Tips for a Successful PitchFest – updated

Well it’s that time of year again, the Great American Pitchfest has arrived at the Burbank Marriott for two days of classes and unlimited pitches.  Every year hundreds of hopeful screenwriters descend upon Burbank from all corners of the World in hopes of shaking hands with Executives, Agents and Managers. Why do they do it? It is one of the few chances where Hollywood opens the door and allows the writer a chance to take their career to the next step.

But you may say why not do things the old fashioned way? You could send unsolicited queries or cold call after cold call?  Sure, some writers have had luck with those methods, but either you’ll just be a voice on the phone or an email clogging up an executive’s inbox.  This is the chance to meet face-to-face. To build those connections that can last beyond this weekend, and no longer will you be that faceless person on the other end of the line.

So how can you have a successful Pitchfest?  Well I’m here to give you a couple tips for this weekend.

  1. The GAPF gives all attendees a book of every company that will be in attendance on Sunday. This is the Holy Grail and lists the Executive who will be on the other side of the table, what they’ve produced in the past and what they are currently looking for. Once you’ve picked up this book.  Study it and make notes.  Start your game plan of the top 10 companies that you MUST visit on Sunday, ranking them in order that best fits your projects that you have on hand.
  2. I just want to be honest up front, Pitchfest isn’t about the Holy Grail of selling your script.  No company is going to buy the script outright from you based on the pitch right there in the room.  If they like your pitch, some will request (sometime after the event) to be sent a copy of the script (after you’ve signed their release form).  If the Exec likes the material, there’s a chance of landing an option, where the company will help you develop the project over the next 6 to 24 months.  Trust me, there’s no such thing as the perfect script and that is why development exists in this town.  On an option you can’t expect a lot of money, and many options for new writers will be free or a $1 good faith option.  Some may go higher, depending on the potential they see.  Then again, we don’t know if you can take notes, so why drop the big bucks up front.
  3. But instead of just hitting up the Production companies, why not hit up the Managers and Agencies that will be on hand for the event?  If I was on the other side of the table, this would be my number one priority.  Why?  Well if I have someone that represents me, it adds another person that is trying to sell me, my scripts and launch my career as a writer.  Plus if you’re not from LA, at least you’ll have someone in town that can be your face person while you write scripts from another area of the country (or world).
  4. You may want to put the bigger ProdCos at the top of your list, but honestly is this the best idea?  When you’re pitching these companies, they are pitched all the time by the A-list writers that are constantly working in Hollywood.  This is like you playing little league and battling the World Series champs.  Why not help your odds and look after the Indie Prodcos that are at the event.  No, I’m not saying that to help my chances of finding the great project out there and take it away from the Majors, but the Indie ProdCos sometimes have to look at different sources to find their next project and discover new voices.  Plus if you have a bigger budget film, most smaller Indie ProdCos can partner with a studio or a bigger ProdCo to finance and produce your big budget film.
  5. You must network during this event, even if you’re afraid to talk to people. Writers are creative people and not always the most out-going, but this is a town that operates on meeting and knowing as many people possible.  This doesn’t mean just networking with other Execs if they’re around, but also other writers and attendees of the Pitchfest.  This town is really all about who you know.
  6. Check out the classes (most are free) that are being offered on Saturday.  There are classes for everyone and no matter what type of writer you consider yourself, you should be able to find something that matches your interests.  There’s classes and panels on pitching, how to navigate the crazy world of Television, how to sell and market yourself from outside the 30 mile radius and classes on adaptations.  Also the people sitting next to you, these are people with similar interests and goals, so why not spark up a conversation as you’re waiting for the panel to start.
  7. If you’re not sure that your pitch is up to par, several pitch gurus will be on site Saturday to help take your pitch to the next level.  Of course there is an additional fee for this, but I would recommend Danny Manus of No Bull-Script Consulting.  Also Xandy from covermyscript.com will be on site offering help with your pitch and one-sheets (for an additional fee).

