PitchFests are a worldwide, calendar-wide phenomenon. Formats may differ from event to event, country to country, but there are some strategies that you can get started on immediately to assure you are ready to go.
WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
1. Finish your script. If you get a script request, you’re going to want to be able to send it right away. Plus, a tight, effective script makes it easier to…
2. Choose your pitchfest. Don't limit your search to your home country. These events happen all around the world. A flight to another country can radically broaden your professional network. Plus you get to have an adventure and give yourself more to write about.
3. Learn from the experts. Screenwriting organizations big and small are constantly running events to help writers develop the skills necessary to pitch. I myself have spoken at dozens events in a half-dozen countries helping writers. Online groups like the ISA can also help you develop your pitch from the comfort of your own home.
4. Do your research. A constant vigilance on the industry – who is looking for what, who has had success at pitchfests before, and a general awareness of industry news are right there at your fingertips. Read Deadline, Variety.com, and HollywoodReporter.com every day. The people you are pitching to will be reading. You should too. There is no excuse for not having your finger on the pulse of the industry you are trying to enter.
Go The Extra Mile! Design a one-sheet. It should look as professional as possible – spend money on a professional graphic designer. You can find some good deals on sites like www.peopleperhour.com. If you can’t afford one, do the best you can. Include an eye-catching image (like you might find on a movie poster), a logline, and your contact info.
WHAT YOU CAN DO IN THE WEEKS BEFORE THE EVENT
5. Print business cards. These will be valuable throughout every networking event, pitching event, festival, and conference you attend – as well in your day to day life. What are you waiting for? Get them made, and always be carrying them.
6. Expand your scope. If you think you should only pitch executives who work in the same genre where you write, think again. You should be pitching peers, those one rung above you on the screenwriting ladder, one rung below, execs and interns. Everybody and anybody could be a valuable industry contact.
7. Practice, practice, practice. Note that practicing is different from rehearsing. Don’t recite your pitch. Instead, develop pitching SKILLS. Convince your friends to see movies and shows you’ve already seen. Try to convince the barista to draw a dinosaur on your cup instead of writing your name. Engage with cashiers at the supermarket. Get accustomed to listening closely and engaging strangers on their terms.
Go The Extra Mile! Print your one-sheets so you have it on nice glossy paper. Make them look as professional as possible. If execs are unsure about the script, they will check out the one-sheet the next day. Wow them.
WHAT YOU CAN DO THE DAY BEFORE
8. Re-read your script. Proofread, yes, but familiarize yourself with your character and story arcs, act breaks, A and B stories, themes, story beats, structure, and every other aspect of the craft. Have an idea of other projects it is similar to (financially successful ones), who would be good to star in it, and any elements outside of the script you have access to (locations, cars, money, etc.) You never know what questions the executive might have.
9. Upload your script and one-sheet onto your phone. Nobody requires hard copies anymore, and even memory sticks are passé. Be ready to email your script at a moment’s notice. It’s the 21st century, act like it.
10. Choose your outfit. Professional and comfortable. If you have a costume you’d like to wear, now is a great time to put it in the closet and never, ever take it out again.
Go The Extra Mile! Meet with other writers and work on your pitches together. Don’t wait for opportunities to arise. Create them yourself. You are the master of your destiny. Screenwriting success comes to those who take the initiative. Join a local screenwriting group. If there isn’t one, use social media to find other writers in your area and create one.
WHAT YOU CAN DO A MINUTE BEFORE
You’ve been let into the Waiting Area, and the bell is about to ring to launch your pitch. Here’s what you can do:
11. Relax. This pitch isn’t the whole world. The worst that can happen is the executive says no. You have no deal now, so you have nothing to lose.
12. Pop a mint in your mouth. Obvious reasons.
13. Body language. Does the exec look bored? Anxious? Tired? When it’s your turn to pitch, adjust your energy level to engage with her.
Go The Extra Mile! Don’t fixate on your pitch. The goal of your five-minute meeting is to build a relationship with the executive. The road to a script sale is a marathon, not a sprint. Whether your script is a good match for the executive or not, your personality, professionalism, demeanor, and confidence will impact your ability to build a professional relationship as much as your talent.
14. Don’t overestimate the exec. Remember, that exec across from you is just a person who has made a career telling stories. You have a story. Tell it.
15. Be concise. You have five minutes for your meeting, but there needs to be room for questions and small talk. If you can start your conversation with a 1-minute pitch, that’s good. With a 30-second pitch, even better. Try to get it down to 10 words. If those ten words result in the exec saying, “Tell me more,” they’ve done their job.
16. Once she says yes, all she can do is say no. Thank her, shake her hand, remember to get contact info, and head to your next queue. If it’s a long one, take the time to email your script right then and there.
Go The Extra Mile! Ask the executive about herself. What does she want to produce? Why did she get into the business in the first place? Favorite movies/TV shows? Taking interest in the executive is a much more effective way to build a relationship than a wall-to-wall hard sell on your script.
WHAT YOU CAN DO AFTER YOUR PITCH
17. Send the script to everyone who requested it. You would be surprised how many writers chicken out, plagued by self-doubt. If you pitched a script that’s ready to go, then let it go. If not, then get it ready and send it when it is. But don’t let a script request evaporate.
18. Follow up six weeks later. If you haven’t heard back, a polite follow-up is appropriate, but don’t act entitled or angry.
19. Be open to notes. Writing is solitary, but filmmaking is collaborative. A producer must juggle a long list of conflicting priorities. If she makes a suggestion you disagree with, politely ask the motivation for the change and suggest an alternate solution to achieve the same goal.
20. Keep on writing. You don’t want to be a one-and-done writer. Agents will want to represent a writer who can earn them more than just the one commission. Producers, if they like your material, will want more as you become less of a risk. A writer writes. Don’t just sit around waiting for your ship to come in. You go get some lumber and build your own ship.
Go The Extra Mile! Stay in contact. For everyone you met, every business card you collected, create a Google Alert. Google will send you updates on each of your contacts: When they have sold a script, appeared at a charity function, gotten an agent, changed jobs… the list goes on. Every update gives you an opportunity to strengthen the relationship. Congratulate them on their marriage. Cheer along with them when their favorite team wins a championship. Chat about the latest Star Wars movie, whether the exec is involved with the project or not.
Above all, be professional and courteous, always. A producer isn’t just looking for quality writing, she will be looking for a quality person who writes. Becoming a professional screenwriter is akin to entering a culture you may not be familiar with. The best way to be welcomed is to be welcoming, and the best way to receive favors is to do them. Good luck, and keep on writing!