credits. They then reserve a time slot to meet for those valuable five minutes with that particular executive.
Edwards Skerbelis Entertainment (ESE) has attended some of the larger Pitchfests. We've listened to approximately 25-40 pitches within a three to four-hour period per Pitchfest. We've accepted about a dozen screenplays and have discovered some new talented writers.
Most productions companies volunteer their time. However, some Pitchfests may pay them a very small honorarium for their trouble.
The writers sit in a waiting area until their group is next up to pitch. While waiting, it's a great opportunity for them to network with fellow writers and share experiences. When a bell rings, they have 5 minutes to go to a designated production company ?s table and introduce themselves before delving into their pitch.
Some valuable tips for pitching at Pitchfests include:
·Don't go pitching a Reality TV show to someone who is listed as
only wanting to hear horror screenplays;
·Do some research ahead of time if possible about who is planning to
attend and what they are looking for so you don't waste anyone's
time let alone any money you may spend on the pitches themselves.
We also suggest writers take a deep breath and begin their pitch with the following procedures:
·Mention if you won a particular screenwriting competition or if you
have a film in the festival (if the Pitchfest is associated with a
·Mention if you have a "6 Degrees of Separation" connection to the
exec of his/her company. Sometimes this will help the Pitchee
remember your pitch;
·Give the genre and logline;
·Begin your pitch:
a) set up your characters;
b) make the pitch interesting;
c) tell the story, but not the whole story. Describe some of the
significant and emotional moments of the story and wrap it up
with an ending. Finish the pitch!
·Ask the Pitchee if they have any questions;
·When your time is up and if the Pitchee tells you, "It isn't
right for our company" just say "thank you" and move on. Don't
confront the producer. Be polite because you can always email them
with your future ideas. In fact, you should ask them what they're
looking for? And if you can contact them again;
·Leave a contact sheet with your idea or your business card. When you follow-up, send your contact at the company an e-mail and/or cover letter reminding them of the pitch along with the title, genre and logline. Some companies will accept your screenplay emailed to them, however most times a release form will be necessary.
One of the things we've noticed at Pitchfests, Film Festivals and Panels we've appeared at, is that there is a lot of instruction on how to pitch your ideas. While we don't necessarily know all the teachers of pitching and screenwriting on the planet, we've found we don't always agree on how pitching is taught. For one thing, we're sick of hearing a pitch start with "what if so and so..." What we tell our students and our consulting clients is that they need to use their intuition of what feels right to them. Wedon't particularly like a logline that begins with "What if..." - we prefer something straight forward like:
"A young boy wishes that his lawyer father tell the truth for 24-hours."
It's simple, more direct and you get it right away. You don't want to sound like everyone else. And just because someone teaches one thing, you will find differing opinions on the many approaches. Probably the one thing that most writing instructors agree on is the 3-act structure - other than that, take all the information and assimilate it and decide what works best for you. There is no wrong or right way but you do need to make things easy, accessible and distinctive when you have a limited time to pitch them. You also want to stand out and not sound like everyone else.
Another alternative to the Pitchfest is the Virtual PitchFest where you can purchase five pitches for $50.00 or 10 pitches for $100.00. Writers then have the opportunity to send an email with a logline and brief summary of their screenplay to participating companies. The good news is that the companies have five days to respond to your pitch. That is the basic rule that companieshave to comply with at Virtual Pitchfest.
Above all, Pitchfests offer writers and even would-be producers an opportunity to come together with companies that would be harder to access with a cold call. You've now made your first connection -if your work is up to snuff, you will make many more connections with that company and others as well. It may all have started at a Pitchfest!
You can contact Rona and Monika via their website: www.esentertainment.net
Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis are the co-authors of "I Liked It, Didn't Love It: Screenplay Development From The Inside Out" from Lone Eagle Publishing. They have worked as development execs and producers, and collectively have 25 years worth of experience in Hollywood.
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