You may be saying to yourself, “Zac, this is some great advice so far, but what about during the actual Pitch process?”  Well thanks for the kind words, but here is some quick advice for the actual day of pitching and your pitch session in general:

  • The Execs realize that you’re probably nervous. Honestly, don’t worry about it. Think of your pitch like a job interview or a speech that you gave to a class back in school. You’re there to sell yourself and your story, plus aren’t the Execs there looking for material? We need you writers to find our next projects!
  • Practice and hone the 90-second pitch.  Sure you have 5 minutes, but a great pitch can be condensed down into 90 seconds and still get the story out there.  When someone pitches me, I like building a little rapport first during the first 30 to 60 seconds.  After that, you’re off to the races with your pitch.  If we spent 60 seconds building rapport and then another 90 seconds on your pitch, you’re still left with two and a half minutes.  Why is this crucial?  Well every pitch I’m going to have a question to ask you (if you don’t use your whole 5 minutes), so you better know your story inside and out. Also if that pitch isn’t right for the company, it allows you to pitch another story or race back and beat all the other writers back into the queue for your next pitch.
  • Make sure you have plenty of one-sheets for your pitch.  If you don’t know what a one-sheet is, you can Google examples.  And no, a one-sheet isn’t a theatrical poster, but closer to what a query letter would be.  If you do have multiple pitches, you can do double-sided printing with all your other loglines on the back.  From everyone that pitches me, I request one-sheets from about 2/3s of the writers.  Why?  Sometimes you’re nervous and you missed something. Or as I stated above when talking about networking, sometimes writers are better at writing than actually talking.  I’ve requested a couple projects in the past that had mediocre pitches but blew me away with their one-sheet.
  • I know I said once before, but make a game plan and strategize who you are going to pitch.  Company A may have a line about 5 people deep which means you can’t pitch them for 25 minutes.  Wouldn’t it be better to have backups that you could jump into that line and not waste any sessions?  This is all a numbers game.  If your script has a 25% request rate and you hit 10 people, you’ll be read by 2.5 companies.  If you’re able to pitch 20 companies in the same amount of time with the same take rate, you just doubled your requests by planning ahead.
  • Please, please, please… don’t do anything that will distract the Exec away from your pitch.   In the past people have shown up with props, worn costumes, not brushed their teeth or picked up a pack of gum after lunch, missed their morning shower, showed too much cleavage, had their toupee on crooked, mentioned that this comedy was based on their life, or tell me you have a single daughter.  These things have all happened and distracted me from the pitch.
  • The best thing you can do… thank the Exec for their time in the beginning or in the end. We’re there on our Sunday and might have a stack of scripts to read once the event ends. It’s the small things that can make the difference.
  • If the person passes on your pitch or doesn’t request a one-sheet, don’t take it personally.  Not every pitch (even if it seems like something that the info sheet stated) is not going to be for everybody.  A lot of Execs will request your one-sheet but not make a decision until after the event.  Just think, if an Exec hears ten pitches an hour for seven hours, that’s seventy pitches.  I really can’t make up my mind what I want to read until I’ve heard everything and let it all sink in.

Most of all, have fun at the event and meet as many people as you can.  There are a couple writers that I still keep in touch with dating back to my first Pitchfest in 2007, allowing them a constant open door to submit to me in the future. Making it in Hollywood rarely happens as an overnight success story, but instead by building and nurturing long lasting relationships. Sure the guy you’re pitching to may be an assistant, but the assistants of today may be the ones running the studios in the future.

If you have any further questions and liked to pick my brain some more, you can follow me on Twitter or shoot me an email to zac at zacsanford dot com.  I must also state, since we have a no unsolicited query policy, if you do not pitch me at the event, I cannot except any pitches in email or on my twitter outside of Pitchfest.

Hope your Pitchfest is a success and to meet you when you pitch Suntaur Entertainment.  Even if your project isn’t right for our company, please feel free to say hi at one of the many networking events.  I will be hanging around most the day Saturday, attending the official #scriptchat meetup in the bar at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night, the Networking event after the pitchfest on Sunday, and the Script Magazine meetup on Monday (Time and place still TBD – but the last couple have been at Cat & Fiddle in Hollywood).

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