Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Great American Pitchfest, Part 3 - The Pitches



Yeah, this blog post is a little late, but holy cow, crowd funding takes a LOT of time!
This post is all about the pitches. And we heard a wide variety of pitches at Great American PitchFest this year.

The way it works: There is a room full of tables with managers, agents and production companies just waiting to hear that pitch that will knock their socks off. The one that makes them stand up and shout, "I GOT ONE!" Sadly, that didn't happen to us.
Yes, we were a table of three. And in reality, I wish every writer that ever pitched could sit through a day of pitches like Sarah and I were able to do. I think it would do wonders for them to make their pitch stand out from the crowd.
Every pitch gets 5 minutes, but if the pitchee is interested, they can keep you longer. After your 5 minutes, you go back out and wait to come in in another wave of pitchers.

First I want to talk about pitching, and I'm bringing this up from the pitchee POV.

BRING HAND SANITIZER!
Not just for you, but maybe offer a small travel size to the person you're pitching to. It may well be the thing that gets you remembered. Assuming your pitch didn't already do that.
BEFORE YOU APPROACH THE TABLE
Take a deep breath, a shot of tequila, or a Xanax, or both (you think I'm kidding), but follow the Patron with a Listerine strip, so the producer/agent/manager doesn't ask to share your bottle.
This isn't brain surgery, hell, it's only a job interview, and if you already have a job, it's an interview for a job you don't need. So relax, you'll give a much better pitch.

EXUDE CONFIDENCE
Nothing is a bigger turn off than not being sure of yourself. I'm not talking cocky here, I'm talking about knowing you have a great script, and feeling good about sitting down and talking about it.

The best pitch we had came from a woman who walked up to the table like she knew us, and said, "I need a manager. My script has been requested by a lot of producers..." She wasn't making this up, she had great presence and a great pitch.


KNOW YOUR STORY!
And I don't mean have a well rehearsed pitch, those are a dime a dozen. I mean know your story/pitch like it's your house in a tract house neighborhood of identical homes, like it's your baby in a nursery where they mixed up the names, like, well, you get it by now.
And tell your story like you've been telling it since you were twelve. That funny story everyone keeps asking you to repeat.


THE APPROACH
I beg you, learn how to shake hands!!! The biggest turnoff is a limp, half, or soft handshake! Shake a woman's hand the same as you'd shake a man's. Take the full hand with confidence and shake like you're glad to meet them.
When you sit down, say something about the company you're talking to (yes, this means doing your homework, whether it's before you arrive at the pitchfest, in your room the night before, or while waiting in line). Know something about them, so they know why you chose to pitch to them.
Tell the a little (very little) about yourself, and then BOOM! you get to start your pitch.

THE PITCH
First, don't sit down and say, "Well, I have three different scripts, a romantic comedy, a thriller, and a civil war. Which one would you like to hear?" Are you fucking kidding me? Pick the one you plan to pitch, and tell them what you are pitching! The person listening to pitches doesn't want to make that decision all freaking day.
You're there to pitch your best piece, so pitch the hell out of it. And if you did your homework, and read the books I recommended, you'll kill it!
If there's extra time, you can tell them about other work you have, but you choose what you're going to talk about.
Offer up your high concept, knock their socks off, they want to reach over the table and hug you, logline!

Then when you see their eyes light up, give them another paragraph! Yup, just a paragraph. If you are killin' it, they'll be saying, "And then..." They'll be leaning forward, waiting for more. And if they are, then you have all the answers. And you answer and carry on with confidence because you know your story like, well, you know...
Speaking of answers, if you're interrupted with questions, be cool with it, answer the questions and know exactly how to pick back up naturally. This can be practiced by pitching to friends and having them ask you questions along the way. Or by knowing your story like...

SPEAKING OF GREAT SCRIPTS
Hollywood doesn't buy ideas. Well, at least not if you are pitching your first screenplay, they don't. Your script MUST be fully written, and polished before you go out trying to sell it. If you pitch and they love your story, you don't have months, or even weeks to finish it and send it off. By two weeks after the pitchfest, even if your story was KILLER, the producer is going to figure you aren't that interested in their company, or at the very least, you aren't a professional.

ABOUT THAT STORY
Yes, Hollywood makes a lot of expensive films, but not yours. As a first time writer you need to have a story your manager/producer/agent can sell. By this I mean, no period pieces whether it's 1893 or 2154, no blow them up action pics, and no exotic locations that can't be faked in the US.
You wouldn't believe how many of these scripts were pitched to us. Yeah, there's a chance this type of film will get made by a newbie screenwriter, but it's more like a chance in hell.
Some good advice for first time screenwriters (by first time, I mean never had a TV or feature screenplay produced):

BE APPROACHABLE


THE BUSINESS OF SCREENWRITING

Remember, Hollywood is first and foremost a business. You need to treat it like one. Before you start pitching your script, get to know some Hollywood folk, or read the books about the business side, not just the craft of screenwriting. If you educate yourself, like you would for any other professional career, you will be that much ahead of 99% of the other people pitching.

BEFORE & AFTER
Bob and Signe offer up lots of chances to schmooze with Hollywood folk both before and after the pitching. If you don't take advantage of these opportunities, then you may as well stay home. I've made more lasting contacts at the lunches and cocktail parties, by just having a conversation with the professionals. NO! you don't want to pitch them at these functions, you just want to chat, talk about movies, the industry. If they want to know what you're working on, you can give them the logline, but don't offer it if they don't ask. By all means, have fun, producers/managers/agents are people too!

Zac Sanford would like to add:  Always have a one sheet of your script available and ready for what you pitch. 
 Also, no loose business cards.  Your contact information is (and should be on your one sheet).  If you want your business card to be part of the one sheet, staple that sucker on there.  Otherwise it just becomes a collection of cards that mean nothing at the end of the day.

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