Cheers to the Writers Who Pitched at Screenwriters World!

(excerpt from on my January 2012 email newsletter) Last month, I volunteered to help run the pitching sessions at the Screenwriters World Conference 2012 in NYC. This was my first pitching event, and if these events are new to you, too, then the following is basically how this one worked.

Over 100 screenwriters came to pitch their work to film & TV execs and talent managers hoping to get a request to send in their script to be read. Since most top production and management companies will only read your work if you are referred to them by a trusted source, a pitching event is a chance to bypass the usual rules and get your ideas directly to those who can help get them produced.

The screenwriters pitched their projects to the reps one after the other, trying to connect with as many reps as they could over a period of four hours. It was without question an endurance challenge for those pitching, for those hearing pitches and even for us volunteers trying to keep it all running smoothly. In the end, I heard stories of varying amounts of success from both sides of the table, but no one I spoke to said their day hadn't been well spent. Hail Mary passes were thrown that day and I hope some of them were caught and new careers were born.

Hats off to everyone who participated in the event, and as a volunteer, I learned a ton about pitching and it was definitely a cool way to spend a Saturday.

(addendum to the newsletter excerpt)

In a nutshell, what I learned about pitching: For those who are planning to pitch someday, the key seemed to be preparation, mostly to achieve a very concise and very clear pitch. More than any other concern, those hearing pitches struggled most with pitches where they couldn't detect the genre and were confused by story and character details. Keep the pitch short and very clear, focusing on your best hook or two, and then be prepared for follow up questions. A strong hook minus any confusing details seems to be a great way to start building your pitch.

Your First Screenplay Will Most Likely Blow

Writers, by nature, are an optimistic folk; don’t let the hard-drinking, depressive reputation fool you. Writers aren’t depressed, why would they be? They have one of the few occupations that are pants-optional. The drinking part, yeah, that’s true. But we’re happy, pantsless drunks… the best kind.

writers_drinking
writers_drinking

So one day – optimistic, pantsless, drink firmly in hand – I asked a group of screenwriters on Twitter if it mattered what I wrote about in my first feature-length screenplay. Should I focus on a genre that sold well in the spec market? Should I ensure my main character was a white male, which would make the script easier to sell than a non-white male or a female lead? In essence, should I listen to the chatter about what sells and what doesn’t?

And that’s when this nugget of advice came my way from screenwriter Geoff LaTulippe. Geoff said, it doesn’t matter what you write about because your first screenplay will most likely blow.

Excuse me?

Dear God, I almost spilled my drink.

Did he just say, my screenplay, which I hadn’t even written yet, was going to blow?

Well, that didn’t sound optimistic.

I took a long swig from my martini and thought about all the screenwriting books I’d read, the screenwriting classes I’d taken and the countless conversations I’d had about structure and character and story. I then realized two things: 1) I still had no idea how to write a screenplay and; 2) the goal for my first screenplay should be to learn how to write a screenplay.

That was it, so simple. Geoff had set me free.

Not free from putting in the time and the sweat to write the screenplay. Not free from gathering feedback on my work and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting. Not even free from caring so much my heart will break if I can’t make this script sing. But free from giving a damn about what anyone else believes is a worthy topic or a worthy person to write about.

The beauty of being a novice is I don’t have to worry about making money from this script or where it will fit into the market. This is my time to take pleasure in the process of writing and creating and learning. It would be a shame to miss out on the freedom of being a student by being overly concerned with how I’m going to go pro.

Geoff has since told me I should never write to market trends and should always write about the people and the stories that drive me to create my best work. This seems like solid advice and I’ll chew on it… but right now, I have a screenplay to write. And to finish.

One final point, lest you think I’m setting off now to write a really shitty screenplay and love it, don’t forget I said writers are eternal optimists. As much as I truly believe Geoff’s words, as much as I’m going to use his advice to spur me on to working harder and with more determination, I can’t help but keep in mind that he said my first screenplay will “most likely” blow. Because the flipside is, there’s still a tiny chance that my screenplay will totally fucking rock.