The 2009 6th Annual Great American PitchFest – Day Five: Pitching My Heart Out
…continued from Day Four.
On the ride up, I was still tweaking Opportunity Knockout in my head based on everything that I had learned all the previous day.
I was so embroiled in working out the story and perfecting the pitch at the last goddamn minute that I had missed one of my turns! I quickly turned around and got back on the right road.
I finally made it to the Marriot Burbank Hotel. I parked my beater-box, went in and got some coffee. Then I went over to the convention hall where everyone was waiting outside in the warm morning air. They weren’t letting the attendees in just yet.
I ran into Ross. He was a bit nervous but excited. I told him all about the previous night’s events and then ran the entire newly formed pitch past him. He loved it. I knew it was ready.
Finally they opened the doors and let us crazy screenwriters in.
Here’s where I am going to describe how the system works. I’ve been saving it until this point in the story so as not to spoil all the fun.
The tension and excitement was intense. It was like that feeling you get as a kid on Christmas Eve where you can’t sleep but you know you have to or else Santa Claus won’t come. Yeah, it was like that.
Once they were completely set up inside the main ballroom, the announcement was made.
“The PitchFest is now open!” yelled Bob. “Good luck to you all!”
So what happens?
Outside the main ballroom is a long hallway that wraps around part of the hall. It is in this hallway that a huge scaffolding rig has been set up. Essentially, it is a long, long, long sign holder above everyone’s heads. The signs are numbered (in this case 1 to 123). Each number represents a company that is in the aforementioned PitchFest book (plus a few last minute additions). Inside the ballroom are rows of tables that have the corresponding numbers on them and the execs from said companies in the book.
So what you do is you line up under the number sign of the company/exec that you want to pitch to. Since the event scales up to however many people register for the event (in other words for every five registrants the PitchFest adds another company/exec) so you are never in a line that is more than five to eight people deep—sometimes less.
You have to be strategic here. This is where all that research I did on the Friday with the book paid off. If you want to maximize the amount of people you’re pitching to, you have to look at each of your preferred choices and see how many people are in the line; whether or not reps from the company are actually there (as in the case of BenderSpink who never showed); and whether or not you’re going with a producer, agent, or manager.
There are other variables to consider as well but you won’t know what’s going to happen until that day and see all the organized chaos going on.
And it was crazy.
Bob kept everyone riled up yelling over the megaphone saying stuff like, “One minute to go!” or “Such and such company has just arrived and they’ll listen to anything in any genre!” or “Remember, stay cool, have fun, wow them!”
So with hundreds of people lined up under the numbered signs, it was time to pitch.
A bell sounded, and the first people in the lines went into the main ballroom and straight to their numbered tables.
It was amazing catching glimpses of these hopeful screenwriters sitting in front of the card-holders with their dreams in their hands.
And I was one of them!
Off in the distance up at the podium were Signe and Lorene. They were watching the time.
That’s because you five, and only five, minutes to pitch your script to the exec. At the two minute left mark another bell is sounded—that’s when you have to wrap it up as succinctly as you possibly can.
That two minute warning is also very important for the people waiting outside the ballroom. That’s when the pitchers that are on deck (yeah, sounds like baseball) are herded into a holding area just inside the main ballroom.
And believe me, once you get into that holding area it is like reaching the top of a roller-coaster just before you go zooming down.
And the bell rings again and you’re off!!!
You race to your table and hope that the previous person is actually kind enough to vacate your spot. Almost all of the time they do. But sometimes there’s one or two who linger taking more time than they should. That’s when you’ve gotta speak up and politely say, “Excuse me, but it’s my turn now.” Don’t let anything trip you up. You’re there for you.
Unfortunately, that’s the nature of the beast and you have to roll with it.
But just about everybody there is a good sport and is very courteous towards their fellow screenwriter.
Sometimes if the exec wants to speak with you longer then the PitchFest staff will hold up the line but that didn’t happen too often when I was there.
I must make mention of a few things here before I go on.
I saw lots of people dressed in all kinds of unique and interesting garb.
My friend Tessa was dressed in a full-footed adult-sized children’s pajama costume. I didn’t even think they made those! Since she was promoting her children’s show, she felt it was appropriate to dress the part.
I saw others in hard-core 3-piece suits which seemed extremely uncomfortable in the hot LA summer sun (even inside the air-conditioned ballroom).
And there were others with revealing clothing and other crazy costumes.
Most though were casually but nicely dressed such as myself.
