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.

A Shot of Courage

A couple of weeks ago, I got one of those great pings in my email inbox, that little chime that sounds a lot like opportunity knocking. It was David Branin and Karen Worden from the Film Courage LA Talk Radio show inviting me to guest blog on their site about screenwriting. By extending my reach in the film industry, into ventures beyond my Final Draft docs, I got on the radar of two of the freshest voices supporting indie film today, the ever-awesome hosts of Film Courage.

Not surprisingly, the piece I wrote for them, "Filmmaking is for Screenwriters Too," is about new opportunities screenwriters can find if they embrace the film industry at large and work collaboratively with the film community we so enthusiastically joined.

Please take a moment to read the piece and I'd love it if you'd leave a comment at their site.

Thanks so much, Dave and Karen, for this great opportunity to connect with your audience. Film courage indeed!

How the Game of Telephone Is Ruining Your Pitch

I recently took a new position in development at the production company I’ve been reading for and it’s giving me an insider’s view of that mythical fortress – the ProdCo – all of us spec writers are trying so hard to storm.

Before I begin my ProdCo work, I do switch hats from writing to development, but don’t think for a moment that the writer in me isn’t always listening closely and taking notes. The game of telephone, and how it applies to a screenplay pitch, has been my first lesson.

A screenwriter friend shared a script with me as a potential submission to the ProdCo. She also shared her logline and, in trying to clarify a point, mentioned another produced film as a potential comparison. The other film not only bombed at the box office but was equally terrible as a movie. The first thing I thought was I should never mention that “in the vein of” when talking about this script. But the seed was planted and hell if it didn’t grow when I wasn’t looking.

A few days later, I’m chatting with a ProdCo colleague and we’re discussing ideas that have been floating our way. We hit upon the genre of the script my friend had given me and I tried my best to remember the exact logline. I kind of remembered it, but boy did I wish in that moment the logline had been a little snappier, with more of a hook, because as hard as I was trying (and writers, know, I was trying), I was doing a terrible job of re-pitching this idea.

It wasn’t working, I saw no spark of interest in my colleague’s eyes and my brain scrambled for how to position this script. Then, there it was: The seed that had grown into a putrid flower, that regrettable “in the vein of” line, bubbled up in my head and popped right out of my mouth.

As the pitch flopped on the carpet, gasping for air, I did what any working Joe in my shoes would have done; I averted my gaze and moved on to the next project.

But the writer in me made note.

Most writers know how important their pitch is and work hard to craft a great one they can deliver. But what I certainly hadn’t thought much about is the fact that as writers we’ll probably, if we’re lucky, get to pitch one employee of a ProdCo and then they’re the ones who’ll go around the company trying to recreate our pitches.

Ever play telephone as a kid?  Now imagine your pitch told and re-told by other people.  What are those key words and ideas that will be remembered and passed on? Is there anything in your pitch that’s working against you, such as a comparison to a bad film or a character name or location or minor detail that will trump more important aspects of your story in the re-tellers mind?

If you’re practicing your pitch, you’re probably already pitching it to friends and family to help refine it. Try adding another step: Wait a few days after pitching to a friend and then ask them to try to pitch your idea back to you. Listen closely for what they remember, where they struggle and if they are able to re-pitch your idea with anything close to the enthusiasm with which you pitched it to them.

Like it or not, pitching is a big old game of telephone. You have control over what words and ideas you use to start the chain, but after that, you have no idea of the storytelling skills of the folks down the line.

We’re all working too hard on our writing careers to get stuck at the pitch. If you whisper in the first ear “an adventure comedy about two bumbling musicians on the run from the mob” and all the last person in the telephone chain can remember is “in the vein of Ishtar,” then you need to rethink that pitch.

If the Treefort's a Rockin'

Growing up in Manhattan, there weren’t a whole lot of tree forts. There must have been a few wealthy families who had them in their tony backyards, but I didn’t grow up with those families. I grew up with the kids who played in the West side rail yards, and while the rail yard offered its own homeless enclave meets drug den charm, it was no tree fort. I still live in Manhattan and now, well into adulthood, I finally have a tree fort, and this one is so chic it comes with a hashtag. The #treefort is a collective of the five people who founded Twitter Scriptchat, and while our fort may be virtual, our commitment to each other is as serious as a 12-year-old boy’s love for cigarettes and girlie mags.

Each week, the #treefort pals climb into our (virtual) private hideaway, and after a healthy session of gossiping and playing catch-up, we come up with a game plan for another week of #scriptchat and tequila-drinking fun.

Since #scriptchat has grown from an hourly event each week to a daily online hangout for screenwriters, we realized it was time to pull up the canvas shades and let you peek inside to meet the folks who inhabit a tree fort so big it stretches from Los Angeles to London, yet so small it holds only five people. We’re still not going to tell you what we talk about in there, because those are the secrets we pinky swore to take to our graves, but we are ready to get a little more formal and a little more public about who we are, where we came from and what we’re writing.

Check out the first official #treefort bios and meet five adults who wanted a screenwriters’ playspace so badly they broke out the hammers, nails and two-by-fours and with their bare hands built #scriptchat.

Links #Treefort Bios Scriptchat Blog

 

The #Treefort on Twitter Jeanne Veillette Bowerman ... @jeannevb Mina Zaher ... @DreamsGrafter Zac Sanford ... @zacsanford Jamie Livingston ... @yeah_write Kim Garland ... @kim_garland

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.