I can’t say whether or not those gimmicks worked for them but my guess is that these might have detracted from those people’s pitches rather than aide them. The last thing you want to do is distract the exec while you’re trying to convince them that your story is the one they want. I personally wouldn’t recommend costuming it up but if you really feel that it will help then go for it.
Another thing that I saw but wouldn’t recommend is bringing visual aides to the pitches—especially computers or portable DVD players.
Though you may think that an exec is going to be wowed by the scene or trailer you filmed for your script, let me tell you that in this venue you really want to stick to the old-fashioned pitching method.
First of all, your computer/DVD player might crash or have technical problems at the worst possible time—Murphy’s Law. Do you really wanna risk that happening? You’ve come all of this way, worked so hard to get here, and now you blow it because your computer won’t boot up! Leave the gadgets behind.
Also, do you really wanna waste your five precious minutes playing show and tell, doing more showing than telling? While the exec is watching the scene they’re not getting to know you. There’ll be no time for them to ask questions or for you to answer them. Don’t waste your time NOT talking to the exec.
A well crafted pitch, finely executed with confidence and style is all that you need. No more.
Let them decide whether or not they want to know more about you and your work.
Then after the meeting you can leave behind what they call… leave behinds. Essentially, your one-sheet or sheets & business card. Or possibly a DVD or flash drive with more for them to check out. Or of course the holy grail: your screenplay!
So, with all of those tips out of the way let me tell you what happened to me.
One of the strategies Signe, Bob, and other recommended was to initially do a few practice pitches.
After all, of the writing, researching, practicing, preparing, travelling, consulting and class taking, and everything in between, I was finally here: throwing out my very first pitch in Hollywood!
Now I don’t know what I was thinking but I thought I should start with Trogs instead of OK. So I pitched it to this company and… I got passed over. But no matter because I was getting my feet wet.
I was actually surprised at how well I delivered the pitch. I was cool, confident, dramatic, and excited. And it was so much fun, I couldn’t wait to do it again!
So I hit up Atlas Entertainment.
I pitched Trogs again because it seemed like this was the type of material these first few companies were looking for.
But I was getting shot down regardless of how well I delivered my pitch.
However, one really great thing about standing in the lines was the people you got to meet. There was one woman who was pitching a script titled I Only Date Steves. She told me that she has a tattoo with the name of her former boyfriend Steve on it. After they broke up, rather than get the tattoo removed she would only date men named Steve. She fictionalized her story with a happy ending and decided to pitch it. There was even a website called IOnlyDateSteves.com which she eventually took down before the PitchFest. Amazing.
There was also a great mother and daughter screenwriting team, Rebecca and Katlyn Tillman. The amazing thing about Katlyn was that she was only 14! Not only that, she had already been optioned twice by the time she got to the PitchFest. Talk about starting young!
There were a few more companies like Robert Evans Company, Cheyenne Entertainment, and Dimension Films that I got to pitch my other screenplays, Artifact: The Heart Of Dracula and Montana. But still no takers.
And still I was not pitching Opportunity Knockout!
What the hell was wrong with me?
Why was I afraid to throw out my big gun?
Well, with the morning waning and lunch soon coming on, my initial high was starting to wear off. I was getting demoralized. Yes, I’m only human. I had come all this way, gone through so much to get here, and now I was tanking. I needed an ego boost.
And then it was time for a break and the executive luncheon.
So, they kicked everyone out of the main ballroom and lined those of us up who were registered to do so to go and sit with the executives for a catered lunch.
Now I know it may have seemed superfluous to do this. Certainly, I could have saved myself some cash by skipping the executive luncheon but since I was coming all the way out to here, I might as well try to schmooze with the Hollywood execs because when would I ever get this chance again?
Also, since I was a member of WIND during this time, a professional networking (as in network with people from all types of professions) association based in Massachusetts, the one thing I learned from them is that new opportunities truly come from networking. So I had to do the luncheon.
And I’m glad I did.
- I learned that no one is going to be interested in my “creature feature” script. Despite the fact that it was a low-budget action fest that even opens up at a strip club, it was just not the in-thing right now.
- The in-thing was slasher films (such as killer on campus or torture porn) and romantic comedies. Since I had no interest in writing a slasher film, the rom-com was definitely up.
- I now had a nice pretext for the next pitch with Mike Kuciak right after the luncheon.
By the way, the food was excellent and now I felt re-energized. I finally knew what I had to do.
So, as soon as the PitchFest got started up again my next target was AEI.
There I saw Mike Kuciak and said, “Hey we just had lunch together.” A decent way to open up a meeting. Plus, he knew a bit more about me anyway from the luncheon and vice versa.
So he asked me what have I got. I told him about the line up and he said, “Hit me with the romantic comedy.”
So I did just that and the first words out of his mouth were, “Great, send it to me.”
So, I had to say, “I’m in the middle of a rewrite and I’ll get that to you in a month.”
And he replied, “Send it whenever it’s ready.”
I couldn’t believe it! All of that banter that Heather told me to say actually worked!
He wanted it—and now I had to write the goddamn thing!
So after that I was stoked! I was back! I was rocking!
I hastily reworked my schedule of companies to hit up.
Oh by the way, one of them (mentioned earlier) was BenderSpink who a lot of people wanted to pitch to. They specialized in sci-fi horror films such as The Butterfly Effect, The Ring, and A History Of Violence to name a few. I thought Trogs would be perfect for them but since they never showed that was that.
But now I was only hitting up companies/execs that wanted to hear about my rom-com.
I pitched to Karen Armstrong herself from Karen Armstrong Productions. Her response was that she wanted a budget and information on the tax breaks for filming in Massachusetts where OK is set.
I was on an amazing roll!
And as the day started to wane, I was jumping into all kinds of lines abandoning my list altogether.
I spoke with Jane Lawton Moore from Nash Entertainment who actually told me that someone had already pitched that [my rom-com] story to her. How could they? I hadn’t even written it yet!
Just the nature of the beast I guess.
I pitched to Robert Kosberg himself of Robert Kosberg Productions who was reputed to be an idea guy. He actually wanted to hear about Montana. He took my one-sheet for it and said if he could get his head around the premise of an alternate history he’d give me a call.
I also got in a pitch to Wendy Finerman’s assistant of Wendy Finerman Productions who also seemed quite interested in OK and wanted a one-sheet for it by the time I got back to Boston. Remember, I had only a draft one-sheet that was edited by Heather Hale and then totally abandoned by me, so I’d have to put a new one together pronto along with writing the actual script.
I met with Crystal Lake Entertainment, The Gersh Agency, and International Creative Management (ICM). I pitched to them whatever they wanted to hear. There was some interest but no script requests. At that point, it didn’t matter, I was riding so high that I could have pitched Dumbo and made it sound like Avatar!
The interesting thing about ICM was that the person I pitched to Matt Shreder ultimately did a coverage on OK. Even though he didn’t pass it up the food chain he recommended me and thought my writing was quote:
“You have a clean written style with a solid sense of character voice. Your writing has a good sense of rhythm and flow from one scene to the next, which is so vital for a script to be successful, and not many people succeed at capturing it. You make good attempts at deep characters and strong emotional arcs.”
Which I thought was pretty cool.
Finally, I pitched to Susie Talebi of Perspective Pictures and she wanted me to give her the first act right then and there in whatever shape it was in. I told her I’d get it to her by the end the week (and the whole script afterwards, which I did but more on that later). She was also from Boston and loved the idea of producing a Boston-based romantic comedy.
What a great last pitch to end on!
Then as soon as it had come… it was over.
Bob called time and that was it.
I ran by the podium and jumped for joy in front of Signe and Lorene!
Everyone exited the ballroom and the staff started breaking down the tables to get ready for the final cocktail celebration.
Having got two script requests and more blew my mind. I was psyched. I couldn’t stop talking about it.
I found James, Ross, Tessa, Lise (and others) and just kept telling them all about how I successfully pitched a screenplay that I hadn’t even written yet!
And everything that I had learned at the PitchFest went into making that happen.
So we ended up closing the place after the celebration was finally over.
I hugged Signe goodbye and apologized for almost panicking. She was really great about it.
I told her how well I did and she was happy for me.
I told her that I would do my damndest to get back to this event in the future. She said she looked forward to it.
And that’s exactly what I plan on doing in 2011.
Though I couldn’t make the 2010 PitchFest due to time and money constraints, I am now in a position that I can get back for next year’s shindig, only to do it bigger and better next time.
So, I bade my new friends farewell and vowed to keep in touch with all of them—which to this day I still have.
And then it was time to leave and celebrate with my close friends for one more night on the LA town!
I got back to Dave’s more psyched than psyched and luckily he was home.
We headed out to a really cool restaurant that had these incredible Martini’s and some fine French food. But I’ll have to ask Dave what the name of it was. Dan joined us later, and finally Mike.
Even though I was now totally spent, exhausted, and wiped out (yeah, all three!), I still wanted to hang with my buddies on my final night in LA and tell them all about this amazing, insane, incredible, super-awesome, and soon life-changing, experience.
We did a little bar hopping that night and then I crashed hard on Dave’s couch.
continued on Day Six…